By Jeremy Godwin
What is love? And more importantly, what is healthy love? That’s what I’m talking about this week on… Let’s Talk About Mental Health — the weekly podcast about looking after your mental health, with simple ideas you can put into practice immediately.
So, get comfortable, and Let’s Talk About Mental Health…
Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below (or using your preferred podcast service; see below for links) or continue reading for the full transcript.
As well as my podcast, I publish videos on my YouTube channel every Wednesday (Tuesday in North/South America). This week: 6 ways to improve your self awareness.
Watch this week’s episode below or visit the channel on YouTube:
Join my mailing list to receive episode transcripts in your inbox each Sunday and my weekly mini-newsletter, Thursday Thoughts, with a quick round-up of interesting and inspiring stuff every Thursday:
This podcast episode was originally released on 17 April, 2022.
Hello and welcome to Episode 127, and thanks so much for joining me!
I’m Jeremy Godwin and I talk about looking after your mental health. I had a breakdown in 2011 which led me into a period of severe anxiety and depression, and that took me on a journey of learning more about mental health. So I went and did a degree in psychology and sociology, and now I focus on delivering what I couldn’t find: simple advice on how to look after and improve your mental wellbeing, from someone who actually understands what it’s like to go through mental health challenges. Each episode I look at one specific topic and explore how to improve that aspect of your wellbeing.
This week’s episode is all about love and I’ll be covering what love is, why understanding it matters, and how to approach love (in all of its forms) in a healthy way. So, let’s talk!
In the 2001 film Moulin Rouge, Ewan McGregor’s character Christian declares, “Love is a many splendored thing! Love lifts us up where we belong… all you need is love!” and… I have some notes on that.
Christian was clearly a hopeless romantic (and, spoiler alert, that doesn’t exactly work out too well for him in the end) and yet there’s a type of wide-eyed hope and optimism that can sometimes go hand in hand with love, especially romantic love, and I get it; feeling seen and valued by another person can be utterly intoxicating, but what we need to talk about today is how to know the difference between healthy love and unhealthy love… because one will lift you up where you belong and the other will leave you in a crumpled heap crying on the bathroom floor (and yes, those are more songs I’m quoting and you can expect a LOT of random song references today because love is a very popular topic for music!).
So let’s start with some definitions and let’s talk about…
What is love?
And aside from the fact that I feel compelled to mention that What is Love? is the title of a catchy little song by Haddaway from 1993 (you can clearly tell when I first started going out… thanks fake ID!), ‘love’ is quite possibly one of the most talked-about, thought-about, written-about and sung-about topics of all time. How many songs have been written about love?! Songs about falling in love, falling out of love, wanting to fall in love, wishing you didn’t love someone, being afraid of love, being excited about love, being in love with love, and loving random objects like shoes (and yes, I am indeed referring to Kelly’s magnificent song Shoes from 2006, which still haunts my daydreams).
It’s estimated that at least two-thirds of songs released from the 1960’s right through to the 2000’s are about love and relationships, and I’ve included a link in the transcript to a research paper that analyses that breakdown if you’re interested, mainly because I’m a dork when it comes to research data; you’ll find all of my transcripts available for free at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes and the more recent ones are also translated into Spanish. (Find the article here: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Percentage-of-top-40-songs-referring-to-19-content-categories-by-decade_tbl1_322664390)
So back to my point… we all seem to be talking about love and singing about it a lot, but do we really know what it is? According to the Oxford Dictionary, love is “an intense feeling of deep affection” which is probably the driest and dullest definition I have ever heard in my life, especially when we’re talking about all the many different forms of love that we can experience throughout our lives. There’s family love (probably the earliest form most of us experience), friendship, and then, of course, the type that gets so much attention, romantic love and sexual attachment. And then there’s also self love plus the type of love that we have for a hobby or interest that we’re passionate about (like my never-ending love for the Spice Girls and RuPaul’s Drag Race). So, basically, there’s a whole lot of love going on in the world! Which is probably why The Beatles claimed that All You Need Is Love, but that’s not really true; love is not all you need, but everything is love (in the sense that healthy love and genuine kindness form the foundation of everything that is positive in this world).
So what then is love? According to an article by The School of Life, ‘love’ can include many aspects such as unconditional approval, non-judgement, loyalty, reassurance, patience (and that article is linked in the transcript https://www.theschooloflife.com/article/the-role-of-love-in-mental-health/). I think, broadly speaking, ‘love’ is mainly about a close relationship with another person or individual (because pets are included in that as well!); whilst the relationship will differ depending on who they are to you, your shared experiences and the type of relationship, what they all have in common is that we have some form of emotional connection to the person (and, most of the time, they have a connection to us).
