I was in my early teens walking down the school corridor on one of the first days of ninth grade. When I reached my locker, I saw Anki and Hubbe sitting and kissing. They started giggling when they saw me. I unlocked my locker, hung up my jacket and took the school books for the first lesson. I tried to ignore them and look unmoved and hurried away. However, I was not unmoved – my whole inside tore like an open wound.

Anki, together with two other girls, had joined my class one year earlier. She was the first girl I really fell in love with and a couple of other classmates also got hooked. Hubbe, on the other hand, seemed almost to hate her. Throughout the school year, he and Anki argued and shouted at each other. I, my classmates who were in love with her and the three new girls formed a small gang that stuck together both in and out of school.

We used to meet at the home of one of us and in the late hours when we had left, we often stopped at the crossroads and continued talking. During one such evening Anki and I were talking. I had gathered courage and thought of expressing my love, but suddenly Anki said: “The other day Markus (one of my classmates) said that he was in love with me. And you know, that was the worst thing he could do. I can’t fall in love with someone who tells me that!”. It was painful and I became speechless. I never expressed my feelings and it would be several years before I met someone with whom I shared my love. It was a painful adolescence and more than once I wished I had no feelings.

Love as a need

One of the fundamental key differentiations in Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is about love. There is a classic scene where Marshall Rosenberg does a role play between two puppets: a giraffe and a jackal, in which he describes the difference between love as a need and love as a feeling. You can see it here

When I went through the process of becoming a certified CNVC trainer, one of the questions to be answered was the key differentiation “Love as an action vs. love as a need and a feeling“. I had never before seen the question formulated in this way and was a little puzzled. I don’t remember how I answered, but today I would express myself in line with the following.

Feelings, needs and strategies

Feelings signal whether my needs are met or not. Feelings are fleeting and they come and go. Therefore, I rarely feel one and the same feeling for a long time. If I use love as a feeling in relation to my loved ones, love will constantly shift. A need, on the other hand, is something that is there all the time, something I share with all people. Sometimes the need is met and sometimes not, which is expressed in a variety of feelings inside of me. However, the quality, the longing for love is there all the time. When I try to satisfy and express this need in words or actions, I use strategies. My actions to express love are my strategies, not necessarily shared by others.

There is so much to write about love that I don’t really know how to limit myself in this blog post. There seem to be an infinite number of definitions of love. One of those definitions is that love is unconditional – without expectations. I can adopt this definition in relation to someone who does not have the same capacity as me. An example is when I hold an infant in my arms. However, when I consider someone as an equal, I believe that there needs to be some form of reciprocity in order for me to experience the fulfilment of the need for love. For example, if my partner would never do anything to meet my needs, I would sooner or later end up turning to others to get my need for love met.

Linguistic and cultural limitations

Something that limits or expands our view of love is the language and the culture we are shaped by. My spontaneous thought when I hear the word love is romantic love. For me, this definition of love is very limiting. I know that in Greek (at least the classical Greek language) there are several terms for different kinds of love. Some of them are Agápe – brotherhood, Éros – sexual passion and Philia – friendship. (You can read more about it here: Greek words for love – Wikipedia)

Regardless of how I define and in what contexts I use the word love, I consider myself incredibly lucky. With the help of NVC, I have gained new perspectives on love. I no longer wish I had no feelings. I have a wife whom I love. I have children, family members and friends with whom I can express love, both as a feeling, a need and in action.

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Joachim Berggren (CNVC Certified Trainer)

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On 18 November at 11:00-11:45 am CET, you can participate in a Zoom Talk with me and Mironel de Wilde. We will talk about the need for love.

Sign up for the Needs’ Year and you will receive a link to Zoom.

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