Why do we engage with people? Some say it’s because we have no other option. However, life is about relationships. Work, family, romantic, erotic, friends, offspring, siblings, neighbors, strangers, society, nations…it is all about relationships. Regardless of the type, there are degrees of TLC that apply to the context. So, what is TLC? Tender loving care.
A couple weeks ago I was catching up with my friend Jack*. We were making the rounds on all the subjects, work, kids, family and finally he opens up about what was on his chest – a TLC deficit in his relationship. For him, TLC was just tenderness, consideration and affection. This surprised me not because of the need but the importance that he was giving it. He’s right though in making it a priority. If sex is the balm in a relationship, TLC is the glue. Let’s define TLC as respect, courtesy and affection, they are the niceties that help make you feel cared for by someone close to you.
Jack and his partner Lin have been together almost ten years and they appear from the outside to have the typical cordial relationship of two people that get along well, but perhaps lacking sweetness. As with many relationships, there was nothing wrong on a grand scale, but perhaps just lack of attention to the details.
Let’s be clear, these are external judgements on how a couple appears to the rest of the world and is in no need an indication of how healthy or not they may be. The only reason that I can draw these conclusions for Jack and Lin is because my perceptions are verified by him. Furthermore, in this instance, I only had one side of the story. Another disclaimer on sweetness. Some will argue that this is simply not the way they communicate or what they like. Of course, we all have distinct ranges of expression. Conversely, that isn’t to excuse those that are flat out cynical, cutting and sarcastic constantly with those around them. This erodes emotional bonds long term, of any nature. Sarcasm and cynicism have their place, but when it becomes the normal tone between people, you can almost bet how long that relationship will last. If this seems like your MO, I challenge you to reflect as to why you choose to communicate in this way and if it is yielding you the results you wish for in your relationships. No one wants puppies and flowers all the time, but neither a bitter cynic. Just because you’ve trained a certain way of being doesn’t mean you can’t change it nor that it’s the best for you. Remember, you train both the good and the bad.
So, what is it about this sweetness that is so important? Why does it matter?
Do you remember the last time you were sick, in pain or distress and alone? What did you long for at that moment? Of course, for the ailment to cease, but possibly the comfort of a loved one. It may have been the nurturing touch of a mother or father or another person that has been present in previous distressing situations or simply someone that brings you a lot of peace and security. I chose this example because it draws on a very basic human need of comfort and nurture. The requirements of this need are ample in their expression and priority depending on the context. But unless there is significant mental illness or imbalance, the need is present in all of us. It translates into a palpable sensation of love. The “sweetness” that we express to those around us creates a positive feedback loop of feeling cared for, which some will understand directly as being loved. This, if it isn’t reinforced periodically, can lead to someone having a perfectly functioning relationship in which either part can feel unloved or uncared for. Lack of sweetness doesn’t mean there is abuse or disrespect, but it’s the difference between going to a government office with a civil servant that is simply fulfilling the tasks required and going to your local coffeeshop where the owner greets you by name, asks about your cat and prepares your coffee just the way like you like it. Which would you prefer?
There are different expressions of love/sweetness. Dr. Gary Champman wrote a book often found in Christian literature, The 5 Love Languages. If I were to reread it today, it’s likely that I would disagree with a lot of it. Nonetheless, there are gems that can be helpful for Jack and Lin, and all of us in order to love ourselves and others a bit better. Dr. Chapman describes 5 love languages – there is a predominant one that you give and one that you prefer to receive. As with any scale, you need all of them, but we tend to have preferences and degrees of frequency in which to receive them. They are:
1. Words of affirmation: kind and uplifting words
2. Acts of service: doing helpful things
3. Gifts: receiving gifts that demonstrate you were thinking of the other (they don’t have to be expensive)
4. Quality time: spending dedicated time with the person
5. Physical touch: being close to and caressed by the person
It’s an excellent resource to reflect and rank your preferences and needs. This tool applies to any context. Give it a try and rank your favorites and your partner’s and then exchange notes.
So, what can Jack do? Using the 5 love languages, he will gain more vocabulary to express his needs more clearly and possibly have a conversation with Lin. However, if he wants to try something else prior, I challenged him to give all that he wants to receive and to focus on everything he does have. Why do this? When we need something or feel lack, we focus all of our energy on what is not there thus magnifying it. If he focuses rather on giving everything that he wants to receive it provokes an internal reflection to make that possible. You can’t give something you don’t have. If the issue is his lack of self-love, no matter what Lin does, this will not be cured although temporarily soothed. This is not to say that there may not be inherent elements in their relationship that need to be revisited, discussed and possibly treated, but with anything, we have to take our share of the responsibility. Jack doing this exercise will help his self-esteem, self-care and self-love to grow, consequently equipping him to better engage in whatever steps may be necessary with Lin. The request changes when you’re asking from a place of fullness versus lack. No one can fill you, but you.
To wrap up, sweetness or TLC is an essential ingredient to a fulfilling life as it validates our understanding of love, consideration or being cared for in any given relationship. The five love languages are an excellent tool to explore your needs and that of those around us. Love always starts with you. Until next week, when we will explore the sexy world of digital currencies and debt forgiveness. Chao