What is quality love?

Who asks “what is quality love?” You know when you don’t have it. You may not be able to define quality love precisely, but you can feel when it’s missing. If this question draws you, you’re likely searching for it.

Sullivan Family
Andrew Lee Sullivan: back row and far right

My parents loved me when I grew up, but somehow my emotions didn’t fully absorb that love. We were not a hugging kind of family. There were twelve children. I was overlooked in the middle. I never really thought about how much or how little I was loved. I suppose I recognized that love was there at least intellectually. But the feeling of acceptance and belonging was weak. I was a smart and driven kind of kid, wanting to get into the world and conquer it. I came to realize later in life that the quality love I needed to develop was faulty.

It’s a very long story how I ended up trapped in Europe, suicidal, stuck in a cult. But it all began with a lack of felt love growing up. There was simply not enough of it on the feeling level.

I did however discover quality love later in life, so much overflowing love that I could hardly bear it. I had to beg God to lessen its intensity. I share a few things I’ve learned along the way. Quality human love is unconditional, sensual, mature, affirming, and empowered by receiving love.

What is quality love?

Quality love is unconditional love. It doesn’t pick and choose who deserves it or not. Unconditional love is given regardless of a person’s skin color, religion, social status, or achievements. Unconditional love is not connected to a person earning it. It’s just there, freely given, with no strings attached.

I’ve experienced a great amount of conditional love coming my way, if that’s what you’d call it. In fact, conditional love is not love at all. It truly destroys a person. When I’m only loved for what I do, the flip side is that I’m hated for what I don’t do. Unconditional love flows from an unconditionally accepting heart. I love somebody, virtues, faults, and all. I love people for who that are, period.

Quality love is like the sunshine.

Unconditional love bursts forth like the sunshine. It’s doesn’t discern who gets it. It just shines on everybody. The wonderful thing about unconditional love is that it truly builds up a person. The person feels accepted, truly cared for, and special. These feelings sink deeply into the beloved and produce whatever is best in that person. Self-confidence and self-worth emerge. Yes, a person can be loved into tremendous self-development.

Quality love embraces human feelings.

Quality love is not standoffish and distant from emotional expression. I’m not afraid to give expression to love at the emotional level. We are human beings, not angels. We need to feel love at the animal or sensual level. I’m not talking about sexual level, but sensual. I should hear that I’m loved, feel it through touch, sense it through the affectionate gaze of a soul that truly Quality Loveadores me. As human beings, we come to be sure of truths primarily through our senses. Otherwise, we may understand that we are loved, more or less, but not feel it.

Advancing in life without this core experience of truly feeling loved has terrible consequences. Love remains intellectual. I end up both searching for love, and not knowing how to give it. I end up giving love as I received it. For instance, if my childhood experience was characterized by suffering under “tough love” then that’s what I’ll give as an adult. Many say that “tough love” is real love. I say that it’s broken love from a broken soul lacking the enriching experience of quality love. I’m not totally writing off tough love though, but quality love must accompany it.

Human maturity makes quality love possible.

Quality love flows from human maturity. A child, for instance, can only love as a child. His or her love is heavily tainted with selfishness and inconstancy. This is not bad; it’s simply a part of human development. Building on this, when an adult retains the internal emotional life of a child, quality love is impossible. We’re dealing with the inherent limits of stunted emotional development here. When such emotional development is lacking, emotional growth must advance before quality love is possible. In other words, grow up first so that you can truly love someone properly.

Assuming adult emotional maturity, mature love exhibits four distinct characteristics. It is other-oriented, self-restraining, capable of sacrifice, and completely respectful.

Mature love starts with an unselfish heart. The person loved is at the center of love. The self-orientation of childhood is gone. My mind is occupied with what is best for the other. I’m looking for ways to help that person and do something good for that person.

Mature love is also self-restraining. What does this mean? It knows how to hold back from giving something good when the “receiver” is not capable of receiving such a good. Another way of looking at it: You can’t force something good on somebody who is not ready to accept it. Love adjusts its giving according to the limits of the other person. It doesn’t force anything. It knows how to wait.

Mature love is capable of sacrifice. Real love can favor the best interest of the other. That may mean not doing what I want to do. I sacrifice my interests for the good of the other. Maybe this means I work a 9-5 job, or delay schooling, or go out for Chinese because she really loves it.

