It is crucial to both love and be loved. We need each other to get by. Loving and being loved fulfills our deepest human need and allows us to stay on track while navigating the challenges of living. We all need love, support, understanding, affirmation, validation, and help. Civilization would not exist were it not for the intricate matrix of an incomprehensible number of interdependencies based on loving and being loved.

Loving and being loved requires some key relational skills:

  1. Being able to enhance and maintain your well-being and vitality so you can devote yourself to the care of others and of Life itself.
  2. Practicing understanding, compassion, acceptance of others, and non-judgment of others’ personhoods (as opposed to their actions).
  3. Knowing we are imperfect and vulnerable to hurtful and selfish behavior, you love while protecting yourself from being harmed.
  4. Astutely assessing others’ characters and intentions.
  5. Trusting trustworthy people in the ways they can be trusted.
  6. Connecting with others.
  7. Treating others with unconditional love, care, and respect.

It is cliché to say you must first love yourself before you can love others. Yet it’s true. The first step of loving is to love yourself. If you cherished yourself as you cherish a baby, you would do nothing to harm yourself. If you are self-destructive or self-neglectful, you suffer and become obsessed with your suffering. Then you treat others as you treat yourself, sometimes despite your best intentions.

Loving enhances the well-being of Life. To love yourself is to enhance your own well-being. To love another, you must feel whole and fulfilled. This requires loving yourself and enhancing your sense of wholeness and value.

Everyone needs your care and support. You cannot give this without understanding, acceptance, compassion, and non-judgment. Failure to achieve these qualities of mind has a direct effect on your actions, causing others to feel devalued and judged. By developing these qualities of mind, you enable yourself to show care and kindness to others, even when they are destructive. Not that you do not set limits, assert yourself, and create boundaries to protect yourself; it is just that you protect yourself while maintaining an attitude of loving-kindness. This can require a lifetime of practice. With practice, however, this capacity grows.

Understanding the roots of another person’s unskillful behavior, which always stems ultimately from fear, creates the internal conditions for compassion to arise. Understanding comes from listening to others, asking questions, and observing closely. Learn not to judge others by reminding yourself that we are all imperfect. See that if you were in their shoes, you would act as they acted. People are as they are. You cannot change others; others need to change themselves. Accept others, with their quirks, foibles, and their evil (evil being anything that harms Life). We are as we are and can’t be otherwise.

Armed with compassion, acceptance, and non-judgment of others’ personhoods, protect yourself from other people’s hurtful behavior. Stay clear to sustain your love and care. In the extreme, when fighting for your life, you might harm another while maintaining a loving heart.

If others who you trusted in the past hurt you, you will have difficulty trusting other people, out of fear they will hurt you too. Learning to trust intelligently requires seeing others clearly. You can always trust another to do what they feel is in their best interest. Not everyone understands that to treat others with respect and care is in their best interest. Not everyone understands that if you do good, good comes back to you, and if you do bad, bad comes back to you. A minority understand that the ultimate selfish act is selflessness. Learn to assess others’ character and motives.

Note when people manipulate, exploit, or harm you. Many do what’s right for the wrong reasons. They act for self-gain alone. They don’t do what’s right because it’s right. Clear seeing helps you decide who you can trust, and what you can trust them for. Recognize the true friend. Those who “have your back.” Those who don’t cause harm. Take small steps of trusting. Test the waters. See who is trustworthy. As you see others accurately, you cultivate the courage to trust.

To build love, healthy relationships require communication. The most important skill of communication is the ability to stop what you are doing, pay close attention to what another person is saying, and listen. Then mirror back to them what you have heard for correction and confirmation, your intent being to make sure the other person feels understood.

By helping another to feel understood, you create the conditions for them to be more receptive to what you have to say. Take care in your speech to make “I” statements, avoiding blame and criticism. These are both communication stoppers. It’s one thing to say, “When you don’t clean up after yourself, I feel annoyed, and wish you wouldn’t leave messes for me to clean.” It’s another to say, “You’re an inconsiderate slob.” If you voice your feelings and preferences with care and respect, you will stand a better chance of getting care and respect back. Help others to understand you by not causing them to feel judged, hurt, or afraid, as these emotions lead to defensiveness and anger.

Everyone deserves your care and respect because they are sacred human beings, apart from their actions. Everyone is of infinite value and worth. By seeing others as sacred, you cement your commitment to unconditional care and respect regardless of how hurt, frustrated, or angry you may feel. You commit yourself to being respectful and loving because that is who you are, regardless of another person’s destructive behavior.

These relational skills take effort and practice to develop, with the help of a therapist, recovery mentor, spiritual advisor, family, and/or friends. You do not learn these skills on your own. Healing and growth require humility, and the ability to both ask for help and accept feedback. If you devote yourself to the practice of loving and being loved, with the help of others, you will enhance your relationship skills over time.