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                             Introduction: Some New Glasses

“I don’t really know what love is, or what it looks like.” For many
years now, clients have told me and shown me this sad truth at
the center of their lives. They talk about a feeling, attraction, and
attachments they wish they could get into or out of. Many of
them go through one relationship after another with people who
don’t know any more about real love than they do. Love worthy of
the name wasn’t modeled in their homes growing up, and usually
what they now call by the name of love is a counterfeit, one of
many forms of unhealthy attachment that was the best their
parents, caregivers, or relationship partners could do.
I’ve looked for resources to give these clients some clues, but
most of the books I’ve found are too long or too complicated.
People who don’t have many clues need to start with the basics.
They need a primer about love. So here’s what I’m offering: a
simple, fairly fast read filled with lively examples and illustrations
to make it all accessible for the uninitiated. That way, if you find it
helpful and want to ask someone you know to read it, there’s half
a chance they’ll give it a try.

If you were fortunate enough to grow up in a home with
people who loved you well, you probably picked up a lot of the
art of loving without even realizing it. So maybe you do have a
clue about love and you picked this book up because you know
you’re not on solid ground yet. Or maybe the person with whom
 you’re in a relationship doesn’t “get it” at all and you wish you
could explain to them what’s missing for you.


It’s no secret that learning how to love well comes most easily
by being loved well. But where does that leave the rest of the
population, the ones who weren’t loved well? One young man
told me the only clues he had were from reruns of The Cosby Show
on TV, and it was obvious that trying to put those faint images
and snippets into practice in his marriage wasn’t going very well.
He knew the Huxtables’ treatment of each other had felt right
and good, but he couldn’t articulate the values embedded in it and
hadn’t been able to make them his own. He didn’t know how to.
If you missed out on “good enough” parenting1 and haven’t
been able to apprentice to someone who loves others well, you
probably need a teacher to give you guidance about how to do
it. That’s where I come in. Even if you did internalize a decent
working model for how to treat one another in life-giving ways, it
can be hard to put into words what you know intuitively, and it’s
especially hard to describe what’s missing to someone who didn’t
grow up receiving it. Sometimes we feel embarrassed asking for
things that are so very basic. It makes us feel childish. But these
outward evidences of love are the warp and woof of a tapestry we
weave together in relationships that have staying power and if
they are missing, we need a way to find them and add them into
the pictures we are creating.

In this book, I’m going to provide you with three pairs of
glasses, three sets of corrective lenses to help you learn to love the
people who matter to you. Each pair of glasses brings into focus
some important clues about love. As you’ll see, conveying “You
matter to me—you, for your own sake, not just because you meet
my needs”—is the essence of loving well.
After some preliminaries in part one, we’ll look at glasses
created by Erik Erikson. In part two, I’ll use this developmental
psychologist’s lenses to show you that a relationship worthy of
the name of love has certain predictable outcomes. Love brings
about the well-being of the loved one. Erikson describes how
certain core “ego strengths” develop in a child when there is
good enough parenting, strengths he uses word pairs to describe:
basic trust and hope, autonomy and willpower, initiative and a
sense of purpose; industry (diligence) and competencies; all of
which become ingredients in crystallizing a sense of identity and
selfhood to which you can be loyal. In this book I will be using
the term self as if it were an entity or agent and I will speak of
components that make up that entity. In truth it’s probably more
accurate to think of self as an ongoing activity of being in the
moment and integrating what’s taking place. But in order to do
that well, a person needs to have the faith, willpower, purpose,
sense of competencies, and crystallizing sense of personhood
Erikson helps us understand.2

That sense of identity continues to develop and strengthen
when trust makes it possible to know and be known in intimate
relationships with peers, a capacity Erikson calls mutuality.
Forming a committed, loving relationship in marriage is the
garden in which such intimacy flourishes most fully, although
deep platonic friendships with either male or female friends are
also abundantly rich environments for mutuality to grow. The
more available all of these resources are to an adult self, the more
likely that person is to care well for the next generation and the
world around them (generativity). When people look back on
their lives, those who have had the benefit of these components
of a resilient self tend to feel their lives had integrity, by and
large, and they seem to have gained wisdom that puts things
in perspective.

Some critics have argued Erikson’s developmental theory isn’t
universal, that these particular traits are valued primarily in the
Western world. While that may be true3, they are most certainly
the building blocks of a sense of self-worth among the clients,
family, and friends I encounter in my practice and life. When a
child begins to develop them early in relationship with parents
and other caregivers, they4 have a more than decent chance
of becoming a relatively well-functioning adult, capable of
appropriately taking other people’s needs and wants into account.
Not only do they become capable of intimacy and care later in life
(the terms Erikson uses for adult ego strengths which are actually
forms of loving)5, but they are more free to love another person
well because they are not preoccupied with anxieties created by
shaky or missing building blocks within the self.