Here’s the thing: having an emotional connection with another person creates a sense of belonging and feeling valued as a human being, which are some of our most basic and fundamental needs. On the other side of that, if those types of feelings aren’t being given back to us then it can lead to sadness and emotional pain (something I talked about in Episode 121 about heartbreak). The same can be said for unhealthy love; being taken advantage of, mistreated, manipulated or devalued by someone we care for can be very painful and it can do a lot of damage to our self worth (which I explored in Episode 78).
So what is healthy love? I’m going to share a few points from an article by GoodTherapy in a moment, however before I do they mentioned a quote by the late US poet and writer Maya Angelou which I think defines healthy love quite beautifully; it is: “The best love is the one that makes you a better person without changing you into someone other than yourself.”
It’s a lovely way of capturing the essence of healthy love in one sentence. So continuing on with some points from that article, healthy love means knowing that we are each responsible for our own happiness; that means having a strong sense of your own identity, and being able to meet your own needs so that you can be a whole and secure person. It also means recognising that the same is true for the other person; they are their own person and you are not responsible for what they do or do not do. It’s a form of ‘loving detachment’ where you believe that the other person has the ability to take care of themselves on their own, because that’s a necessary part of being a well-adjusted and independent human being for all of us (and that article is linked in the transcript https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/healthy-self-healthy-love-characteristics-of-strong-relationship-030220185)
So let’s dig a bit deeper and let’s talk about…
Why understanding love matters
And regardless of whether we’re talking about platonic love or romantic love, understanding it matters because love plays such a huge role in our lives, because most of us (if not all of us) want to feel like we belong and crave a sense of connection with others. Because of that we can often make choices about love that might not necessarily be in our best interests, so we need to be able to really know the difference between ‘healthy’ love and ‘unhealthy’ love.
Now before we go any further I just want to take a moment to say that I mentioned all of the different forms of love earlier and I have to highlight that today I won’t be including sexual attraction as part of the discussion; whilst sex and romantic love can (and do) often go hand in hand, they are not the same thing and there are so many complicated layers to consider once physical intimacy is brought into the equation… in fact, it’s a much deeper conversation when sex is brought into the discussion. So, I’m actually going to be covering sex in its own episode in a few months (it’s due for release in July)… so when I talk about love today I’m purely focusing on feelings of platonic and romantic love.
So, with that covered, love in all of its forms can be complicated and messy, especially when we’re talking about romantic love, and healthy love involves finding a balance between the euphoria of being seen and valued by another human being versus maintaining our own identity and a strong sense of self worth. Because if you don’t love you then it’s going to be hard to let someone else love you in a healthy way! Healthy love involves finding a balance between your needs and theirs, and it’s also about really understanding that someone else’s love and affection does not complete you; a healthy relationship complements your life but it doesn’t complete it, because you need to be the love you need. The fairytale that we’re sold from childhood of meeting that perfect someone who will complete you and then living happily ever after together in total bliss is absolute rubbish; nobody ever talks about what happens after Cinderella marries the prince do they?!
Let’s be very honest here: some forms of love, especially the romantic type where you feel swept off your feet, can be utterly amazing to experience… but that initial euphoria will most likely not last for the long term, and there has to be more to the relationship than just an intense desire to be with the person because that’s just not a solid foundation to build a long term connection on.
Love can be intoxicating but it’s important not to lose yourself in it completely, because you are responsible for your own happiness and no other person can ever truly make you happy (just as you cannot make them happy). I’ve said many times in past episodes that you cannot control another person, only influence them, and when you consider any kind of relationship the fact is that you cannot ‘make’ someone happy, and they cannot magically make you happy either. You can be happy to be with the person or to feel seen and valued by them, but there has to be a lot more to the relationship than just the fact that they like you… otherwise either of you (or both of you) could end up compromising who you are for the other person, and that can lead to codependency and resentment over time. A lot of friendships and romantic relationships break down because we expected the other person to fulfil a need in us that only we can fill, and that is the need to be true to ourselves.
It’s also about having healthy expectations for any kind of love and recognising that most of the broader stories we’ve been told over the years about what love should be (especially romance) just are not true. For example, when I was growing up a family friend had an artwork that said “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” and while the sentiment of that is lovely, that’s the biggest misconception ever because it pretends that real love is perfect, which it just isn’t; you will make mistakes, they will make mistakes, all of you will make mistakes, and the only healthy way to move forward together is to acknowledge when you’ve made a mistake, apologise for it and then make it right (and then learn from it). Personally I think that poster should have said “love means always being big enough to say sorry, even when it’s hard” because that is the true test of your ability to humble yourself and admit when you’ve wronged someone!
