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Healthy Real Love -or- Toxic False Love

A   20   Factor   Check   List

1.  Well being
Healthy Real Love makes us want for the well being of loved ones.

Toxic False love wants primarily for our own well being, wants and desires to be all important, and can sacrifice the supposed loved one for self.

2.  Self Love Healthy Real Love makes us balance our healthy self love with our love of others.
Toxic False love wants others to sacrifice and diminish their self love for our benefit.

3.  Strength Healthy Real Love causes us to want our loved ones to be strong & powerful in their own lives.
Toxic False love makes us act to diminish our loved ones’ strength so we can dominate and control them and, thereby, feel more false safety.

4.  Growth Healthy Real Love promotes the growth, development, education, and advancement of those we love.
Toxic False love works to block & hamper growth out of fear of being surpassed, outdone, and abandoned.

5.  Aloneness Healthy Real Love allows & promotes alone time, understanding it’s healthful benefits.
Toxic False love fears being alone and allowing a supposed loved one to be alone or off to himself or herself.

6.  Sex Healthy Real Love mixes both self love & other love into shared eroticism making it democratic, varied, open to exploration of new & different intimacy, & always guided by caring.
Toxic False love is absent of sufficient love expression &, thus, often is sexually demanding, obsessive, or dominated by sameness &/or fearfulness.

7.  Power Healthy Real Love pushes us to share power equally, work to synthesize & compromise, operate with free speech, independent action, alternating leadership, negotiation, & interpersonal democracy.
Toxic False love pushes us toward either dictatorial dominance, or an abdication of selfhood through fearful surrender.

8.  Difference Healthy Real Love promotes & delights in the loved one’s differences, ways of being unique, dissimilar viewpoints, divergent approaches, varying ways by valuing the enrichments they bring to relationships.
Toxic False love works to suppress & eliminate differences and bring about the false safety of sameness.

9.  Dependency Healthy Real Love helps work for the loved one’s self dependency, one’s own self dependency while also promoting agreed upon, chosen, mutually supportive interdependency.
Toxic False love wants the supposed loved one to be dependent on the false lover, or wants the relationship to be mutually co-dependent.

10.  Jealousy Healthy Real Love is not jealous, not even a little bit, because love does not spawn jealousy, possessiveness, or irrational suspiciousness.
Toxic False love is jealous because it is grounded in inadequate self love & the fearful insecurity that we can not hold the love of another by our own personal worthiness.

11.  Friends & Family Healthy Real Love causes us to attempt to love, like, or at least be appropriately & be consistently accepting of those the loved one loves & likes (including pets, ex-spouses,  dysfunctional relatives, etc.) but not to the point of supporting destructiveness.
Toxic False love causes us to work toward excluding, limiting contact with, & markedly avoiding the loved one’s interaction with their ‘others’.

12.  Trust Healthy Real Love makes us take the ‘gamble’ of trust in our love and the loved one’s love &, therefore, causes us to willfully become ‘vulnerable’ to them, their words, and actions.  This is done to affirm the loved one and make the relationship function in workable ways.
Toxic False love makes us mistrust, spy, be suspicious, hinder the freedom, doubt, & distrust the supposed loved one which eventually destroys the love relationship.

13.  Self Disclosure Healthy Real Love helps us accept & become self disclosing of (past, present, & future) thoughts, feelings, actions, victories & defeats, strengths & flaws, & all else.
Toxic False love works to hide our less pleasant aspects, be secretive, present false images, & fears exposure.

14.  Priorities Healthy Real Love puts love first of all values.
Toxic False love puts many things above the importance of love.

15.  Healing Healthy Real Love causes us to work for the health of our loved ones.
Toxic False love often works toward illness, or avoids the promotion of healthful living.

16.  Affirmation Healthy Real Love is affirming in word and action.  Compliments of being & doing, praise, brags, showing affirmative support, cheering for the loved one, and more demonstrations are common.  It also makes us look for, appreciate & affirm the qualities of our loved ones.
Toxic False love praises & compliments for personal advantage or gain.  It often also dis-affirms with criticism, put downs, devaluing & debasement.

17.  Tolerance Healthy Real Love causes us to tolerate the less pleasant aspects of those who are loved unless those aspects are clearly destructive.
Toxic False love tolerates little demanding its own way, or tolerates destructively to weaken the supposed loved one’s strength.

