A few weeks ago I came across a simple but intriguing question: “How can I love you better?” Catherine Newman, writing in the October 2010 issue of the magazine Whole Living, describes her experiment with asking that question of her family and the surprising results. She anticipated that their responses would require some difficult sacrifice or change on her part, but found that the reality was much simpler. The requests weren’t big ones after all, and yet simply asking the question had a profound impact on her spouse, her children, and the author.
Isn’t it an unspoken expectation in relationships that you are always trying to love others better? Does asking the question remind those in the family, the marriage, the friendship of that goal? Do relationships deteriorate because people quit trying? Who can consciously try to love the others in their lives better every day?
Maybe that’s where the simple act of asking the question comes into play. None of us is perfect. None of us can love the others in our lives more each day, every day. We have more capacity to love, to give of ourselves, to be unselfish, some days. Less ability other days. But when we ask the question, “How can I love you better?” we remind the people in our lives that we are paying attention, we care, we are noticing our behavior. We are trying. The times we are successful at loving better carries us through the moments when we fail. And isn’t that what relationships are about anyway? We try, sometimes we fail, we forgive each other, we try again. Loving better is a never-ending quest, a reach for perfection that none of us can ever fulfill. But we can ask the question, we can consciously try.
I asked my own children, grown now and living on their on, how I can love them better. My son tells me if I understand more of his interests, I can be a better friend to him. Fair enough, I can do that. My daughter’s first response, which she self-edits even as she speaks it, is that we live closer to her. But at the moment that’s not feasible. So I am waiting for her answer still. But she knows I want to love her better. My husband knows. I like the self-challenge to be more engaged, to be consciously and actively looking for ways to demonstrate what is truly and deeply in my heart: that I want to love them all better, more deeply, with intention and ferocity.