• Robert Schwebel, Ph.D.

Good Loving: The Free Expression of Affection

Updated: 3 days ago

It seems that that the rules for exchanging affection in our culture are far too stringent and keep us feeling needy. The rules aren’t written into law, but programmed into our minds in various subtle ways.

Rule No. 1: Do not give affection. We should withhold good feelings about one another.

Compliments are to be swallowed rather than exchanged. Think of the reasons:

· The other person isn’t interested in hearing what I feel.

· It would be too embarrassing to say what I feel.

· The other person will think I’m being manipulative.

· If I give a compliment to one person, then I have to compliment everyone else, as well.

Rule No. 2: Don’t ask for affection. Once again there are a variety of reasons:

· If I ask for affection, the other person will think I’m needy.

· If I have to ask, then what I get won’t be worth anything.

· I’ll look weak if I ask.

· I shouldn’t need another person’s affection. I should get by without it.

Love and affection are limitless resources. You don’t run out of them. They’re not like

money. You can spend all your money and have non left. They’re not like oil. The supply of oil on this planet can be exhausted.

Sharing love and affection at one time doesn’t limit our capacity to share affection at a later point. Yet the particular rules that govern the sharing of affection create a situation of scarcity. We’re not sharing our good feelings.

Additional rules only make matters worse.

Rule No. 3: Don’t accept affection. If your friend says, “You look great today,” you think to yourself, “It’s a good thing she didn’t see me close up.”

If your friend says, “You’re a very kind and loving person,” the reaction is, “It’s a good thing he doesn’t know me better.”

One way or another, we deflect compliments. They roll away like water off a duck’s back.

Rule No. 4: You can’t reject affection that doesn’t feel good and you don’t want.

For example, some people are tired of compliments about being a “hard worker.” Maybe, in fact, they feel that they work too hard and want to learn to pace themselves better. If it weren’t for the rule about rejecting affection, they would say, “I’m sorry, but the ‘hard-working’ compliment doesn’t really feel good.”

The classic example of the rule against rejecting affection occurs when an individual who does not want to engage in sexual activity does not have permission to say, “Sorry, no.” When you believe you have to accept unwanted affection, you are not free.

Humans need love, attention, and affection to survive. The stringent rules against the free exchange of affection leaves us all slightly deprived. If we can’t get positive attention, we may play games and do thing that at least get us negative attention. We may become conformists, willing to do whatever is expected in order to try to please others and win their favor.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. We can decide to break the rules that limit the free exchange of affection. We can decide to:

· Ask for the affection we want.

· Offer the affection we feel.

· Accept the affection we want.

· Reject the affection we don’t want.

We can construct supportive and nurturing environments. Couples, families and friends can talk it over with one another and loosen up the restrictions. They can decide to break the rules and enjoy an abundance of affection.


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For 8 years, Robert Schwebel Ph.D. wrote a weekly psychology column for the Sunday edition of the Arizona Daily Star. This article is one of many.

Copyright © 2020 Robert Schwebel, Ph.D.

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