What’s Love Got To Do with It?

January 20, 2013

The sister of a friend of mine is wrestling with a relationship. She met the guy online 18 months ago. They agreed it would be exclusive. Today she is struggling with whether to continue seeing him. She discovered his online search to meet new partners—not once but twice. The first time she succumbed to his pleas to stay together. That was six months ago. Now it’s happened again.

“Drop him!” That’s what my friend wants to tell her, probably in a more diplomatic way. After all, isn’t giving free advice what big sisters do? Her wisdom comes from years of working on herself through counseling and introspection. She can spot the shards of broken trust in a New-York-minute. She loves her sister and doesn’t want to see her hurt. Throughout her sister’s life, she’s witnessed her trials and tribulations (e.g., divorce, bankruptcy) and struggles with seeing her make another misstep. The urge to protect her sister surges forth from deep inside.

Making Their Business Ours

What propels us to counsel the ones we love or intervene in their lives, especially when we haven’t been asked? What’s in it for us?

It sure seemed plausible to me to insert myself into my brother’s life when he told me he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I didn’t want to believe it was true, so I hustled around the Internet and found a physician not far from where he works who practices medicine using alternative approaches. I believe in and use alternative health care. In place of prescriptions, I use supplements and essential oils. Alternative care providers have worked for me. Surely, I was convinced, they would work for him, or at best, supplement the care he would get from conventional medicine.

My brother had two appointments with this alternative care physician. The second one ended disastrously. The doctor prescribed a list of supplements for him to purchase without explaining, even after he asked, why he needed to take them and what they could do for him. To add insult to injury, he confused another’s test results with my brother’s and read him the wrong results. This inexcusable error abruptly ended his foray into alternative medicine and catapulted him back into the conventional, medical world. I ended up scraping the proverbial mud off my face.

What propelled me to insert myself into this scenario? Spare him pain, augment his care, and ensure his longevity all sound good. I love my brother. Maybe I could save him. In retrospect, I am shocked by my egocentricity of pushing him into an arena with which he was unfamiliar and not inclined to explore. It reflects more my fear for his well-being than believing in his judgment to care for himself.

It’s Not Ours To Do

Shortly after my brother’s fiasco with alternative care, I found myself in my own doctor’s office describing the whole sad tale. My doctor gave a thoughtful response. She explained that by attempting to take control of, or insert ourselves into, the care of another, we thwart that person’s growth. We come into this life to learn certain lessons. Each of us has our own set. Probably the best way to be of service is to focus on our own.

This is a tough credo to live by, especially if we are co-dependent enablers. Helping others gives us focus, purpose and meaning; yet it can be a great distraction from doing our own work. It can delay our own growth.

Love Plays a Role

After pondering this more, I’ve concluded that perhaps the best thing I can do is to love myself first and then my brother. Luther VanDross’s song “Love the One You’re With” comes to mind. I’m the one I’m with. By loving myself first, I invite my deepest feelings to be heard. If I had listened to what was going on inside me instead of rushing to find an alternative care physician for my brother, I would have acknowledged my fear for his well-being and confronted mortality inching ever closer—not necessarily his, but my own. Those feelings emerge as a tangled web of loss, grief, fear and death.

By giving myself time to get acquainted with these unpleasant intruders, I can calm myself and assess the situation with greater clarity. I am better able to listen to my brother and hear whatever he has to say. Letting him adjust to his own diagnosis and honoring his decisions on how to handle his care are the best form of love I can give.

The same goes for my friend and her sister. If she were to shine a light on the uncomfortable feelings her sister’s choices elicit, identify and ultimately befriend them, it’s likely her angst would transform into acceptance. She would remain a witness to her sister’s struggle, no longer trying to save her.

Side-stepping and back-stepping are integral parts of the growth process for us all, and sometimes it goes on and on, seemingly without end. We do it all the time, often unwittingly. The challenge is to hang in there and listen. Accept responsibility for what is ours to do and let go of the rest. That’s love. That’s what love has got to do with it. Thanks, Tina, for asking the question!

Bev Hitchins © 2013

One Response to “What’s Love Got To Do with It?”

  1. Maria Mercedes Bejarano Says:

    I agree . My daughter suffers epilepsy . MY challenge is to let her live the life she s=chooses . She is a capable adult . My role is to be useful , respect and not yield to my fears , worries , etc .. Thanks for sharing these powerful stories .

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