The Circle Line

Learning to love

Love is an emotion, but it's also a skill.
Which is good news as we can all master a skill...


The word “Love” conjures many images and ideas… But what is love? Where do we get our ideas of love from? It’s the Big Question. And one to which we all have our own answers.

We learn love at school – in the books we’re taught to read and the behaviours we’re rewarded and punished for.

We learn love from films – Disney, cartoons, epics, romcoms and dramas.

Most importantly – we experience love from and between our parents.

Love was modelled by our carers when we were children. How did they show they cared about us? How did they show they cared about each other? Did they show they cared?

The good news is, whatever examples we were given, love is something we can learn as we go through life by observing and absorbing other good examples.

Love is an emotion

Emotions are complex. They are bodily sensations to which we attach a meaning. And they are different for all of us.

The oxytocin-fuelled sensation of sexual love feels one of our most primal emotions; we can interpret this sensation as the drive to love and be loved in order to reproduce and to survive.

The sensation of “love” is essentially pleasant, although it can vary in intensity from:

If we are in touch with our bodies, we can feel it.

Love is a Connection

Love is most satisfying when reciprocal, like a see-saw in perpetual motion – it can go on indefinitely when it flows in both directions.

For love is connecting with another. This means to really see, hear and understand them. We can do this by:

  1. Talking – ask about others’ views and experiences, and say what you think and feel.
  2. Identifying and sharing our feelings – knowing when we are happy, sad, angry or scared and saying so.
  3. Listening – without interrupting, with no agenda, without calculating what to say next, without trying to control the conversation. (Listening to our selves means pausing and being quiet, noting our thoughts and feeling our emotions as they arise)
  4. Forgiving.

These can take a lot of practice. Listening and forgiving can be particularly hard.


Listening underpins empathy. Yet most of us find listening difficult. If we’ve not been listened to much in life (and who has?) it can be hard to listen to others; we haven’t learnt how – how would we if it’s not been modelled to us?

Instead we tend to wait for the person to stop talking so we can give our advice, or interrupt with our thoughts, or respond with “me too” or a story of our own.

The first step to actively listening is simply to be quiet. Don’t say anything. Just hear and nod.

Only if we listen can we understand.

Ironically, to learn to really listen it helps to have been regularly truly heard yourself. Then it’s much easier to (a) find the headspace to listen to others, and (b) copy how to do it.

Active listening on a deeper level takes strong self-awareness. This is what therapists are so good at, which is why they make good people to seek out to start your learning.

Listening is what shores up strong relationships. Truly hearing and trying to understand the other’s world, their point of view – this is empathy. So it’s worth the effort to practise.


Forgiveness is one of the core aspects of love at its most generous. It can also be the hardest. When the hurt caused has been great, or long-term, the pain and anger can be intense and entrenched.

Acknowledging the pain or resentment to yourself or with another person is the first step. You may well need to repeat this several times – forgiveness is a process. The second step is understanding why the other person did or said what they did. This takes listening and empathy (see above!).

There is also a time for forgiveness – which might not be now. And you may or may not always share your forgiveness – that’s up to you. It might be something you do just for your benefit.

But in any long-term love we will mess up. And that will require forgiveness if we are to get past it.

Love is an Action

Love requires demonstration. We must manifest it in actions and words. It doesn’t descend like a gift; it is us that give love life.

Love can be seen and felt in the daily practice of positive behaviours that we learn and copy through observation.

Our preferred loving behaviours differ – from thoughtful gifts, helping with the laundry, to a wildly romantic weekend away. What our different versions of loving actions have in common is that they require us to:

  1. Keep each other’s welfare paramount. This encompasses (a) Doing things for another that they enjoy – a cuppa, a bath, a hug, sex, jigsaws…. whatever floats their boat, (b) Doing things to help another, and (c) Not doing things that are bad for them or hurt them.
  2. Encouraging each other’s real self – supporting each other’s deepest needs and wants.

To respond to another’s needs, we need to know what they are – which means really seeing, hearing and understanding the other person, and ourself. Which brings us back to connection… So love really is circular.

Love is a lesson

Most of all – we can learn to love from the person we are with.

Everyone wants to love and be loved differently. So ask them.


Love in all its wonderful forms is a connection, a feeling, a set of actions – and the ultimate lesson.

It’s an ability we were all given at birth and the very essence of being human. If the above behaviours weren’t taught – or modelled – to us as kids, it might take uncomfortable daily practice to learn to love.

But that is lucky. Because we all have the ability to practice and to learn. In this way, love in all its myriad forms truly is for everyone.

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