Keep Your Love On! is about healthy relationships. The goal of any healthy relationship is about building and protecting connection. However, after relating to each other for a while we experience pain and rejection, so often the goal of the relationship becomes about maintaining a “safe” distance, especially with a close relationship like marriage. A healthy relationship needs to have unconditional love at the base. If you can withdraw my love from me in certain situations, then I will have fear in those areas. Fear and love have opposite agendas; fear tries to control or create distance, while love seeks to connect.
Healthy relationships require what Silk calls “powerful people.” Powerful people know that they cannot control what happens to them, and they cannot control other people, but they can control their response. This response can be to love; unconditional love is when I choose to love you regardless of what you do (hence the name of the book). Powerful people value themselves, and they value others, so they only engage with people who value both themselves and them; powerful people insist on both parties being powerful. Powerful people set boundaries based on their priorities, including their emotional health, and enforce them.
In contrast, powerless people feel like they are not in control. They say “I can’t” or “I have to” a lot, since they think that they are not in control. This often takes the form of one of three roles: a bad guy trying to control, a victim waiting for a rescuer, and a rescuer trying to save someone from themselves. However, the victim-rescuer roles are co-dependent, and the bad guy will be ultimately unsuccessful because you can only control yourself, not other people. Powerful people actually refuse to let people take on these unhealthy roles. To a victim they say “what are you going to do about that? What have you tried?” To a controller they say “I would be happy to talk to you when you are willing to respect me.”
A large part of any relationship is communication and conversation. The goal of conversation is to understand the other person; this remains true for conflict. We tend to try to create agreement in conflict, but since you don’t agree, in order to agree one of the people has to disappear. Instead, the goal is to understand each other. What do you need from me? Often we do not even know what we need! A good model for conflict is the “I message,” which is “I feel [emotion] when [situation] and I need to feel [emotion].” For example, “I feel not valued when you ignore me and I need to feel cared for.” Note that if you say “I think...” or “I feel like...” you are probably making a judgment and not an “I message.” The goal is to communicate your heart. It is risky on both the giving and receiving end of an “I message,” but it gives the opportunity for one person to meet the needs of the other. This builds trust as both people realize that the other person will meet their needs, and it builds intimacy as they learn to share their heart. Successfully resolved conflict actually makes relationships stronger.
Healthy relationships also requires taking care of yourself. In order to have fruit from the garden within you to give to others, you need to have boundaries. With no fence, rabbits will eat all the plants and nothing is left, but with a fence, you have to option to give the rabbit something and still have plenty. So powerful people will only relate to people that respect and value them, and will limit how much they give to people. If you give to every rabbit you will have nothing left. Instead, give according to your priorities, which will naturally prioritize the people closest to you. Your spouse obviously has the most access to you, followed by your family, then friends. If an acquaintance’s car breaks down, you might give them the number of your mechanic. If it is a close friend, you might lend them your car while they get it fixed. If it is one of your children, you might pay for the repairs. If it is your wife’s car, you might ask her what color their new car will be.
Not everyone wants to relate to you in a healthy way; some want to consume from you. Since you can only control yourself, powerful people set boundaries by stating what they will do. “I’m sorry, I’m going to my kid’s soccer game on Friday.” “I would like to talk with you to resolve this when you are willing to talk in a respectful tone.” A man in Silk’s congregation had his wife leave him one night and needed to talk to Silk. Silk waited until he was back in the office, then called back and said “I can talk with you two weeks from now.” The man was upset that Silk did not call back right away, and then could not meet for two weeks. Silk simply repeated what he was going to do: “I can see you in two weeks, I’ll let you set up a time with my assistant.” Say yes to your priorities and no to everything else.
Our responsibility in life is to learn to love others. It is what God will evaluate us on. The church is often afraid of sin and wants a clean-looking place. The thing is, people are messy. Fortunately, God knew that people were going to be messy before He even created us, so clearly He is ok with the mess. Trying to keep our church leaders looking perfect is like trying to have cows hold in their manure; sooner or latter they will explode and then everyone will be dirty. If the church can really love people despite their messes, though, the results will be amazing.
Keep Your Love On! is an excellent book (much better than this review). Silk has written one of those rare books that is easily readable, comprehensive, insightful, and concise. I am impressed at how he gets to the heart of the issues and covers an entire topic in a few chapters. For example, there are only three chapters on boundaries; Henry Cloud has a popular book Boundaries, and I am curious what he says, because Silk’s explanation seems so comprehensive, yet so simple, that there is not much left to say. Being comprehensive, insightful, and concise are rare, and only come from a mastery of the material. This is a book that has the timeless element of core principles comprehensively discussed, which makes this a 100 year book. The fact that it is quite readable by a general audience only makes it that much more impressive.