18.  Reception Healthy Real Love makes us highly receptive to our loved one’s likes, needs, wants, ways, and especially expressions of love.
Toxic False love makes us neglectful, avoidant, critical, & undervaluing of our loved one’s efforts to love us.

19.  Gifting Healthy Real Love helps us frequently and openly enjoy gifting our loved ones with what they want both with object and experience gifts.
Toxic False love helps us give gifts we want, gifts designed to manipulate, impress, result in return gifting from the loved one, or to give few or no gifts at all, and to gift with poor and negative attitudes.

 20.  Joy Healthy Real Love helps us take joy in those we love, take joy in their joy, work to enjoy what they enjoy, share what we enjoy, & create mutual joy.
Toxic False love works to disregard or discount the joy of the supposed loved ones, and try to manipulate them to only enjoy what we enjoy.

As always – Grow In Love.

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

Image credits: Fairy eggs fullsize image by Flickr user melanie_hughes

Love Is Not Jealous

Mini-Love-Lesson #240

Synopsis: Succinctly covered are jealousy’s effects on love relationships, jealousy’s psychology, brain research, evolution and possible de-evolution, religious interpretation controversy and compromise, insecurity based discoveries, and 9 ways love and jealousy clash and conflict.

Jealousy In Love Relationships

Jealousy is one of the most hurtful and harmful of all things effecting love relationships.  Jealousy plays a big part in a great many incidents of anti-loving mistreatment, serious fights, breakups, divorces, love-destructive acts of cruelty, deception, manipulation, revenge attempts, and breakdowns resulting in psychiatric hospitalizations.  Then there is all the time spent in relational dysfunction, agony, stress and other miseries.  Even worse, jealousy frequently is heavily involved in cases of stress illness, physical abuse, crippling violence, severe psychological abuse and even lover and spouse murders and/or suicides (see “Healthy Real Love –or- Toxic False Love”).

 On the other hand, jealousy has its proponents. There are those who tout a little bit of jealousy as a good thing for relationships, a proof of love being real, a necessary, natural component of love which warns us to protect our love relationships, and sometimes a superb lead-in to passionate sex.  Those advocates may see only overly intense and insane jealousy as destructive.  Also, they may tend to disagree with the biblical teaching that love is not jealous.

In opposition to the okayness of jealousy (even a little bit) are a host of mental health, relational and social science professionals and researchers, recently joined by some brain science researchers, who see or suspect all jealousy as being dangerous and destructive.  Then there are the religionists who read Paul’s New Testament tenant “Love is not jealous” and believe it because it is part of sacred Scripture.

What Is Jealousy?

Relational Jealousy has been defined variously as feeling and/or acting upset, unhappy, covetous, possessive, grasping, wishing to control, restrict, monopolize, owning the exclusive affection of another and being strongly aversive to other’s rivalry for that affection while also blocking any possible relationship interfering influence or connection with others.

Psychologically What Is Jealousy?

Jealousy is psychologically increasingly understood to be insecurity-based.  It can be seen as a special sort of replacement fear.  That means a fear of being replaced by someone else for attaining and maintaining the attention, status of importance and needed love of a desired other.  It often is thought to involve an underlying fear of abandonment, rejection and isolation from a primary source of love.

Even more deeply underlying jealousy often is thought to be a secret fear that one is not attractive enough, worthy enough or, most importantly, lovable enough to obtain or hold the continuing love of a major desired love source.  This is seen as representing a serious and more basic lack of essential and needed self-love.

It appears that people who lack sufficient self-love, probably because they were under-loved or mal-appropriately-loved in childhood, cannot easily trust they will continue to be loved sufficiently as they mature.  Thus, jealousy arises as their protective mechanism.  Most unfortunately, this can produce a self-fulfilling prophecy of losing at love.  The healthfully self-loving know that they are lovable and are much more confident love will keep coming their way.  This also frequently produces a happy, healthy, self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is an open question whether or not jealousy helps most people be more constructively protective in their love relationships, or is jealousy more destructively divisive to those relationships?