I’ll show you how the cultivation and support of these ego
strengths is at the heart of in the following:
• parenting young children
• parenting teenagers
• helping romantic love mature into life-giving married
• devoted friendships
• loving our aging parents as their ability to sustain
themselves diminishes.
It’s my premise that if you really love someone—whether it’s a
child, teenager, or an adult—you want to help them develop and
use these ego strengths so they can experience self-worth and go
on to make a positive difference in the world around them.

The second pair of glasses comes from a current researcher
and relationship therapist named John Gottman. In part three,
we’ll use his lenses to look far more closely at how attunement is
at the core of trust in important relationships throughout life, not
only in childhood. It’s well-established that less than 10 percent
of communication resides in the actual words a person speaks. In
order to fully understand another person, we rely on interpreting
their facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language. This
is why emoticons were rapidly created when e-mails (and then
texts) came along—to provide some of the visual or auditory
information the recipient would notice if the message were
delivered in person. People on the autism spectrum have
trouble picking up and accurately interpreting these nonverbal
social messages.

Attunement is learned from experiences of having someone
tune in to you. It is a process that helps you discover what you’re
experiencing within yourself and then, by practicing feedback
loops with other people, you discover whether you are reading
their nonverbals accurately or not.

As you will see in chapter 5, attunement is a skill that can be
taught and learned, but as with other languages, it is most easily
learned in childhood. I include it in this book because our culture’s
increasing reliance on electronic snippets of communication is
rapidly stripping away the sustained interpersonal in-person
experiences within which attunement is learned. When parents
of young children are paying attention to smartphones, laptops,
iPads, etc., they are not attuning to their children, so those
children are not part of a mutual feedback loop of learning about
each other’s inner world. Even when two people are together in
the same place these days, their attention is often, if not usually,
divided rather than focused on receiving the fullness of what
that other person is communicating. As my twenty-six-year-old
son pointed out in a recent conversation, “loving another person
is complicated” and it remains to be seen whether a generation
adept at carrying on multiple electronic conversations at once
will be attuned enough to carry on the kind of face-to-face,
in-depth conversations required for intimacy to grow. Although
attunement can be used for harmful purposes by a person with
a selfish hidden agenda, in the service of someone whose goal is
loving another person well, it is an essential skill for picking up
all the little clues that can guide us.

Unlike so many relationship gurus who create counseling
models from their idealistic beliefs about what should work to
make relationships strong, Gottman’s approach has come from
more than thirty years of observing couples closely, noticing their
interactions, and discovering over time how those ways of taking
each other into account—or not taking each other into account—
are correlated with stability or breakups. He uses a different
language than mine, but he’s essentially established that subtle
and blatant messages of “you matter to me” or “you don’t matter
to me” identifiable early in a relationship are excellent predictors
of a long and basically satisfying marriage… or of a divorce.
Gottman’s insights apply to adults who are trying to create
intimacy and mutuality and demonstrate care, whether they
realize those are their goals or not. In parts one and two, I will
have explained in depth how the seed of a child’s selfhood grows
and strengthens within the garden of trustworthy, supportive
relationships. You will arrive at part three understanding that
when people arrive at chronological adulthood with weak or
missing ego strengths, they are likely to be preoccupied with
hiding “their flat sides,” or compensating for them in whatever
usually problematic ways they managed to come up with. Under
these conditions, it is practically impossible to be attuned to a
partner’s well-being to the degree necessary to have a truly mature
adult love relationship.

Mutuality as Erikson defines it is the ability to love in such
a way that the partner’s well-being matters just as much as
one’s own. It is quite an accomplishment, really, and it seems
increasingly scarce these days. Contemporary culture’s revolvingdoor
approach to relationships makes it challenging to figure
out what commitment actually means in today’s relational world.
Judging from how quickly hook-ups and move-ins take place in
the world my clients and students describe, trust doesn’t appear
to be particularly important in these decisions.

Then, too, many of my clients bring a mishmash of hopes and
expectations to even the idea of committed relationship. Often,
their standards were shaped by parents who never married or
who divorced, and then by watching throughout their childhood
and teen years as those parents related to a series of new live-in
partners. Occasionally, I hear positive stories about one of these
adults who passed through a client’s or student’s life, but far more
often, the impact was a further undermining of ego strengths,
particularly of basic trust.

