There are countless views on love.
“Love hurts …” according to Nazareth’s hit song
“Love wins …” sings Carrie Underwood
“Love just ain’t enough” … Patty Smyth convinces with her heartbreaking lyrics
“Love comes through …” Me & Mari proclaim in their upbeat song
“Love takes time …” Mariah Carey bursts out with her powerful pipes
“Love is alive …” Joe Cocker belts out with his unique voice
But there is one phrase about love that frequents lyrics heard in songs, words used in weddings and messages on popular bumper stickers: “LOVE COVERS ALL!”
Love … one of the most complex topics known to man. There have been poems, movies, TV series, and songs written about it … all trying to capture the true essence and meaning of love.
I think the ancient writer, Paul, in writing a letter to the church at Corinth penned the words most remembered about love. He said: love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It always looks for the best in others. It does not count up wrongs that have been done. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
I’ve always heard that “love covers …” (ex: “love covers a multitude of sins.” I thought it meant that if you love someone and they do something wrong … you had an obligation to cover up what they did. I don’t know about you, but that seemed unfair to me! But through my studies on neuropsychology over the course of many years, I came to a different perception of what “love covers” means.
Our brains have an amazingly computer-like set of neurons called our reticular activating system (RAS). It is at the base of the brain just above the spine. It is about the size of a short pencil. It was only in 1949 that it was identified as our brain’s “search engine” and “filtering system.” Not only does it perform searches that would make Google, Bing, etc. all appear to be elementary, but it also determines what is important and what is not.
Let’s consider the description of love from the ancient writer Paul. It says things like:
- Keeps no record of being wronged
- Looks for the best in others
- Does not count up wrongs that have been done
I believe he was actually giving us the prescription for how to insure that we covered another’s wrongs from our RAS.
What on earth does the RAS have to do with love covers? EVERYTHING!
When something occurs in any relationship (spouse, friend, children, coworkers) that is upsetting to us, the RAS, with its complex filtering system tells us … THIS IS IMPORTANT … take note! AND … let me protect you by launching the world’s most intense search on the negatives of that person.
Your RAS is not against you, it’s simply trying to protect you!
As we focus on what occurred, it activates the search engine to look for other things in that relationship that are upsetting to us. The more impact the experience had on you, the more intense the search. Again, your RAS is trying to protect you. Pretty soon, your RAS in its search is finding EXACTLY what it is searching for. Negatives, disappointments, misunderstandings, hurts, etc. So much so … that we “filter out” the wonderful things that likely exist in the relationship.
But I have GREAT news! You can manage your RAS! And actually train it to launch positive searches!
When I work with couples, I can identify what their RAS is doing by asking the question: “Tell me about your spouse.” If they begin with positive reports about their spouse, I know their RAS has set up a search for the great things in their partner. Negative responses tell me that misunderstandings, hurts, or angry interactions have commissioned the RAS to do a search for their imperfections.
As I said earlier, the RAS will filter out any positives if it has been commissioned to focus on the negatives. You have probably experienced this and know how frustrating it is. It is almost crazy-making!
You know how it goes. You have a “less than ideal moment” and say something hurtful, or maybe even worse. You come to your senses, and apologize sincerely. You do everything possible to make it right.
You send a meaningful card, and they think it was too expensive.
You prepare a special meal, and they think the peas are too salty.
You run errands for them all day, and they complain you didn’t get their seat settings in their car reset.
Even a minor mistake elicits a cutting remark, like:
- “You’ll never change”
- “Why would I expect anything good from you?”
- “Whatever …”
“WOW!” you think! I’ve worked so hard to make some positive changes, to handle this with a good attitude, to do some nice things. But you feel like you can’t do anything right.
YOU CAN’T … because their RAS is on a diligent search for what you are doing wrong!
That’s why when I’m working with couples, I ask them to tell me about their partner. Most wouldn’t be talking to me if one or both of their RAS’s wasn’t set on a search for the shortcomings and imperfections of their partner.
By inviting them to share a gratitude for one another, and keeping them focused on that exercise for 10 – 12 minutes, any negative searches can be reversed.
And once the search turns to positive, it is easily maintained with a few gratitudes daily. (Of course, if there’s another upsetting event, you must allow your love for the other to cover their wrong from your RAS to avoid initiating another negative search).