Jealousy and envy often mistakenly are confused with each other.  In envy you want something somebody else has or something like it, in which case it is okay for them to keep theirs.  In jealousy you don’t want somebody else to have something, or someone, you want or might want exclusively.

Fortunately with the right self-work, better lovability and love relating can be learned, developed and succeeded at.

For more about scientific research into the psychology of jealousy, I suggest you webcheck PsychCentral or for more comprehensive reports, Frontiers in Psychology.

The WHY of Jealousy, And Is It De-evolving?

Jealousy is thought to have evolved as a way brood-mates and their sires could protect and combat against rivals and replacement, thus, better ensuring the survival of their offspring and genetic line.

Jealousy just possibly could be de-evolving in humans because its reason for being may be disappearing.  At least, that is the thinking of some who study this.  Jealousy seems to be falling more and more into disfavor as increasingly it is identified with emotional illness and relational dysfunction.  There also are some beginning signs jealousy eventually could be replaced by its opposite emotion compersion (see “Compersion: A Newly Identified Emotion of Love?”).

The Old & Resurgent, Religious Controversy Over Jealousy

Once upon a time in Christendom, it was widely taught that love was not jealous because the Bible said so.  But then romantic, or lover-love came along in the early Middle Ages and love was seen as jealous, actually very jealous.  In fact, the royalty ran Courts of Love (yes, they existed) and they ruled that, in fact, love was quite jealous and the stronger the love the greater the jealousy.
The conflict between these two teachings was resolved by what some identified as a weasel’s compromise.  It was decided that spiritual love (agape) was not jealous but since secular love was profane and contaminated by sex it was indeed jealous.

That, at least, is how it was summarized to me by a learned theolog.  To this day, in many arenas of Christendom this twofold explanation remains the answer given to those questioning the contradictory, compromise teaching that love (sacred) is not jealous but romantic (secular) love is jealous.  Writing in ancient biblical Greek, St. Paul is thought to have written love is not “ou zeloi”.  That is now understood as powerfully meaning love is “not jealous” and perhaps implying that in a continuous or ongoing way.  Of course, other scholars have interpreted it somewhat differently.

Love Is Not Jealous – Insecurity Is!

Recently relational, psychological and brain research concerning love has come up with results that back the idea that all real and healthy love does not involve or contain a jealousy component.  For one thing, love is found to be mostly processed deep in the brain’s more ancient limbic system and jealousy in the less deep (newer) frontal lobes ventrial striatum, cingulate cortex and lateral septum.  Also, the neurochemistry of both seems to be rather different.

Mounting relational and psychological research points to jealousy coming from insecurity dynamics as described above and not from any real love process (see “Does Jealousy Prove Love?”).

Using theological terms, perhaps all real love is more of an agape type love than has been previously identified.  Certainly family love, parent-child love, deep friendship love and altruistic love seem to qualify as at least largely similar to what is understood to be spiritual or agape love, so why not the love of lovers and spouses?

Love and Jealousy in Cultures and Societies

In some cultures, subcultures, societies and special societal spheres, jealousy has virtually not been found to exist or to be only minuscule.  Cross-cultural studies also show great differences exist in the prevalence and intensity of jealousy in different societies around the world.  Some data suggests more male dominant societies have more jealousy than female dominant or more egalitarian cultures, which may have the least jealousy.  Research also finds jealousy to be seen as an increasingly negative and anti-love factor in love relationships.  It also seems an increasing number of modern world people are working to reduce or eliminate jealousy from harming their love relationships and inner mental health functioning.

How Love and Jealousy Clash and Conflict

A fair amount of relational research is pointing to the ways that jealousy and love are antithetical and, in essence, enemies of one another.  Here is what are thought to be some of those ways.

1. Healthy real love seems primarily to motivate constructive actions; jealousy mostly motivates destructive and useless actions.

2. Love inspires trust; jealousy mistrust.

3. Love involves honest self-disclosure and openness; jealousy more commonly involves suspicion, secrecy, deception, spying, and phony manipulations.

4. Love can sometimes generate compersion feelings; jealousy can’t.

5. Healthy, real love tends to promote democratic, egalitarian fairness in relating; jealousy uses overt, autocratic control, or covert restriction, repression and suppression techniques.

6. Love is much more about forgiveness, second chances and let’s try again dynamics; jealousy is more about punishment, revenge and getting even.

