Loving and Liking I: Not the Same

Loving and Liking I: Not the Same

Some people are just easy to love. They attract your love for many reasons, but it isn’t necessary what they say or do: they’re just lovable. They’re like little kittens or puppies. I’m reminded of being with our grandson a couple years ago at Bear Country while the three of us were on a national parks’ journey out west. First we drove through the real bear country, like the Black Hills and Yellowstone, but we didn’t find any. Besides, you get a little worried when you’re looking for Grizzlies in some back country. Better to pay your way to Bear Country in South Dakota where you drive through this park with all kinds of dangerous bears just hanging out doing their thing. Then you come to the “nursery” where the baby cubs are romping around with one another, and you are compelled to jump over the fence and romp with them. We didn’t. But these not-yet-dangerous animals were lovable.


Some people are just like that: lovable. You know the kind. There’s something about these lovable people that is some kind of special gift they have. They’re not trying to be lovable; they just are. You can’t help it. For the most part babies are just lovable, and a lot of young kids are the same way. But these adults who are lovable are a special breed. We call these folks “lovers” in temperament, which we want to discuss in a later blog, but for now let’s just say that they’re just lovable.

Aside from the lovable baby bear cubs, kittens and puppies, and human babies, there is another phenomenon that occurs, mostly in families. We love our relatives. Especially our children. It just happens. How did I love my daughters the first second they were delivered? I was astounded with my feelings of love for my daughters when there were just delivered. Couldn’t help it. Couldn’t stop it if I wanted to. And the love I had for each of them has remained solid now for 44 and 40 years and counting.


Why do we like someone? There are many reasons but largest among them is some facet of life that is shared. This could be a shared political, religious, or philosophical belief, or it could be a shared passion for some activity like sports, music, working on cars, or hiking. We may also like someone because that person makes me laugh…or even cry. Liking is actually harder to develop or find that love because it means we have to find that piece of life that we share. People who like the Packers, for instance, might actually come from very different philosophical perspectives, but when they are watching a Packer game and drinking beer, it is only what they like that really matters. Sometimes liking simply has come from familiarity. You just know someone for a long time, say a spouse, and you like that you can predict when your friend will do something.

Liking is the essence of friendship. Furthermore, you can stop liking someone and you certainly can end a relationship with someone with whom you now have less in common. It can be problematic if you yet love the person you have ended a relationship with, especially if that person is a family member.

Loving and liking family members

We tend to love the rest of our family members, like parents, siblings, grandparents, and other extended family members. I have one favorite cousin out of the 22 I have. Just love him. Don’t know why. Perhaps because of the shared outgoing nature we have or the fun we had as kids. Just love him. Can’t help it. The same can be true with other relatives, and usually is true for those in our families of origin: parents and siblings, and perhaps an uncle, aunt, or grandparent who lived with us. Gotta love your family right? Right.

But you may not like ‘em. That’s the problem. You may love them but you may not like them. This is a huge problem, at least for many people. I talked with someone yesterday who hasn’t talked to his brother for years…but still loves him. I heard from a friend that his adult son doesn’t talk with his mother for some reason. And I talk with many people who have great problems with one or more of their family members. In summary, they don’t like someone that they love. My blog on “The Other F word” dealt a bit with the loving/not liking phenomenon. It’s a challenge. You can’t get rid of family as hard as you might try. You don’t have to. But you need to deal with your feelings…all of them.

Dealing with the loving/not liking phenomenon

Here are a couple suggestions for this love him/don’t like him dilemma:

  • Identify the people you love who in your life. Be courageous because you might be surprised how small or how large this group might be
  • Identify the people you like who are in your life. This could be family or friends. They might even be someone you see at the grocery store now and then, or a gal you see across the street.
  • Consider the people who might fall into the love her/don’t like her category. This will usually be family members.
  • Allow yourself the freedom to do the loving and the liking even they don’t seem to fit together.
  • Don’t run off and tell you drug addicted son that you love him but don’t like him, or your brother who is just a loudmouth. Just acknowledge that you don’t like someone whom you feel compelled to love, and perhaps really love.
  • Note the feeling you have with this love/don’t like thing. The feeling will be sadness. The only reason you feel sad is because you love someone and have, for some reason, lost that person, or lost trust in that person, or feel betrayed by that person, or something else. But you still love her. Let it be.

Further reading

Johnson, R. and Brock, D. (2017). The positive power of sadness. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger

Johnson, R. (2018). Feelings I-IV blogs

Johnson, R. (2018, forthcoming). Loving and Liking II: Spouse; Loving and liking III: Children.


I felt a fair bit of sadness over the last few days. I have been confronted by sadness at four different times all within 48 hours. Sadness has been a central ingredient in my understanding how things work, how the world works, and how people work. So it wasn’t with despair or despondency that I felt sad. It was because I love. This is what sadness is about: something loved, but also something lost.