At the end of last year, a new couple called for an appointment. They had been referred by their pastor. They both arrived and brought with them a tension that filled up the room. I asked why they were there. They spoke over one another for several moments before I called for a time out.
“We’re here because he would rather play golf, watch TV, work or do anything other than act like a husband or a father.”
“We’re here because she doesn’t know how to keep the house clean, and is always on her cell phone.”
“We’re here because he says he doesn’t love me anymore.”
“We’re here because she is sick all the time and I’m sick of her.”
I asked them if they would be willing to trust me for just a moment. They were bewildered because they had each wanted me to take their side and put the other in their place..
I asked them to think back to their early days and tell me what they were grateful for in the other. Reluctantly, they complied.
“You were so beautiful and your smile captivated me,” he said.
“You were so fun and funny, and I was grateful for the laughter we shared,” she said.
Then I asked them to recall their wedding, and share what they were grateful for.
“I was so touched when you read your heartfelt vows that you had written yourself,” she said. “I knew how hard you had worked to put the wedding together on a limited budget, and how you made sure that my favorite foods were served. And you even made my cake shaped like a football,” he said.
Then I asked them to think about the birth of their first born, and to share a gratitude.
“You had such a difficult labor and delivery, but you kept patting my hand and telling me you were okay. I’m grateful one of us was calm, and it should have been me,” he said. “You caught the next flight home when you heard I was in labor three weeks early. I know it was an important business meeting, but not more important than the birth of our son. I’ll never forget that,” she said.
There were tears and smiles. For about 15 minutes, this went on.
Without instruction, he got out of his chair, kneeled in front of hers, embraced her, and they both cried.
We ended the session with tears, smiles, and a room filled with love, driving out the tension they had filled it with upon arrival.
Their pastor sent me an email saying he had no idea what had happened in their appointment, but a couple on the brink of divorce seemed to have miraculously fallen in love again.
This is just one example of how activating a positive, grateful search in your RAS can truly turn the tide. It was this understanding that led me to the revelation about the “love covers …” thing.
Suddenly, I realized that “love covers” was not to cover up the wrongs of the other person. It is to “cover” it from your RAS so that it does not activate the world’s most extensive negative search about that person and your relationship with them.
This does not mean going into denial. It means acknowledging to yourself that the behavior may not have been acceptable, and you can address that. It also means that you can “cover” it from your RAS by intentionally setting a positive search (gratitude is a quick way to initiate that search).
There is ample research indicating that when you address a difficult situation after initiating a positive search with your RAS, you become more resourceful. In addition, a peaceful resolution is significantly more likely!
Realizing I could retrain my RAS ( by using the “love covers” concept), I added it to my daily rituals routine… a series of things I do each morning to set my heart and mind for a peaceful, productive, and joyful day.
I have another set of ritual routines I do each evening to calm myself for excellent rest. I take a moment each evening to ask myself who I was upset with, and/or was having negative thoughts or feelings about. After identifying them, I spend some time reversing the negative search in my RAS by “covering them” (not keeping a record of their wrongs, nor counting their wrongs up). Then I initiate a positive search by looking for the best in them, and remembering the best about them that I am truly grateful for.
It’s powerful how quickly you begin to notice the positives when your RAS is searching for them!
And it’s one of the greatest gifts you can give your partner.
LOVE COVERS! What I used to view as unfair has become one of the greatest gifts. The exercise I do each evening has been like clicking on the “refresh” button on my computer (my brain). Sometimes, when our RAS has been set on a negative search for quite some time, if we press refresh everything looks different!
So, in summary, what does “love covers” mean? It means we take charge of our RAS (that would naturally launch a negative search) and set it on a relentless search for the positives in those we want to be in healthy relationship with, in those we care about and love. How? By practicing gratitude for them when we are at odds with them or upset.
In essence, we are covering the event with love to insure our RAS does not launch a negative search about the person or relationships. We all know if those negative searches stay in place for very long, the relationship will suffer damage.
Covering the wrongs or shortcoming of the other in order to prevent a search for negatives, launched by the RAS, is a much more peaceful and joyful way to live. And it adds EXTRAORDINARY into our relationships!