7. Real love inherently is focused largely on the happiness and well-being of the loved; jealousy works primarily for self-protection and for self-gain.

8. Love helps us be open to fresh input from our loved ones and experimenting with their new and different ways, ideas, wants, etc.  Jealousy helps us be closed to those things, threatened by them and staying with seemingly safe sameness resulting in relational entropy and stagnation.

9. Love tends to help work with kindness and appreciation involved sexual growth, emotional and physical intimacy, fun explorations and mutual satisfaction.  In sexuality, jealousy tends to make for stress, tension, inhibition, one-sidedness and phoniness.

There are a good many more ways jealousy and love conflict as well as more things to learn about them.  It is useful to learn about all of them but that’s enough for now. Link “Passionate Love – Wondrous and Perplexing”.

One More Thing

I suggest, in this Mini-Love-Lesson, there is lots to think about and talk about, and it will be enriching to do so with others.  If you do that, please mention this site and its totally free subscription service providing regular, important and helpful love information.

As always – Go and Grow with Love
J. Richard Cookerly

Love Success Question:  If you get jealous, will you use it to strengthen and improve yourself and your relationship, or to harm and drive away someone you love, or what?

Thinking Love to Improve Love

Synopsis: This mini-love lesson presents ways to improve love with your thinking in, about and with love.

Do you know how to ‘think love’?  Many do not.  ‘Thinking love’ simply means thinking in, with and about love – especially healthy, real love.  The more you ‘think love’ the more likely you are to do well in love and then in life.  Here are a dozen ‘helpers’ to assist you in improving your ability to ‘think love’.

A Dozen ‘Think Love’ Helpers

1.    Love thinking is appreciative!  How often do you think appreciative thoughts about those you love?  How often do you think to look for and find things to appreciate about those you love?  Is your positive, appreciative thinking more than your negative, critical thinking?  Do you give thought to how to express your appreciation of your loved ones?

2.    Love thinking is caring!  How well and often do you think caring thoughts about what your loved ones are experiencing, feeling, involved in, and what they find important?

3.    Love thinking is sharing!  Do you ponder what and how to share yourself with your loved ones?  Do you think about how to help your loved ones share themselves with you?  Do you think about what your loved ones share with you?

4.    Love thinking is kind!  Are the thoughts you have of your loved ones filled with kindness?  Do you give thought to how to show kindness?

5.    Love thinking is affirmational!  Do you focus your thoughts on what is good and admirable about your loved ones.  Do you value not only what your loved ones do but their essence as well?  Do you think about how to convey that you highly value and cheer for the success of your loved ones?

6.    Love thinking is appropriately protective!  Is safeguarding those you love part of your concern and contemplations?  Is thought given to not being overly protective?

7.    Love thinking is thankful!  Concerning your loved ones are you frequently thinking thankfully about what they do and are?  Are you good at thinking about how to express your thankfulness?

8.    Love thinking is emotional!  Do you give thought to the many emotions love brings into our lives?  Do you try to understand the emotions of your loved ones as well as your own emotions?  Are you good at figuring out the -guidance messages’ in yours and others’ emotions?  In relating with love does your thinking work well with your emotions?

9.    Love thinking is joyous!  Do you just simply enjoy thinking about your loved ones?  Does it cause you happiness to simply notice your loved ones’ way of being them self?  Do you think pleasurably about your loved ones’ idiosyncrasies, oddities, and uniqueness?

10.    Love thinking is studious!  Do you study how to grow love, make love work, improve with love, give and get love better?  Do you study your loved ones and how to best do love with them?

11.    Love thinking is inspiring!  Have you had the experience of being inspired, enriched and deeply benefited by thinking about love in the ways just described? (If not keep thinking about love and we bet you will.)

12.    Love thinking is intimate!  Do you think about love in deeply personal, emotionally close and very private ways?  Do you frequently and healthfully mix your love thinking with your sex thinking?  Can you also connect thoughts about the  passionate and the erotic with thoughts about spiritual love?

People who really think more about love often automatically do more about love.  Unless their thinking is mistaken and inaccurate, those people are the ones more likely to experience and achieve more in the arenas of love.  The reverse is also likely to be true. Those who don’t give love much thought are less likely to get good love results.  So we encourage you to think a lot about love and especially how healthy, real love can be made to work, grow and improve lives.

