“Most people think of love as a feeling, but love is not so much a feeling as a way of being present”
- David Richo, “How to be an adult in Relationships”
What are the 5 A’s?
Attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowing are the essential foundational components for any healthy and thriving relationship, as well as the groundwork for personal transformation. Even if just one of these needs is not met properly, the entire relationship will be out of balance. The 5 A’s are about becoming a more loving and mindful person, and participating in the joy of giving and receiving these hallmarks of mindful loving.
How do the 5 A’s help you?
By taking the time to reflect on your ability to apply these principles firstly to yourself, you will not only unlock the door to creating your own happiness, but you will also unlock the door to receiving so much more love from others. It starts by looking inward to form a foundation on which you can build mature love. As Richo’s How to be an adult in Relationships states - the 5 A’s help us move away from judgement, fear, and blame to a position of openness, compassion, and realism about life and relationships.
How can the 5 A’s help your relationship?When truly realized, these principles have the power to create the deep mature love we long for in relationships. When we are present with our partners, and accept them for who they are, when we have an appreciation for them, with authentic affection and without the need to control, we are able to experience life and love in a more meaningful way. As we ultimately move forward in our own personal growth, and as we invest in our relationships in meaningful ways, we are able to contribute so much more to our communities and to the planet we live on.
ATTENTION refers to being aware of others, being aware of ourselves and being the focus of someone’s loving attention. Caretakers are often very good at being aware of others, but they are very lacking in being aware of their own needs and wants. In addition, Caretakers don’t expect others to give them loving attention.
Too often Caretakers form their primary relationship with someone who expects to get all the attention and give little in return. For many Caretakers, getting attention feels unsafe because the self-focused partner tends to give the Caretaker their attention only when s/he has a complaint, is angry or looking for someone to blame.
We all need someone who really listens to our deepest feelings and needs, who can validate our efforts, and who understands our intentions, needs and fears. If you are noticing that you are feeling ignored, invalidated or invisible, start by giving yourself attention in ways you would like to receive it. Next, self reflect by honestly asking yourself these questions:
Do you acknowledge your own efforts, achievements, intelligence and kindness in your own inner dialogue?
Or are you critical and neglectful of yourself; disregarding, doubting and invalidating yourself leaving an empty space that must be filled- thus projecting this unfulfilled need onto someone else?
Pay attention to your real feelings, identify the things you like and don’t like, and listen to what you are thinking. Begin to notice what you are saying and doing as you go about your daily activities.
Are you being the person you want to be?
Are you living the life you want to live?
Are you in loving, caring relationships where you feel seen and heard?
If not, what are your expectations around feeling seen and heard?
Have you communicated these things effectively to your partner -without blame, guilt, accusations, assumptions and/or passive aggressive dialogue?
ACCEPTANCE means being seen with mercy, love, respect and understanding. In order to be intimate, we have to feel safe, accepted, relaxed and worthy. Are you getting these things in your relationships? If you are feeling anxious, needy, wary, self-conscious or intimidated, you are not receiving the acceptance that you need to function. That lack of acceptance may be coming from others and/or it may be coming from yourself. Acceptance of yourself is what gives you self-confidence, good self-esteem, hope, and deservability. Acceptance from others gives you a sense of stability, safety and calmness.
Our ability to accept others is also important. Too often, however, we interpret acceptance to mean agreement or acquiescence, or putting up with unacceptable or hurtful behavior from others. Acceptance means that you see the truth of the other person, the truth of your relationship with them, and then act on the basis of that truth rather than pretending the person and relationship are what they are not.
This means that when someone is loving, or hurtful, or angry, or resentful, or caring, or kind, that you acknowledge the behavior for what it is, not for what you wish it to be. By acknowledging the real interactions we are experiencing, we can figure out how to interpret our relationships, and how to respond to them from an adult perspective. We have a right to ask others to treat us kindly, but we don’t have the right to demand or coerce others to be what we want. Acceptance means seeing and acting on the truth.
APPRECIATION is essential to our feeling loved and accepted. Too often we don’t give others the appreciation that would make the relationship feel fulfilling. Acknowledging our gratitude and validating the efforts of others on our behalf cements good relationships. If we feel undeserving or don’t give ourselves appreciation, it can end up being very difficult to give it to others. Most anger, hurt and resentment in relationships comes from a lack of, and a need for, more appreciation. Appreciating yourself and appreciating others makes us feel good and increases our love and connection to others.
If you are feeling unappreciated in your relationship, look to see if there is a general attitude of not paying attention or accepting each other. Is the other person capable of giving you the appreciation you need and want? Are they withholding it for some reason? Are there unresolved hurts and anger that need to be addressed? Can these be overcome? Does your offering them appreciation trigger a positive or a negative response? Without reciprocal appreciation, relationships wither, become resentful and eventually die.
AFFECTION comes from the word “affect” or feeling. As humans we need emotional, spiritual and physical affection. Infants who don’t receive affection can die. Affection includes the three keys of attention, acceptance and appreciation, but it also requires some direct behaviors that show us the proof of these things. Affection is often a code word for sex, but there can be sex with no affection whatsoever.
Does your relationship feel intimate, caring, warm, safe, magnetic, and loving? If so, then affection is going to be included. Many people have relationships that feel distant, inconsiderate, unkind, and manipulative. In those instances ,loving affection will be missing, and no amount of sex can make up for the missing intimacy.
ALLOWING means letting yourself and the other person be who they are. Too many rules, requirements and expectations push us into becoming who others need us to be rather than being ourselves. Allowing means that we don’t try to control the other person, and we don’t allow the other person to control us. We don’t deny the individuality of either person.
Allowing has many similarities to acceptance. We don’t try to change the other person’s feelings, or force them into doing things they find intolerable or humiliating, we don’t try to change their personality or beliefs, or blame them or judge them for mistakes or differences.
Allowing does not mean that you can’t set limits in relationships. Setting limits on intolerable behavior is not the same as trying to control another person. Setting limits is done to safeguard yourself as well as your personal values; while controlling is meant to make another do what you want.
So what do you do when you find yourself in a relationship with someone who is controlling, or you find yourself anxiously needing the other person to be different than they are?
That is the time to really assess the relationship:
Can you in good conscience follow the Five A’s above or has the relationship disintegrated to a non-loving, non-caring, non-considerate interaction?
Can you both fulfill the Five A’s or has the relationship gone beyond repair?
Write 3 lists and answer for yourself:
- I currently show love to myself in the following ways:
- I sabotage, limit or prevent loving myself in the following ways:
- What I can do NOW and in the future to practice giving myself each of the 5 A’s.
Now write the same 3 lists and answer for your partner/relationship:
- I currently show love to my partner in the following ways:
- I sabotage, limit or prevent loving my partner in the following ways:
- What I can do NOW and in the future to practice giving my partner each of the 5 A’s.
After completing these lists honestly, what can you identify by comparing and contrasting your answers in the two lists?