Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip #21: 

“In my family, there was no clear division between religion and fly fishing.”

                                        Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It, 1976

Many a song and too much silliness that passes for love – such as how one’s “hearts going pitter-patter,” or how one’s “heads is spinning,” or any such notions- have nothing to do with real love. More likely these are flu symptoms. Get yourself to hospital!

We do know that the attractions lovers have are initially based upon the pheromones and serotonin that get activated. There is an actual drug – a chemical -affect responsible for initially getting us together. This attraction is a good starting place, but ought to not ever be the end point. Real love takes time; it must be cultivated. It’s akin to becoming best friends. Best friends take time; one that grows with knowledge about each other. Immature love is vastly different from mature love – what I am calling real love.

Those who know how to maturely love do not see divisions, exceptions, or people being of either “in” and “out” groups. They don’t put divisions between what is important and what is unimportant. They have priorities, but are also able to understand that love is the paradigm that really matters. They are people primarily focused on granting others the space to be the way they are and the way they aren’t. Another way to say this is they are non-judgmental. In addition, these are folks who put a high priority into becoming masterful at loving.

People will tell you how they “fell in love.” The problem with this is you can also “fall out of love” just as easily. I dislike ever falling at all. One can get hurt from falling! And when the hormones associated with the “falling in love” wear off these people are understandingly disappointed; or upset, bitter, resentful, depressed. The people who see love as being a feeling are using faulty thinking.

It is better to think of love as a decision. Love is a decision; and when we decide to love what we do is then go about the business of creating an atmosphere where those “loving feelings” can flourish within the relationship. You cannot go directly after those wonderful loving feelings. They are nice, of course, but they are the by-product of actual love. They are also fleeting, and subject to change. Transient.

When a parent is up throughout the night with a sick child they are not feeling very loving. They are acting from their love that is based upon their decision to love this child. They are deciding to love – choosing to do so. It has become a given value.

Love is also something that comes into and out of existence through our speaking. I love you because I say I do. Words have power. I declare my love. My various words, and right actions manifested from my deciding to love you, then correspond accordingly. They are simpatico. Congruent.

Real love has to do with how we hold one another, as well as ourselves. Real love is about accepting the other exactly as they are, and also wanting the very best for them. Mastery comes from learning to love effectively. This is an on-going process.

I am a life-long learning when it comes to masterful loving. So I need to ask myself on a regular basis: ‘Am I being an effective lover?’  I might think I am doing quite well loving you, only to discover you are not receiving me – and all I do for the sake of love – as love. These things might be received by you as annoying, or as poor attempts at loving you very well.

People who are committed to being effective lovers find out if they are from their partner. How am I occurring with you? They find out “over there” – from their beloved. When we only go by what occurs for us as expressions of love we can be guilty of self-deception. All we know is that the words I say and the things I do for the other person are words and actions that would likely make me feel loved. For instance, I might shower you with gifts or do all sorts of acts of service for you, only to discover you are nonplused by them or even dislike these things. You may instead prefer we spend some quality time together.  You might prefer I give you some affection; some hugs and embraces.

Gary Chapman, in his book, The Five Love Languages, writes how each of us has preferred ways regarding how we learned to experience being loved. It is up to us to provide our beloved with these preferences if we want to become effective lovers. It’s about operating smarter instead of harder towards love each other.

Chapman lists these five love languages:

  1. Word of Affirmation
  2. Acts of Service
  3. Receiving Gifts
  4. Quality Time
  5. Physical Touch

What good is it to know you love your partner only to have him/her not get it? So, to become masterful/effective lovers we discover in the Other those ways that resonate for them as expressions of love.

Occasionally, it’s good to ask,

“So tell me, do I love you?”

This way we can check in to see if we are being effective, or not.

Everything must be absolutely perfect and all right the way they’re not. Now, if you make someone all right the way she/he is, and all right the way they’re not, then you give the other space – the space to be. If you cannot do this, if they do things you cannot accept, then you would be more loving by ending this relationship.

None of the:

“Gee, if you’d only cut your hair shorter, or voted the way I do, liked baseball more, would be more of an out-doors kind of person, etc., then… things would be okay.”

Many couples marry with a secret expectation about wanting to change the other – to fine tune him/her. Sometimes people even admit this:

“I plan to straighten him/her up once we’re married.”

Sorry, but this is a really bad idea. You’ve got to be all right with exactly the way they are.

If you are alright with them being free to be the way they are, and that they don’t have to be your way or anyone else’s way, then you know how to love. Because it’s all right with you for them the way they are not, and it’s all right with you for them to be the way they are. That’s masterful love. I am not saying this is always easy to do. But it is the key to a happy relationship.

Don’t see this as not caring as to how your partner is, or not wanting to become more as your partner desires. This also does not mean you have to be a door mat or tolerate “unacceptable” behavior. Loving people desire to grow in his/her capacity to love, and this includes become a better person. But this needs to come from one’s own desire to grow into a more mature and life-giving person. There is nothing wrong with the desire to want to be a better person as a result of the nonjudgmental love you receive. This is one of life’s paradoxes.

Getting back to seeing no division between religion and fishing, here’s a bit more from the 1992 movie version of A River Runs Through It. Norman Mclean, the father in the story, says this: 

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”

The people in this story are people who have a deep spiritual connection with nature and earth itself. They don’t separate out what is holy and sacred from what is seen as mundane; the so-called ordinariness of life. They see everything as holy and sacred! They love life and all that comes with it. They see their part in the history of life. They love who they are and where they have come from. They love each other in the present. They do so not in some demonstrative or emotional fashion. It’s not based upon feelings, although they radially feel joy and contentment. This sacred in the ordinary is embedded into their very fiber. They most likely grew into such grace and wisdom with experience and age. They matured most likely from being people of reflection.

By the way: These story book characters are also fly fishers.