As always – Go and Grow with Love

Dr. J Richard Cookerly

Love Success Question
With whom will you share and discuss this ‘think love’ mini-love lesson and exactly when will you do that?

Love It Is Not Boastful/Pretentious

Mini-Love-Lesson  #239

Synopsis: We start with conflicting interpretations that lead to broader understanding of what this tenet of St. Paul’s may have hoped to convey; followed by related issues of psychological dynamics; real and false self-love; self-confidence and end with the harm of self-debasement and it’s avoidance.

Translation Troubles That Help

Since we are working from Paul’s list of what love is and is not (First Corinthians 13) in the New Testament, we must enter into the translation puzzlement of what he meant exactly when in Greek he wrote love is not “perpereuetai”.  Various translations of the Bible have used quite a few rather different English words in translating this.  Some scholars suggest we may not have a sufficiently accurate equivalent word in English for this Greek word.  Hence, some translation confusion and controversy exists concerning what is meant here.

To get a broad sense of what Paul probably was meaning to convey, look at these scholarly based interpretations.

Love ... “vaunteth not itself” (King James), “dealeth not perversely” (Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible), “makes no parade” (Moffatt), “does not put on airs” (American Complete Bible), “is not pretentious”(New Catholic Bible), “doesn’t brag” (Common English Bible), “does not strut” (Message Bible), “is not conceited”, (Good News Edition), “Is Never Boastful or Proud” (Living Bible), “is not boastful” (Revised Standard Version).

As you can see there is similarity but also differences among these translations as well as with a the many others that exist.

If today Paul were writing in English he might be inspired to write something like love is not egocentric, self-aggrandizing, narcissistic or braggadocios.  Of course, those terms and their particular definitions did not exist in his day so he had to use what was available.  For help with original biblical linguistics check out Truth in Translation by Dr. Jason BeDuhn.

I have chosen to use boastful which is a common interpretation in Protestant translations with the more Catholic translation pretentious.  To me, that seems to make a decent bridge between what is coming to be understood about the nature of healthy, real love and recent biblical linguistic research findings.

What Does Boastful and Pretentious Mean Psychologically?

Boastful means excessively showing off, bragging and presenting oneself or one’s achievements, qualities etc. as superior, more excellent and more worthy of merit than is accurate or necessary.  Pretentious means pretending to have greater standing, skill, importance, sophistication, status, qualities, worth, etc. than is accurate or merited in a situation.

Psychologically, boasting and pretentiousness behaviors suggest a person who may be in need of greater self-love and more inner self worth.  Such a person also may need to find, own and/or develop their own talents, qualities, attributes, etc. so as not to need pretense.  Such a person also may be too outer-dependent and insufficiently able to be interdependent, co-functioning or team functioning which can be quite detrimental to successful love relating (see Recovering Love by this author).

Real and False Self-Love

Those who have healthy, real self-love tend to brag briefly.  Those of false self-love go on and on.  Those of real self-love tend not to do much politically correct, socially adept humility and self depreciation talk.  They avoid modesty-dishonesty as they also avoid over self-glorification because with healthy self-love they do not need it and it takes too much time and effort.  Thus, the healthfully self-loving in a close love relationship can see pretending to be more and less than they really perceive themselves to be, as deceitful and a poor way to treat loved ones (“Unselfish Self-Love”).

In false love, there is often a lot of pretense, phony manipulation, fake intimacy and a plethora of small to large deceits.  Hiding the truth about many things and other forms of secrecy frequently are common.  Many who secretly see themselves as somehow not enough attempt starting toward a love relationship with a lot of overt or covert, boastful falsehoods.  They may fake to impress and then work to hide what they have faked.  This usually turns out to be a very poor way to grow true love, trust or anything else that can be called real (“False Love Awareness”).

There is an old, silly story that says, on their wedding night she said, “I have to confess something dear” and took out the falsies from her very padded bra.  He said, “I too must confess” as he got 2 inches shorter after taking out the lifts in his shoes.  She said, “There’s more” and removed her girdle.  He remarked, “Me too” and tossed his toupee away, which was then followed by her wig.  They then continued that way until there was nobody there.