Lastly, mature love respects the other person in every aspect of life. I’m not called to change my way of feeling or thinking, or become who I’m not. But mature love does inspire me to allow the other person to have their own feelings and thoughts, and choices in life. I respect the other’s viewpoints, interests, dreams, and preferences.

Quality love emanates a profound affirmation.

The Affirmation of Quality Love

Quality love affirms the beloved. This sounds like encouraging the beloved with a pat on the back or a passing kiss on the cheek. But this is a superficial understanding of affirmation. Affirming love radiates an adoring, strengthening, nurturing kind of presence. This kind of constant presence instills self-worth, strength, and confidence in the beloved. It works on an emotional level, even without words. It makes the beloved feel profoundly accepted. Ultimately, such affirmation makes the beloved feel loved, lovable, and certain about the future.

This kind of affirmation is not a technique. It’s not really something done. It’s a loving, dependable, confirming kind of presence. Nonetheless, corresponding attitudes and good deeds naturally flow from it. This “existential” affirmation is the heartbeat of how the beloved is treated.

Affirming love strengthens the beloved by never controlling or manipulating. It lets the other person develop and fly. It always encourages. It focuses on the good in the other and never denies how good the person truly is. It’s not possessive. It allows the beloved to make mistakes. It notices, and picks up the beloved when needed. It tries to make things easy for the other, nurtures whatever is good, readily forgives, and exercises kindness and patience. Affirming love is able to intuitively listen to the beloved’s heart and sense real needs.

What is quality love – but receiving love?

Quality love is the overflow of love, brimming over the heart into another person. Sounds mysterious? What I mean is that love is supposed to flow naturally, almost effortlessly from a reservoir of love inside me. Now, if I lack that interior abundance, I can’t give what I don’t have. Without that interior reservoir, my love is difficult to give. It’s squeezed out, drop by drop.

So how do I make my love easier to give? First and foremost, fill up the heart by receiving love. Truly, receiving love is the key to giving love. In the normal course of human life receiving unconditional, mature love comes before everything. It gradually forms me into an emotionally developed human being. Receiving love establishes the basis to give love – with ease and enjoyment.

If I haven’t experienced receiving quality love I’m at a disadvantage giving love. So, go to the source of quality love, God himself. Learn how to receive his love. In brief, I do this by imagining myself in his presence, witnessing his love freely offered to me and received by me. Do this daily for a few years and you’ll experience interior love. There’s a lot more to it, but it’s a beginning. Love will grow.

The gradual building of the virtue of love is essential too. The virtue of love is the good habit of love, embedded in me like a second nature. It makes love easier. How do I get that habit? I do it by individual acts of love. I do something nice for somebody; give a donation to a beggar; make someone smile; hand out a treat. The kinds of love acts are practically endless. But each act is like a single brick, once stacked the single bricks morph into a solid brick structure. Virtue building is like this. Eventually, I’ll gain the virtue of love, and love will become easier.

Take a step to improve your love.

Don’t settle for lousy love for the rest of your life. Quality love is an ideal and achievable. But it requires a commitment to acquire it. Set out for receiving God’s love. Do a concrete number of acts of love daily. Forge the good habit. Love is not going to just happen accidentally. It takes a plan. Schedule your “receiving love meditation” – just twenty minutes a day of visualizing Jesus loving you unconditionally. Set a daily quota of selfless acts of love for another.

My friend, what other route do you have for arriving at quality love? Heaven forbid, don’t merely rely on the standards: giving flowers, giving Love is more than chocolates.chocolates, eating at a nice restaurant, offering a trip, presenting a ring. These are all good, but we got to dig deeper to establish quality love. How about changing diapers, washing dishes, and taking out the garbage? There are countless ways to love.

Shooting for quality love is also a trial and error kind of thing. It’s not achievable overnight and there will be many mistakes. Just get up again and keep at it. Create the good habits of receiving and giving and the enriching feeling of dependable love will gradually fill you. There’s no need to continue asking: “What is quality love?” Set out to receive it by storm.

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Andrew Lee Sullivan is the pioneer and foremost educator on Affirmation Meditation. He's a national, award-winning hospice counselor and grief recovery specialist. In 2007, as a Catholic priest and cult survivor, Sullivan became a Vatican whistle-blower. Today, Andrew is happily married and enjoys a second life under the Arizona sunshine with his wife and two young boys. His memoir is entitled: Vatican Intervention.

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