Falling in Love with Your Family
We tend to think of falling in love as something that happens between two individuals. If we fall in love, perhaps we’re lucky enough to have those feelings reciprocated and build a lasting relationship with this person, maybe get married, have kids, form a family, you know, all that conventional stuff (not that that’s the only way to do things). Then, upon this path, life inevitably happens. The stress and challenges of partnership begin to slowly nudge out the grandeurs of early romance and, at periodic junctures, it’s not uncommon for some folks to wonder, “Hmmmm, have I fallen out of love?”
Falling in love does happen between two individuals, but that doesn’t have to be the only option. For me, I know I’ve fallen in love with my wife. I know I’ve fallen in love with my sons, Xavier and Kingston. Individually, I’m in love with all these persons. But, in addition to these one-to-one loving relationships, I also know I’ve fallen in love with my family as a whole, the entire organism of it.
Being in love with one’s family, as a whole, serves a hugely rewarding function. It acts like emotional glue that holds everything together, reminding us not to get distracted by issues that might pop up in one of the individual relationships. If my wife and I clash momentarily, that’s normal and okay. I refuse to let some temporary discord jeopardize the enchantment and commitment I have for my stupendous little tribe. I’m too in love with this clan of mine to ever, even briefly, consider dismantling it. No way. Simply not an option, at least for me.
Now, as far as therapy is concerned, I tend to be a fearless advocate for divorce, at least when done well and when appropriate. There are cases when “a beautiful divorce” is the best and healthiest option and I enjoy being able to help clients articulate and navigate this avenue. Yet, it would be negligent on my part to not at least invite the possibility of falling in love with one’s family because, after all, families are amazing things; they really are.
Families are a huge aspect of our human experience. In fact, there is not a single one of us that does not share some experience of family. You yourself were a kid once and could not have grown into the adult you are, right now, without family to help you out along the way. And no matter how turbulent your childhood might have been, you started your earliest years with profound innocence and a heart opened wide to love and adoration for the adults in your life. These were your very first heroes, even if they didn’t necessarily earn this affection from you. You loved the heck out of them, the way your children (if you have any) or nephews and nieces feel about you. It’s truly a beautiful thing to witness, the uninhibited awe that emanates from the vulnerable heart of a child. It’s difficult not to fall in love with something so beautiful.
My young children have taught me more about love and being in love in the past 6 months than most of what I learned during the rest of my life. Or, more accurately stated, they’ve resurrected the love I once knew naturally, automatically, in my earliest years. As they open my heart increasingly wider every day, I fall more deeply in love, not only with my nuclear family, but the greater concept of family as a whole.
Now when I think about family, it’s not just my wife and children (and dog) I consider; it’s my parents and grandparents, siblings and siblings-in-law, parents-in-law, nephews and nieces, aunts and uncles, on and on. But why limit myself to these persons that share my ancestry or ties through marriage? Why stop there? Can’t I include all persons to whom I feel intimately connected? If I want, can’t I include, well, everyone? This is what I have personally started to do.
The invitation to fall in love with your family is simultaneously an invitation to broaden the scope of what family means to you. It may mean just you and your pet, or you, your pet and your partner, or you, your pet, your partner, your children and relatives; it may mean all your conventionally recognized family members as well as all your neighbors, or all your coworkers, or everyone who lives in the same town or city as you, or everyone who roots for the same sports team or shares your passion for, let’s say, sailing or dancing or the practice of a particular religion. Or, heck, it can include every single human being on the face of the planet, the human family. Expanding further still, your family may include all living things, the entirety of the universe itself, all with which you share a connection. After all, isn’t this the truth? We are all connected, singular, intertwined parts of a cohesive whole–one family.
Imagine, just for a moment, what it might be like to fall madly in love with your family on this level, to be in love with everything, the entire universe, just as it is. I don’t think I could personally envision a greater happiness. When Zen Master Dogen stated that “enlightenment is intimacy with all things,” I’m guessing that this is precisely what he meant, that enlightenment comes from falling in love with one’s true and enormous family. It is an available choice for us to make.
In therapy, I talk a lot about how to cultivate and nurture individual relationships, both internal (i.e. internal friendship) and external. What I rarely address is how we can similarly relate to our entire family, just as if it were an individual unto itself. The fact of the matter is that, like me, you have a family. Define this family however you please and appreciate it, savor it, adore it. See it not in the faces of each distinct member, but in the complex interactions of each member as part of a singular whole, continuously quirky yet continuously worthy of affection. Fall in love with this family of yours and romance it. Cherish and care for it the way you would a lover. Bring it flowers and chocolates, smiles and hugs, expressions of kindness and gratitude. Swoon with the love you feel for this, your beautiful, perfectly imperfect family and nurture it, each and every ay of your life. If you do, joy is bound to be your reward for doing so.
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