In a symbolic way, this is a true story about some marriages especially those of the trophy spouse type.  Being brave enough to present the truth about yourself, including brief bragging about the good parts along with the not so good, has been known to pay off two big ways.  One way is to either garner admiration for self-disclosure and brave, self sharing or the second way, to more quickly screen-out those who cannot relate or deal with honest self-disclosure and probably would not have worked out anyway (see “Growing Closeness – A Love Skill”).

Healthy Self-Love and Self-Confidence vs Boastful and Pretentious

Superiority syndromes or complexes long have been known to hide inferiority syndromes and complexes.  Neither of these are to be confused with healthy self-love and its strong, self-confident characteristic.  Being overly boastful and pretentious, suggests the dynamics of a person who frequently is attending to and finding importance in how others see them and how they can influence that.  Usually, the healthfully self-loving and self-confident attend to and find importance in how their world is functioning and what to constructively do with it.  This frequently is confluent with the dictum “love others as you love yourself” and, therefore, is not just focused on self gain, as are boastfulness and pretentiousness (see “Self-Love and Its Five Healthy Functions” and Real Love False Love by this author).

Avoiding the Harm of Self Debasement

Don’t ever be boastful, proud, brag, think too well of yourself, like yourself overmuch or care for yourself too much.  Instead, always be humble, modest, meek, self-sacrificing, acting with humility, put others first and self last.  For many people these concepts and others like them have been the connected and extended interpretation of the “love is not boastful or pretentious” tenant.  Add docile and obedient for a possible in between the lines meaning.  From a mental health point of view, all that has turned out to be anti-natural, unhealthy, self-destructive and really not good for the well-being of others.

This self-effacing understanding goes against the win-win understanding of the great, core teaching “love others as you love yourself”.  Those who healthfully love themselves do sufficient self-care, along with care of others, and end up doing better, longer, more creatively and more good for others than the de-powered self-sacrificing and self demeaning.  Being accurately self proud turns out to be a good thin.  Sharing what you are proud of is self-disclosure – a love action in intimate love relationships.  Socially, a brief, one sentence brag often is positively viewed as refreshing, honest and winsome self-confidence.  Three or more sentences, not so much.

One More Thing

You might want to talk all this over with others and, in so doing, create a positive, sharing experience.  If you do, please mention this site and its Mini-Love-Lessons along with the free subscription service. Thank you!

As always – Go and Grow with Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

Touching Back - A Surprisingly Important Love Skill

Synopsis: This mini-love-lesson starts with touching back as a predictor of love success; and goes on to what not touching back does; sex love and touching back; some guidelines for touching back with love; more.

Touching Back As a Predictor of Love Success

Did you know that in a love relationship touching back is one of the best, single factors indicating a love relationship is satisfying and successful?

By ‘touching back’ we mean first receiving a loving touch then making a return action of loving touch.  This is important in all forms of love: friendship love, parent to child love, romantic love, etc.  It does not surprise most people to find out that more successful, satisfied, loving couples touch each other with love more than other not so successful and satisfied couples.

But a much better indicator of love success is reciprocal, return, touching actions.  At least that is what is reported in a recent edition of the magazine, Psychology Today, in a fairly comprehensive article on various aspects of the importance of touch.  However, there are some particulars concerning touching back after being touched which make touching back with love a little more involved than you might think.
Think of a person who loves you, softly caressing your cheek or of a person encircling their arms around you and giving you, what for you would be, the perfect hug.  Now think of a person who loves you reaching out to hold your hand or gently rubbing their fingers across your arm.
At this site, under the Subject Index heading “Touch”, consult the “50 Varieties of Love Touch” mini-love-lesson.

What Not Touching Back Does

Think of what you feel when you say hello to someone and they do not say hello back.  Think of what you feel if you stick your hand out to shake hands with someone and they don’t put their hand out to meet yours.  Many people feel a sense of rejection, or non-acceptance or having been judged very negatively.  In more subtle, subconscious ways it’s pretty much the same for many situations in which touching back could occur but it does not.

Not touching back when you have been touched lovingly can have a corrosive effect on your love relationships.  The indications are that the more you touch back and give reciprocal contact the more your love bonding together will occur.  And it appears the more you don’t touch back with love when physically touched with love the more likely it is that your love relationship may erode and come to an end.

