I thought I knew how to love. I was married to my beautiful wife, Zoraida, and was ready to make her happy for the rest of her life. I was confident that being raised in an Adventist home was more than enough to make me a good husband.
However, when the honeymoon ended, I began to see all my wife’s imperfections and suddenly began to mistreat her in ways I thought I never would. The good behaviors I wanted to practice with my wife, I did not do, and the bad behaviors I never thought I would show, I did. I had the same problem that Paul describes in Romans 7:19, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”
What was the problem? The answer we usually have for this issue is that we are sinners and that we have a sinful nature. This is correct, but it is not an excuse I could use to justify my negative behavior. Another answer is that we do not know how to love. But how could I say that I did not know how to love if I had been in love for almost my entire life? It is a different thing to say that you are in love than to say that you know how to love. I am talking about Agape love, the divine love that is sacrificial and unconditional. The love described in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 13, that is not governed by an emotion but by a principle.
So, why didn’t I know how to love? I did not know how to love because the way I showed love was connected to my lack of emotional growth. My biological growth was not proportional to my emotional growth. In other words, I could have been 50 years old, but I was still behaving like an infant emotionally.
Neuroscience generally divides the mind into two dimensions: the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. The conscious mind is the one in charge of our short-term memory — everything we have in the present. The subconscious mind is the one in control of our involuntary actions, automatic thoughts, emotions, dreams, intuition, and impulses. The important thing about these concepts is that, according to psychological literature, the subconscious mind is the one that directs our life. In fact, 90 percent of all the decisions we make every day come from our subconscious mind.
Our subconscious mind performs certain actions before we can think about them consciously, thereby impacting our free will. These “little voices” are nothing but mere thoughts that emerge automatically in our minds. They are part of an internal life script that tells us where to go and what to do. This script determines the way we interpret the world and our basic way of being. Unconsciously, we have been developing a life script since our childhood. We were influenced by our attachment figures, especially our parents or the people closest to us, and now we are almost obliged to represent these individuals in our life. This explains why I was behaving in ways that were hurting my wife’s feelings. My life was guided by the life script I had received from my parents.
A life script is the mental programming that affects our lives. It gives us the language we want to use and the actions we are going to develop. It is not easy to be totally aware of the life script that we follow, but seeking to answer complicated questions about our existence makes the difference between conforming to the flow of “what there is” and truly following the path of a healthy heart. Today, we all live life scripts influenced by someone from our past. That is the number one reason why we need to learn how to love. We are reliving the same emotional dynamic we had in our families, and if our parents were not teaching us how to love, we are probably going to find it difficult to show love for others.
Everyone lives love in a limited way until they learn how to transform their lives, and the fact that someone does not love may be due to a lack of knowledge about love. If we want to learn about cars, we will undoubtedly do it through a diligent study of cars. If we want to be chefs, surely, we will learn the culinary arts, and maybe even try to take some cooking classes. Nevertheless, it seems less obvious to us that if we want to give and receive love, we should devote at least some time, like the mechanic or the chef, to studying and learning to love. No mechanic or cook would ever believe that the mere fact of just wanting to obtain knowledge in these fields would make them experts. The same goes for love. It is necessary to learn how to love and be loved.
How do we learn to love? First, we need to practice self-awareness. We cannot change what we do not know. We need to find, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the imperfections we have in our lives that keep us away from God and others. In my case, if I wanted to learn how to love Zoraida, I needed to make myself aware that I was not managing my anger correctly. I needed to understand the memories or experiences that I had in my subconscious mind that were preventing me from expressing my anger in a godly way. The first two chapters of the book “Learning to Love” present this issue and provide practical exercises to help readers make sense of their past and change their present behavior.
Secondly, we need to increase our emotional intelligence. How do we grow in this area? By reflecting on our emotions and labeling them. Practice empathizing with yourself and others. Know your stressors. Be resilient. Practice responding rather than reacting. Increasing our emotional intelligence is a lifetime process, so do not give up.
Third, we need to renew our minds. The transformation of our minds is the work of the Holy Spirit. In the end, the most important task we have as human beings is to learn how to love God and others. The Apostle Paul said, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
We want to challenge our families and communities to learn how to love and be loved. We will conduct seminars in churches, schools, and many other institutions, provide resources for every person who wants to learn how to love. Be part of this movement, #learningtolove. Visit our section where we provide more information about Learning to Love.