“The supreme happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved – loved for ourselves or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.” – Victor Hugo
Serious scientific inquiry has proven this quote to be true. By all measures of health and well being, the single most significant predictor of life time happiness and longevity is being involved in an intimate and loving relationship. It is true across seventeen cultures and in longitudinal studies of historic events that the people who fared the best even through traumas like war and the Great Depression were the people in stable partnerships and families.
Yet even with all this evidence of the power of loving bonds, we are caught in a culture that throws away relationships as though they were used up convenience foods. What is the deal? Are some people just lucky in love? Some of it may be luck. If you grew up as a wanted and beloved child of someone then the chances are good that a positive and secure romantic style is on your side. If you didn’t have these advantages then chances are you fall into the avoidant or anxious romantic styles. All of these profiles or personality traits are linked to a child’s ability to attach early in life. New research suggests that these early childhood patterns go a long way in explaining people’s life long struggles with relationships.
As the names suggest, avoidant and anxious romantic profiles can make it difficult for people to learn the very different skills of being able to both receive and give love. If your childhood experiences didn’t give you many positive memories and experiences of trust, it may be very difficult for you to approach your current relationships with any level of confidence that you will be loved. Because our expectations and our beliefs about our relationships form the basis for how we communicate and behave in them, it becomes easier to see how many people continuously make bad decisions about the relationships they choose.
And yet the story does not end there. Many neglected and not well loved children of the world have gone on to heal their belief systems and live out loving stories. I am among them. It doesn’t happen easily, but learning the skills of loving is possible for all of us. For many of us the key is learning to believe that we are worthy of love. Having compensated for so many years, we may be experts at the skills of loving others, but until we do the hard work of realizing “in spite of ourselves”, we are lovable, we may never have a moment when our relationships feel secure.
If there is any key to this work it is that love is a verb and seeing ourselves as loveable is an act that must be a part of every day.