One of the more powerful ways to send ‘a rejection message’ to someone who is trying to heal a wounded relationship is to angrily say to them “don’t touch me!”  And then of course there is ‘turning a cold shoulder’ which powerfully tells someone that you are not about to lovingly reconnect with them yet, if ever.

What Touching Back with Love Accomplishes

One understanding of love relationships goes like this: ‘for there to be a growing, real, healthy, love relationship love must be cycled’.  To do this you send out love messages that are taken in by another.  This by itself does not create an ongoing, love relationship.  For a ongoing and possibly lasting, love relationship, the person who takes in love must then send love back by love actions and messages which forms a first loop of a love cycle.  Then that process must continue and that cycling is what grows relationships stronger, bigger and better.

Tactile or touch love is one of the most essential ways for that to happen.  We now know that the neurochemical, oxytocin, which helps the process of living beings to feel emotionally bonded with each other, is created in the brain when tactile love is experienced, especially in the cyclically way just described.  Other healthy, positive brain chemistry changes, stimulated by loving touch, are also suspected to be occurring.  Being lovingly touched back is especially good for helping people not feel isolated but rather supported, safe and included.

One simple, but often surprisingly effective things I do in couples, parent/child and family therapy, is request people to experiment with loving touch and giving loving touch back.  I once had a couple do this little experiment of touching each other’s hands and touching back, focusing on doing it with love.  For over 10 years they had not touched each other in any friendly or positive way.  They hesitantly experimented with the ‘touching and touching back’ of each other’s hands.  They ended up weeping in each other’s arms, vowing to make up for all the time they had lost.

I have seen long estranged family members, parents and their adult children, and people in broken friendships get very similar results.  I’ve also seen people hold their arms wide open to receive another and that other refuse the offer, so the touching back experience did not occur and the relationship continued to dysfunction until we found other ways to improve it.

Touching Back and Loving Children

See this picture.  Two parents are talking with each other and each parent has their child standing next to them.  A very loud, big, powerful and angry sounding dog begins to bark in the background.  Both children grab their parents legs and squeeze up close.  One parent reaches down and pets their child’s head and caresses their shoulder reassuringly.  The other parent makes no reciprocal touch action in response to their child’s touch.  Which child is going to start crying?  Which child is more likely to soon be easily agitated, and then if not reassuringly touched, withdraw and possibly that night have a nightmare about big, mean, scary dogs?  The research on parent/child attachment pretty much shows the lovingly touched child will be more strong and secure, self-confident and more okay later in life.

There is an older school of thought that says ‘if you want to make your child independent and tough you don’t touch them, so they learn how to handle it on their own’.  Most of the results on this approach, that I am aware of, do not point to that being a healthful strategy. This school of thought was once so popular that the US government sent out pamphlets to new parents advising that they avoid giving touch to their children, which supposedly, was pampering and weakening their character.  They stopped this when real research showed opposite results to be occurring.

Touching Back Friends And Family

If a friend gives you a hug, or pats you on the back or makes some other form of physical contact with you which perhaps expresses friendship love, what do you do?  If other friends express their affection for one another physically do you feel embarrassed?  If a male and a female hug, or two females hug, or two males hug do you interpret it as sexual?  If people in public touch and touch back romantically, have you been programmed to identify it as ‘inappropriate’ or worse.  There is a suspicion that the people who lovingly touch each other and touch each other back cause the least trouble in the world.  There is some evidence to suggest that friends who do not touch each other with friendship love are less likely to form deep, lasting friendships.

Lots of people do not touch back their same-sex friends because they have a certain amount of homophobic fear.  This also occurs in some families.  A family-reconciliation counselor who works mostly with families that are having difficulties because one of the family members is homosexual gives this test.  She says, “Can you get to where you hug your homosexual family member just as easily and vigorously as you do any other family member?”  She then gets them to practice.  One thing to examine is this question, “What is the difference you make happen when a male and a female friend or family member touches you and you have a ‘touch them back’ opportunity?