Increasingly, I see evidence that people bring to their
relationships the same mentality they bring to the following:
• fast food (it satisfies the appetite quickly, so what if there’s
no nutritional value?);
• disposable razors (use it once or twice and throw it away);
• planned obsolescence (nothing lasts; just plan on replacing
it in six months or a few years at most); and
• constantly and rapidly updatable technology (as soon as
a new and better one is available, I’ll dump this one and
get it).
Even in this culture, I see in my clients of all ages an awareness
that the presence of trust remains at the very heart of any
relationship that has value. They sense this to be true even if they
don’t have such a relationship anywhere in their lives. They may
be cynical about other people and even about their own capacity
to be trustworthy, but they recognize that if they could have it at
the heart of a relationship, it would be worth more than gold.
Gottman’s findings about trust are thoroughly relevant to
every person trying to sort out whether to stay in a particular
relationship or not. Couples deciding whether to extend a
hook-up into something more may look primarily at whether the
sex was satisfying, whether they had fun hanging out together,
whether the other person’s friends were tolerable to be around.


But if and when a person does start thinking about long-term
commitment—even pseudocommitment—they start asking
themselves, “Is this relationship good for me? Do they really
take my well-being into account, or are they mostly selfish?” As
you may have realized, at this point the person has crossed over
into actively wondering about trust. To use my language, they’re
asking “Do I trust that I really matter to him/her?”
Gottman’s research shows some very simple, but powerful
findings about what builds and erodes trust in a relationship.5 He
has worked closely with his wife, Julie, to create an approach to
couples therapy based on his research findings about what makes
a relationship solid. My primary focus in this book will be on his
discovery and insight that attunement—which comes naturally to
some, but is a skill that can be taught and learned—is the heart
of establishing and maintaining interpersonal trust. Day in and
day out, adults and children alike are making what Gottman calls
“bids” for connection with the important people around them—
subtle or open requests for a connection of some kind. How
those important people respond to those bids communicates
spoken and unspoken volumes about love and about what I call
mattering. And it turns out that many of the findings about how
 children form secure or ambivalent attachments to their parents
are relevant to adult relationships as well.6

Gottman’s observational research also identified four toxic
attitudes/behaviors that both signal and contribute to the
disappearance of love: contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and
stonewalling. Because they are so clearly associated with “the
end” of a loving relationship, he calls them “the Four Horsemen
of the Apocalypse8.” In essence, they are manifestations of an
excessively self-centered point of view, evidence that the other
person’s well-being doesn’t matter like it used to. Thankfully,
people who want to swim against the current of their own selfish
tendencies can and will resist these toxic behaviors.

Finally, in part four, I’ll explain my own set of lenses for
bringing love into focus. In a sense, they are trifocals or progressive
lenses that allow us to see the interplay of the following:
• tenderhearted emotion denoted by the word love;
• an attitude of devotion to the loved one’s well-being,
which I maintain is love’s essence; and
• actions by which the loved one knows devotion resides in
the heart and mind of the “lover”—by which I mean “the
one who loves”. It’s unfortunate that the term has been
co-opted by the sex-and-romance dimension of love.9
Think about your interactions with any other person and
ask yourself, “For what reason, to what extent, and in what way
does this other person matter to me?” Many philosophies and
religions advocate treating other people well based on everything
from reason, practicality, and enlightened self-interest; to the
assertion that we are all family (children of the same Father
God); to the belief that we are commanded by God/Jesus to “love
our neighbors,” making it a matter of obedience or duty. When
I think of the attitude that motivates us to take another person
into account, I picture a motivation gradient running from head
to heart.


I call that heart-based end treasuring and I use the verb
treasure to capture the experience of having a place for another
person in your heart.

Somehow, inexplicably, your sense of self has opened up to
include that person and though you may be embarrassed to admit
it in these rather poetic terms, they are part of your treasure in life.
When this first happens, there are often physical sensations
of a” tug on the heartstrings” or a swelling or aching in the
chest, sensations we tend to equate with the emotion of love.10
It literally feels like the organ in your chest is getting larger or
opening its sliding door. The emotion and sensations can be
delightful, painful, or both at the same time. Many people let
these physical attachment sensations be their primary guide in
relationships without crediting the importance of the other two
strands of the braid. They enter relationships or exit them based
entirely on these sensations. As we’ll see later, you can experience
the tenderheartedness without ever expressing it in such a way
that the loved one knows you feel it. On the receiving side, you
can know you are important to another person for any number of
reasons, but there is an incomparable security in the knowledge
that their heart has opened to let you in. I use the verb cherish for
the actions that physically communicate this subjective treasuring
reality to the loved one.

I use the verb sustain for those behaviors that meet the loved
one’s survival needs for food, clothing, shelter, protection, comfort,
etc. Cherishing and sustaining are two kinds of behaviors that
nurture the loved one’s well-being just as they are. The person
does nothing to earn them or deserve them. These gifts of grace
come just because the person exists. They are forms of what I call
Nurture Love.

There is a second overarching category of love I call Challenge
Love. Challenge Love is motivated by the desire to help the loved
one grow, learn, overcome obstacles, and develop their potential.
You can think of Nurture Love as treasuring and sustaining
the loved one’s “being” (i.e., existence), while in contrast, the
Challenge Loves help the loved one “become.”


