I recently volunteered for a charity day called Help-Portrait, which I found to be a surprisingly moving experience. This got me thinking about the power of giving and receiving love in our relationships- and the difficulties many people have with this. This post explores the joys and challenges of giving and receiving love in your intimate relationships.
Founded in 2009 by Celebrity Photographer Jeremy Cowart, Help-Portrait is a community of photographers coming together across the world to use their photography skills to give back to their local communities. What started out as a single event in the U.S. has exploded across the world with the event now being hosted in 56 countries and 1000 locations.
In essence, the way it works is photographers, editors, make-up artists, hair-stylists and other volunteers donate their time to create studio-quality portraits for members of the community who would not have the means to otherwise have such photos taken.
The premise is simple, but also powerful. My volunteer role on the day was to guide each family through the process of having their hair and make-up done, sitting for their portraits and then presenting them with their portraits once they were printed.
What I underestimated was the response from my guests on the day. Some of the guests had never worn make up, never had their hair done and most had never had a professional photo taken of them. What was so enjoyable was the look of joy on their faces as they received the portraits and then the expressions of gratitude to me and my colleagues for helping them throughout the day.
I was filled with a sense of happiness that I was part of a movement that was contributing to the self-esteem of these individuals. The love was completely contagious and even the most hard-hearted person would have been challenged not to be touched in some way on the day.
So let me bring this back to the issue of giving and receiving love in your relationships. When I think about the singles and couples I work with, I notice that many people are not always entirely comfortable with receiving love and/or giving love to another. There are many different blocks that can get in the way of you experiencing this powerful and essential emotion to be able to live a full and rewarding life.
What are the common blocks to giving and receiving love in your relationships?
There are many different factors involved in this, but some of the most common include:
- family of origin experiences around the expression of love
- previous relationship experiences of giving and receiving love
- loss of relationships and the consequential loss of love
- cultural influences on the expression of love
- the attachment style of the individual- meaning some people find it hard to reach out to others when they are in distress to receive love
- fear of rejection if you give love to another
- fear of unavoidable loss- all expressions of love involve a loss of some kind and at some point
- fears of feeling obligated- if I receive this love, do I have to return it?
So giving or receiving love can be a highly complex process to be negotiated by some individuals. And for others, it may be something that comes easily and without a second thought.
Ways to give love in your relationships
There are many ways that you can give love in your relationships. Here’s a short, but by no means exhaustive list:
- surprise a friend or partner with an unexpected gift
- inquire after someone who you know is going through a difficult time
- provide emotional support for your friend who is distressed from a life event
- listen carefully to your partner without responding, but making sure you fully understand what they are saying
- extending yourself for your friend or partner without the expectation it will be returned
- making a beautiful meal for your partner to say thanks for being there
- touching, stroking and hugging your partner
- remembering friends’ birthdays and making an effort to personally wish them well
I’m sure there are many things you could add to this list, as we all express love in different ways. While you may already do some of these things in your relationships, some people find many of these things difficult to do, and even feel confronted with the idea.
Common ways people block love in their relationships
There are many different ways that people block love in their relationships- sometimes completely outside of awareness. Here are some of the most common things I see:
- deflecting a compliment by changing the subject
- not listening to positive feedback from a friend or partner by moving on quickly
- using humour to move the focus when they receive affection
- physically pulling away when someone moves towards, hugs or kisses
- stonewalling- cutting off or ignoring a friend or partner
- criticising a friend or partner
- being defensive when a friend or partner is taking a risk and opening-up
- averting your eye gaze when someone is emotionally reaching out to you
Do you recognise any of these aspects within yourself? I think we all have done or do some of these things to block love in our relationships. Don’t beat yourself up for them, but start to notice and catch yourself deflecting the love that comes your way.
Ways to receive love in your relationships
So the next challenge if you are doing well-giving love, is to check how are doing with receiving love. It’s much easier to say than do for many people.
- When you receive a compliment, pause and then literally inhale so that you feel the goodness going inside of you
- When you hear positive feedback about yourself, sit still and allow yourself to be with it. Then take a moment to feel what is being said- and say thank you.
- If you notice you use humour to deflect the attention away, experiment with allowing the focus to be on you and experience whatever is there. If you feel uncomfortable, stay with this and continue to be curious about yourself.
- When someone physically reaches out to you, allow yourself to surrender to their touch. Lean into the affection and breathe.
- Practice feeling loving-kindness towards yourself and catch yourself being self-critical. Turn critical thoughts into loving thoughts.
- Practice loving-kindness towards others- especially those people you don’t like.
- When someone opens up to you, practice staying still and centered and allow yourself to receive this love, like a warm bath of sunshine.
- Practice maintaining eye contact with people and notice when happens when you are able to not avert your gaze.
Through becoming aware of your own struggles with giving or receiving love, you can then see where your growing edges are. By working on becoming better in their area, you are opening yourself up to feeling this very important emotion allowing your relationship satisfaction with others to improve.
Click below to watch a video on what Help-Portrait is.
Do you need relationship help?
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.