Love is Tough

I sat in my seat in a circle of students in my counseling theories class.
Pen in hand and a self-inventory worksheet on top of a book on my lap, I thought about the question at the top of the paper:
What did you learn about love from how your parents treated you?
This is what I wrote:

Love requires trust (in multiple ways). Trustworthiness was expected of me, not as a condition of love but as a function of it. Love is tough. When I am loved, I am held to high standards, expected to be the best I can and not enabled to do whatever is less than my best.

I think of this a lot.

I think of it as a counselor, in my observation of families and in my interactions with clients.

But also as a daughter. A sister. A friend. A single woman. A potential wife and parent.

This is not about one person telling another what he or she has to change about him or herself in order to be marriage material (I did that once, and it isn’t love).

This is not about manipulating a person into being who they aren’t, who you’d like them to be (somebody tried to do that to me once, and it isn’t love, either).

It is not about having unreasonable expectations (sort of like when my goal was to find – nay, be found by – a Catholic chiropractor who has dreadlocks and a Scottish accent).

It is not about relating like an authoritarian.

This is about ti voglio bene. Italian for “I love you,” but translated literally – according to Edward Sri in Men, Women and the Mystery of Love – it is “I wish you good” or “I want what is good for you.”

This is really about sacrifice.

It’s about not putting yourself between your kid and reasonable consequences for his or her behavior (because while you suffer when they do, if you always save them, they never can learn). It’s about not spoiling your kid, even if it makes you sad when your kid doesn’t get what he or she wants, or your kid’s response to “no” irritates the snot out of you (because kids who are given everything become adults who don’t want to do anything).

It’s about expecting the beloved to reach the bar (of integrity, responsibility, chastity, etc.), not lowering it for them. It’s about accepting that to lower the bar for somebody – while easy for you – is to contribute to the maintenance of his or her weakness, to the atrophy of his or her muscles.

It’s about being there for the beloved through his or her growing pains (which implies allowing him or her to grow), not vetoing somebody’s growth so you don’t have to witness his or her pain.

Love is tough.

Ti voglio bene.

This article originally appeared on Ignitum.com and is used with permission.

Arleen Spenceley, who works as a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, is author of forthcoming book Chastity is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin, to be released by Ave Maria Press in Dec. 2014. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in counseling, both from the University of South Florida. She blogs at arleenspenceley.com and tweets @ArleenSpenceley. Click here to like her on Facebook.

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