Challenge Love includes behaviors that support the loved one,
providing encouragement and assistance of various types as they
develop in self-initiated and self-chosen ways. Typically, these
types of support are welcomed when they are offered in ways that
fit the developmental needs of the loved one. If the one who loves
has pertinent skills or knowledge, they may choose to give their
time and energy to actively coach or teach the loved one. There’s a
third type of Challenge Love I call pollinating because the love
giver brings insight about the loved one or inspiration that is
a necessary catalyst for something new to happen. These three
manifestations of love are usually fairly well-received since they
more or less come alongside and move in the same direction the
loved one is choosing to move. Or, in the case of pollinating,
the loved one may be stalled out and the pollen helps them get
moving again.

The other two types of Challenge Love behavior are invariably
experienced as interference, making them the most difficult to
carry out well. Our first experiences in life of being confronted by
those who love us come in the form of discipline from our parents
and other caregivers or teachers. Authority figures telling us to
stop doing something, start doing something, or change the way
we’re doing something pervade our experience of life throughout
childhood and adolescence. Because of this background, it can be
very difficult later in life to effectively receive corrective/negative
feedback from peers even if they respectfully ask for or suggest
change. And when the delivery of that message is clumsy or
overly critical, it often brings out the willfully resistant two-yearold
or fourteen-year-old in us.

Obviously, some people criticize just because they enjoy
finding fault or gaining advantage in a power struggle and that
isn’t love. But all of us do need the benefit of honest feedback and
input from people who care about us as we go through life. Real
love requires us to speak up when we experience a loved one as
hurting themselves, getting off course, undermining their own
goals, or as damaging their relationship with us through their
behaviors. In those situations, we recognize an obstacle in the
loved one’s path and the manner in which we confront the loved
one with our perspective can make all the difference in the world.
Doing it effectively takes a lot of self-control and carefulness
if it’s going to be effective, and of all the things I try to teach
clients, it’s probably the most difficult. I’ll share with you some
of the tools I’ve found most helpful personally and professionally,
including some skills recommended by the Gottmans.


If confronting and asking for change carefully and respectfully
doesn’t work, the only loving option that remains may be to take
a stand against a loved one’s damaging behaviors. Tough love has
been described well in the recovery movement associated with
addiction treatment. Within my framework, what’s important to
understand is that sometimes treasuring itself requires that the
actions of Nurture Love be withheld in a last-ditch effort to save
the loved one from self-destruction or to prevent a relationship
from remaining abusive. These two forms of Challenge Love are
essential parts of discipline in parent-child relationships, and they
are also important elements of solid adult friendships, respectful
work relationships, and strong marriages.

Cherishing, by its very definition, is the only action that
requires the emotion known as love to be subjectively felt in
the moment of action. The other Nurture Loves and Challenge
Loves that contribute to the loved one’s well-being can be and
often are carried out regardless of whether we feel tenderness at
that moment or not. In fact, the hallmark of treasuring someone
is that we carry out the actions of love even when we don’t feel
like it at the moment.

As you may be realizing, I actually have a pretty broad and
encompassing definition of love. While I’m primarily writing to
help you more effectively love the people you personally treasure,
if you take this approach with the people you work with, or even
with whom you have casual acquaintance, you’re likely to see
some pretty fulfilling results.

Using examples from the lives of my students, I will help you
see that ego strengths can and should be facilitated throughout
life by the loving behaviors of people who care. It’s never too late.


                                         How Does It All Fit Together?

These seven core actions—cherishing, sustaining, supporting,
coaching/teaching, pollinating, confronting in a respectful
manner, and taking a stand—are the behaviors by which you can
foster ego strengths in a loved one whether you treasure them
personally or just recognize that all human beings are worthy
of your help. Keeping the ego strengths in mind can help you
fit your manner of sustaining, supporting, confronting, etc.
to the particular situation. It can be difficult to discern which
ego strength(s) are most in need of enhancement right now at
this particular moment. For instance, there may be times when
teaching a competency may be at odds with encouraging autonomy.
Attunement is important in discerning what combination of
Nurture Love or Challenge Love might fit the person’s age and
circumstances as you encourage the needed ego strength(s). Think
about it: what’s needed to foster autonomy in a forty-year-old
who’s been fired from their job looks very different from what’s
 needed to foster it in a seventeen-year-old who prefers video
games to hard work. It’s also different from what’s needed with a
seventeen-year-old who is depressed because of low self-esteem.


By coupling attunement skills with the big picture provided by
Erikson, we can make better decisions in these situations.
I’m offering you three new sets of corrective lenses to help you
do a better job of loving just about anyone who really matters to
you. Here is your opportunity to change your whole approach
to relationships, one that will ultimately change your life—for
the better.

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