Healthy love involves genuine love, compassion, trust, mutual respect, friendship, fairness, a willingness by all parties to compromise, and — most importantly — mutual understanding; because if you cannot understand one another then you’re likely to run into conflict, especially if your values aren’t in alignment.
So how do you cultivate healthy love? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of today’s conversation and let’s talk about…
How to approach love (in all of its forms) in a healthy way
So, first, know what unhealthy love looks like — and I begin with this one because sometimes it’s easier to be clearer on what we don’t want or need in order to then understand what we do. I’ve already given some examples today but, in short, unhealthy love feels one-sided, unsupportive, unkind, harmful and even, potentially, toxic. It can feel like it’s taking you further and further away from who you really are because you’re spending a massive amount of time and energy giving of yourself without receiving much in return; any relationship that is one-sided is unhealthy, and something needs to change. Love is not a reason to put up with crap (it’s also not an excuse for treating someone else like crap), and most importantly love is not a reason to abandon yourself. In fact, healthy love is an opportunity to know yourself better — which leads to my next point…
Know yourself — because when you know who you are (and who you are not) then you’re better able to make choices that are in your own best interests while also respecting the needs of others. For example, I’ve been sharing over these past few months that I had reconciled with my mother back in 2020, after a lifetime of emotional and physical abuse, however I then made the choice to remove her from my life again in December 2021 and that meant having to navigate difficult conversations with her family again. It was really important that I took the time to really understand my own intentions and needs before I could tackle those conversations with my family, because I care about them and wanted them to understand my choice while also respecting their own choices to maintain contact with her in spite of her toxic behaviour, and that meant having to navigate a lot of discussions in a respectful way that balanced their needs with my own needs. If you try to do that without having a very clear sense of your own identity then it can be all-too-easy to give in and make unhealthy compromises. I talked about self awareness back in Episode 62 if you’d like to explore the whole ‘know yourself’ thing in more detail. OK, my next tip is…
Be clear on your priorities — and this takes the previous point one step further by encouraging you to be very, very clear on what matters most to you in life. Why? Because a healthy relationship with another person requires you to both be on the same page. For example, if you’re committed to living a healthy lifestyle and have decided to limit your alcohol intake but your best friend is constantly hounding you to come out with them and drink your body weight in shots then there is a disconnect and something needs to give. When you know what matters most to you in your life, you can then make healthy decisions about what you will and will not accept in your relationships. And with that in mind, my next point is…
Understand the other person’s priorities — because all healthy relationships require balance as well as compromise, so to avoid it being one-sided and all about you it’s necessary to take time to understand what matters to the other person as well. How do you do that? Ask them! It really doesn’t have to be more complicated than that (although I would say pick the time and place appropriately; this is a bit of a ‘deep and meaningful’ conversation so maybe it’s not best to start it up in the middle of the hardware store or while you’re both on the number 87 bus in peak hour!). And that leads to my next point…
Communicate — because communication is absolutely fundamental to any healthy relationship! Do I even really need to explain why?! Alright, I will anyway… if you don’t communicate, then it’s easy to jump to conclusions about the other person’s intentions or motivations… and that is how misunderstandings happen (and misunderstandings usually lead to arguments or difficult times, and then things generally get more and more messy from there). Be honest about whatever is going on, talk about the good and the bad and everything in between, and most importantly address issues early rather than letting them fester away; the earlier you address an issue, the easier it generally is to deal with it (because the longer you leave it, the bigger it gets and the more resentment and dissatisfaction gets attached to it, and then it becomes a beast with a life of its own). Remember that the other person is not a mind reader and they do not instinctively know what you want or need. So… communicate, communicate, communicate — and then communicate some more! Which leads to my next point…
Set and maintain clear boundaries — and this is something I talk about a lot in this show (and I covered the subject of boundaries in Episode 53), and I talk about it so much because it works; having clear boundaries simply means that you have defined what you will and will not accept, and if someone crosses your boundaries then you take action accordingly (either letting them know the behaviour is not acceptable and asking them not to repeat it or, if it’s something that’s happened multiple times, changing the nature of the relationship to reflect what you will and will not accept). In addition to that episode I covered about boundaries I also did a video on healthy boundaries with family a while ago on my main YouTube channel, which is linked in the episode description. Plus I’d also highly recommend a book called Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab; this is not sponsored, I’m just a fan of the book and I love Nedra’s Instagram account. Alright, continuing on, another healthy way to approach love is with my next point…
