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Are You A "Challenge" Lover ?

One of the eight major ways to demonstrate love directly is called ‘affirmational love’.  Any acts or words which affirm the worth or importance of a loved one may be a way to show affirmational love.  There are literally hundreds of ways to affirmationally love someone.  One of the best ways, which is often overlooked, is ‘challenge’ loving.

When you challenge a loved one to do better, achieve a goal, overcome difficulty, be and do their best, etc. you might be offering them love by way of challenge.  Done well challenging someone to do, or be better implicitly shows that you believe in their ability to do and/or to be better.  Thus, love based challenge offers affirmation.  Challenge also demonstrates your confidence in a loved one and, therefore, your confidence might help that loved one become more self-confident.

“You can do it”, “I know you can”, “You have what it takes”, “Go for it” and other challenging type statements often help loved ones be more daring, more brave, put forth greater effort, tap into their latent talent and potentials and rise to the occasion even though the occasion may be daunting.  Said with love and with an encouraging attitude “I dare you.”, “Are you brave enough?”, “If you have enough guts, do it”, “Stand up for yourself.” and other challenging ways of talking which are aimed at provoking brave or strong action also can offer the affirmation that you not only believe in a loved one’s ability but that you are emotionally with and for that loved one.

Parents often can improve their parenting by using challenge the way that good coaches know how to do.  Many a self doubting, but well coached youth comes to say things like “My coach told me get in there and do it.  I thought if the coach said do it he must think I can do it.  So I just went and did it.  Up to then I was pretty sure I couldn’t do it.  With the coach’s belief in me I started believing in myself.”  Friendship love often accomplishes the same thing. Good friends not only cheer for each other’s success but they challenge each other toward greater success.  Sometimes by just being there for someone your behavior manifests the affirmation that you know a person can make a worthy effort.  Your presence in essence challenges the person to do their best while at the same time showing them you believe in their ability to accomplish their endeavor whatever it is.

There are a couple of things to be careful about when attempting challenge love.  One is be sure you are challenging a loved one to do something that is of their own choosing and desire, not just yours.  Another is to be careful with praise.  Some over-praise very small steps taken toward a challenge goal and, thus, weaken the effect of their praise.  That can lessen the power of your assistance toward the achievement of a loved one’s success.  Others under-praise and that too can have a weakening effect on assisting a loved one’s attempt to meet a challenge.  Small praises for small steps coupled with more challenge, and big praises for big victories, and fair sized praises whenever complete victory was not achieved for how much was accomplished is the general rule.

The third part of that last sentence is an especially important aspect of affirmational loving. Also don’t couple praise with challenge when an effort is completed – this usually renders the praise meaningless.  Saying things like “You did great by making an A in your course but next time I want you to make an A+” can cancel out the praise in this sort of statement.  Statements like that which include a “but” often get the challenge disregarded too.  Full victory usually deserves big, celebratory praise.

Sometimes not being challenging to someone you love accidentally delivers an implicit message that you do not believe in their ability to grow, and improve, or achieve a goal.  Being challenging to a loved one may seem like being hard on that person, and perhaps even being unloving.  However, in some situations being too unchallenging and too easy on someone can be as damaging as being too hard on a loved one.

It is important to mix strongly supportive and clearly loving statements with strong challenges.  For example, “I know you can finish that term paper, Honey, because you have studied hard, and you have the intelligence and creativity to write an excellent paper.  Now buckle down, put pen to paper, keep at it, and show them what you can do!”  The very fact that, by way of challenge, you are being hard on a person about something may express to them that you believe in their ability to take hard treatment.  Thus, that can help to affirm their own inner strength.  To never challenge someone you love can mean you are leaving out an important aspect of demonstrating your love.

Some challenges are best given softly and subtly.  They invite rather than insist or provoke a loved one to grow, try earnestly, improve or make a greater effort.  Sometimes a challenge that affirms is delivered just by a look or a gesture.  A nod that says “go for it”, a wink that suggests “you can do it”, a small thumbs-up gesture that sends a “give it your all because I believe in you” message – all these convey both affirmation and challenge simultaneously but with some subtlety.  Sometimes it’s a simple “yes” or a short “dare ya” or perhaps a whispered “why not” that has the love-based affirming and challenging effect.

Occasionally the challenge comes as a question or pseudo-question.  “How can you not try that and live with yourself?”.  Loving challenge can be folded into testimony.  “If it were me I would have to attempt it”, “I may be foolish but I always go all out for that sort of thing” are examples of affirmational challenge given somewhat indirectly but by testimony.  I heard an old Irishman give a very artful, potent, affirmational challenge by saying “Will I be loving you happy knowing you went bravely, or will I be loving you sad because you didn’t go at all?”  He so well indicated that the love would be there either way but the urging was obviously toward a taking the brave, more challenging route.

Of course, challenge loving can be over done and over used.  Sometimes what’s needed is just a hug or time to listen empathetically.  To evaluate when a loving challenge is in order ask yourself “Is a loving challenge what is needed here for the growth and/or well being of the loved one, or am I motivated by my own agenda?  What level of challenge is appropriate for the task at hand and for my loved one’s prior level of accomplishment?  How can I present my challenge lovingly –  word choice, tones of voice, gestures and facial expression, and maybe reassuring touch communicating love so it is, indeed, a loving challenge and not insistent pushing?  If your challenge is rejected you might suggest that your loved one consider it a little longer, ‘sleep on it’, or that they modify your challenge to fit them better so they can carry the challenge forward in their own best way.

Let me now suggest that you take a little time to think of those you love and how and when you might use a love-based challenge, or two, to affirm their worth, ability, potential, strength and so forth.  Then too you might want to give yourself a few such challenges thereby affirm your own worth, ability, potential, strength, etc. to do more than you might feel you are capable of.
As always – grow with love.

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

Image credits: “Nanga-Parbat” (in Pakistan) by Flickr user Faisal.Saeed.

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