Sex, Love and Touching Back

Some people seem to identify all touch with sex.  Some do not know how to differentiate love and sex, and when to show one and not the other.  If you get a loving touch that has no sexuality in it and then interpret it as having sexuality or being primarily sexual, the way you give a touch back may be relationally destructive and quite unwelcome.  If someone touches your shoulder, or elbow or perhaps your knee (all hard parts of your body) that touch is probably not sexual.  If they stroke your inner thigh it probably is sexual.  A kiss on your forehead usually is not at all the same thing as having someone else’s tongue in your mouth.  It is quite possible for loving touch to drift into including some sexuality.  What is important here is mutuality.  If both people who are lovingly touching each other mutually become sexually reciprocal, it may be pretty much okay.

Misreading the signs of reciprocity is where many people make mistakes.  It is important to remember, love is far more important than sex.  When sexual touching back occurs in response to what is primarily a love touch the love relationship can be harmed.  Therefore, usually it is very useful to go rather slowly into that which might become sexual.  Making sexuality overwhelm the expressions of love or push it aside can be problematic to a ‘just beginning’ or to an ‘ongoing’ love relationship.  Here’s a good thing to examine in yourself.  Study which of your actions are more likely to convey love as primary and which may convey sex to be of primary importance to you.  Also examine the question ‘do you interpret other’s touch actions as sexual when primarily they may be trying to convey love?

If two people are lovingly holding and caressing each other and it becomes more sexual, that can be a very good thing.  Here too, mutuality is important.  If one person is laying quite still while being lovingly and sexually touched, their actions may be interpreted as being too much like “a cold fish”.  Mutual touching back action is the cure for that.  As one client said, “One of the most wonderful things my husband and I do is curl up in each other’s arms and mutually hold and fondle each other’s genitals after having had sex.  Sometimes we go to sleep that way and it is incredibly intimate and special.”

There are people who just want to be touched and do not think about touching back sexually or with love.  There also are other people who are uncomfortable receiving touchback experiences.  They make it very hard for the cycle we’ve previously talked about to occur.  Generally the more two people are simultaneously lovingly and/or sexually touching, caressing, petting, stroking, etc. each other the better.  However, taking turns, where the giving and receiving and then giving of the touch back cycle can be fully concentrated upon and absorbed, also is a good option for many couples.

Some Guidelines For Touching Back with Love

∙    At first ‘Touchback’ in ways similar to how you were touched.  The same amount of pressure, energy, speed, the amount of area and the type of area touched on you will provide a guide for the first touching back.  Then if you receive additional touchback, in turn, you may wish to expand your own touching back.  If someone puts a hand on your leg while you’re riding in the car you might want to place your hand on their leg (as long as it doesn’t interfere with driving).  If someone reaches to hold your hand, give a similar hold back with a little squeeze, about like they squeezed your hand, as your hands came together.  Your touchback does not have to be a copy of theirs but if at first it is similar, the experience is more likely to go well.

∙    Talk over ways you like to be touched and ask about ways the other person likes to be touched back.  The more people who love each other ‘get really clear’ about how they want to be touched and how they like to give touch the better their touching relationship is likely to go.  The only way to get truly clear is with clear message sending and receiving.  Some people go for years getting hugs too tight or too soft, or too low or too high, or in some other way not just right for them just because they never clearly ask for what they truly want.

∙    Always be willing to experiment with new and different ways of touching back.  For instance, have you tried the ‘two hands on one’ return handshake, or the ‘love nudge’ at the movies, the ‘playing footsy’ under the table, the ‘pick them up and twirled around’ when they hug you response, or the ‘hold their face gently in your hands and kiss their eyelids’ return love action?

∙    Notice every time you are touched.  Some people do not, and without awareness there is little chance that they will, give a loving touch in return.  While you practice noticing, be careful about misinterpreting the touch you are receiving.  Is it conveying friendship love, sexuality, is it somehow controlling or otherwise negative, is it sympathetic, empathetic, sweet, saccharine, possessive, etc.?  There are many possibilities.  Your interpretation gives guidance to how you will give a return touch and whether or not it will be one of love.

Well, dear reader, at least for a while, are you going to give some thought to your love expressional, touching back actions?  Are you going to develop your touching back love skill more?

As always, Go and Grow with Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

Love Success Question
In regard to loving touch back actions, growing up what was modeled for you in your family and are you currently guided by that?