Be true to yourself — and this basically brings together all of the tips I’ve given today and wraps it up into four little words with a big impact on the quality of your relationships and your life: be true to yourself. Because if you lose yourself in a relationship it can be damaging to your sense of self and it can lead to people pleasing behaviour (which I covered in Episode 122). Whether we’re talking about your relationship with a friend, a family member or a romantic partner is irrelevant; healthy love involves having your own identity. If you change who you are to try and please someone else, you’re not actually pleasing anyone — least of all yourself! If you try to be someone or something that you’re not, it’s going to lead you to do and say things that make you feel bad about yourself. For example, if you have a family member who doesn’t accept you for some aspect of who you are, then trying to change who you are is only going to cause you pain and suffering. If you are someone who does no harm to others or yourself, who is kind to others and to yourself, and who gives more than they take from others and from yourself, then you are a decent person and to hell with what another person says or thinks about you! No relationship is worth compromising yourself for and it’s healthier to assert yourself (or even to walk away if necessary) than to try to be someone that you’re not. If you’re struggling with how to do that, I’ve covered a few topics that might be helpful: authenticity in Episode 55, conflict in Episode 88, difficult choices in Episode 89, self respect in Episode 96, guilt in Episode 124 and, for romantic relationships, I covered that topic back in Episode 38, so check those out for more ideas on how to be true to yourself. And that leads to my next point…
Get support — and yeah, yeah, I know… this is one I say nearly every single episode, and I do so because it’s so easy to think that we need to have all the answers to dealing with challenges but it’s not true; you don’t need to have all the answers, you just need to know where to find them. Work with a professional like a coach, counsellor or therapist if you find yourself having challenges with unhealthy relationships or if you’d like to find ways to build and maintain healthy ones (and I will also point out here that there are specialist relationship counsellors and family counsellors who can be helpful for those more intense interpersonal relationships). You do not have to go through challenges alone and there are plenty of people out there who can help you navigate through difficulties so that you can find your way to more positive and healthy forms of love.
Summary and Close-Out
Because when it comes to love and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: Love does not define who we are as human beings, and yet it can feel like it’s such an essential part of who we are and who we are not. Feeling seen, valued and understood by another human being is an amazing feeling, but in order to be healthy we need to remember that love from other people is wonderful but it needs to be balanced with the love that we show ourselves. When you are able to treat yourself with kindness and respect, you are then able to invite others into your life to complement it with a sense of belonging. Like all things, healthy love is about choosing to find balance between your needs and the needs of others so that you can maintain your own identity.
The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today?
Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by the French writer Jean Anouilh, and it is:
“Love is, above all, the gift of oneself.”Jean Anouilh
Alright… that’s nearly it for this week.
Next week I’ll be talking about moderation. One of the messages I share in this podcast is the role of moderation in better mental health, and I thought it was about time that I dug a bit deeper to explore what that statement actually means and, more importantly, how moderation actually helps you to find greater peace of mind. So next time I’ll be talking about what moderation is (and what it isn’t), why healthy moderation matters, and how to embrace moderation in all things.
I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday the 24th of April, 2022.
I hope you found today’s episode helpful; if you did then I’d love it if you left a five-star review on the platform you’re listening to me on or you can head over to my Instagram @ltamentalhealth and let me know. And if you’d like to support me and my work then I have a Patreon where I offer exclusive benefits for my supporters; you’ll find the link in the episode description and it’s also linked on my website at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au where you can also join my mailing list for my free weekly newsletter (and that’s linked in the episode description as well).
And, finally, a quick reminder that I also have a YouTube channel where I publish new videos every Wednesday so if you’d like even more content about looking after your mental health then join me over there!
Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time!
Let’s Talk About Mental Health is proudly produced by Reconnaissance Media, helping you find gratitude and meaning. For more information visit reconnaissancemedia.com
Special thanks to my wonderful supporters on Patreon for helping to keep my work free of ads (in alphabetical order): Amanda K., Bill R., Brandalynn A., Carol B., Christina, Doc A., Iain G., Isabel, Janis & Steve A., JoAnn S., Laila L., M., Madina T., Maya H., Monique T., Monte W., Rachel D., Rhonda P., S. L., Sonia K., Stuart F., Susan S., Tatiana A., Valerie, Vanessa P., William S. — your support is greatly appreciated and it helps me to keep my content ad-free.
Did you like what you just read? Then please share this with someone who might appreciate it, like a friend, family member, or coworker… because word of mouth helps other people to find Let’s Talk About Mental Health! Thank you 🙂
Find more content at www.letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au
Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Simple ideas for better mental health.
Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2022 Jeremy Godwin.
The information provided in this episode is for general awareness on the topic and does not constitute advice. You should consult a doctor and/or a mental health professional if you are struggling with your mental health and wellbeing. You’ll find additional information on the Resources page of this website.