The sadness I felt yesterday actually started a day or two earlier when I wondered why many flags were at half-staff. I first wondered if it had to do with another tragic terrorist bombing, some emotionally troubled person shooting people in a school, or just some important person. Actually, it didn’t matter whether it was a massive tragedy of bombing, some loner dealing his or her loneliness, or just one well-known person who had died. The flag at half-staff represented mourning that was collective. I felt this collective sadness even without knowing who I felt sad with. But I felt sad with someone, or some people, or some country, or some tribe. I have become accustomed to feeling sad, which then immediately reminds me that I am capable of loving, which sadness should always do.

Yesterday I felt two other times of sadness, both of which seemed to blend together with the half-staff sadness. My early Sunday morning is usually pleasantly spent reading the newspaper while lying in bed. Sunday mornings are the only time I “lie in bed,” something that otherwise doesn’t ever appeal to me. Getting past the first page of the Wisconsin State Journal I read an article of a terrible truck-bus accident in Saskatchewan, Canada. Evidently, a truck t-boned a busload of youth hockey players. Having lived in Canada for four years, I know how important hockey is in the country. I was bemused when I first got to St. John’s, Newfoundland, to find the “sports page” was really a hockey page: NHL, AHL, CFL, and many youth groups. Additionally, instead of kids playing basketball on the hard court outside of school, they were playing “street hockey,” replete with hockey sticks and pucks, usually sans pads. As we know, Canada is a hockey country. Canada has “hockey Moms” much more than “soccer Moms.”

This “youth” hockey group bus that was hit was with 16-20 year olds, many of which certainly aspired to the NHL, AHL, or some other “L” in Canada, or anywhere they could play. So when I saw this hockey bus hit, my instantaneous thought was of the triple tragedy of the loss of some 15 people, hockey players, and coaches. I felt the tragedy immediately and deeply with this mix of my quazi-Canadian heritage, understanding of the hockey culture in Canada, and most of all the loss of these 15 people. I even thought about my own brief days of playing hockey in high school, and an hour or two pushing the puck around on our frozen lake up north. Mostly, I just felt sad, as did Deb when she read it a few minutes later.

Then I was off to church, quickly showering and getting my suit on (the only guy in church, by the way who wears a coat and tie). I sat with my good friends, I’ll call them Jan and Bob, who have been struggling with their son’s cancer off and on for several years. It has been a labor of love and we hear Facebook reports of their progress often daily, but never of the danger. Bob asked me how I was, and I responded with a statement that has become regular for me, “couldn’t be better.” He was glad for that, he said but then said that the same wasn’t exactly true for him. He had been in Minneapolis over the weekend and had heard that his son, having gone through tortuous chemo and radiological treatments, had now heard that the cancer had metastasized into his spine. Bob was moved, although he is not a person to openly show such “movement.” I was moved. I told him that was awful. Then I added an adverb to the adjective “awful” and said it with the power that such adverbs seem to give emotional statements. He thanked me. That was it. I put my arm around Jan and said little. Little needed to be said. I did say something like, “this just isn’t right” (meaning that children shouldn’t be dying before parents do). She nodded her head. It was all she could do without coming completely apart. I left it at that. But the sadness has stayed with me.

My work with people, as it is with most therapists, is replete with various losses, hurts, and times of sadness. The next day at work was no different, but the day ended with a session with…, let’s call him Ben. I have known Ben now for nearly two years as he is trying to migrate through his middle age years with the complications of work, children, marriage, and ultimately having a life of meaning. He told me that he had just been fired. Well, I’ve been fired two or three times in my professional career, and it is no fun. But hearing this tragic event in Ben’s life at the same time that he is trying to figure out all the rest of life, seemed…awful. I told him so. He wanted to think about it, thinker that he is, and maybe analyze the causes of the firing, analyst that he is, and do something about it, the doer that he is. But I tried my best to keep him to feeling the awful. Just the awful. Just the feeling. It was tough. But the only way through awful is to feel it, feel it, and feel it…until you finish it. Then you can think, analyze and take action. I was glad that I could be with him at this awful time, and it was to be with Bob, as it was to be “with” the hockey players and families, as it was to be with those unknown people who felt compelled to place the flag at half-staff. It felt good because I could be with these people in their times of awful without feeling awful. I loved all these people. And I am better for it.

Sadness is such a central theme in life. Never easy. Never wanted. Never sought. Always present. This is why Deb and I felt compelled to write our book. We wanted the title to be simple: Good Grief, but the publisher re-titled it The Positive Power of Sadness. Sadness is, indeed, powerful. The power is love.

Further Reading

Johnson, R. and Brock, D. (2017). The positive power of sadness: how good grief cures and prevents anxiety, depression, and anger. Los Angeles: Praeger

Previous blogs on Feelings

The Other F word

Family. That is the other F word. And it can be much worse than the curse word. We can dismiss the curse word when we hear it. We can use the curse word with impunity as many people do. It’s just a word. But we can’t do the same with the other F word: family. There is nothing like family to bring you great joys and great grief. It is the best of times. It is the worst of times. You know what I mean. You can get away from the F word, but you can never get away from the F people. And this creates tremendous problems for everybody. Difficulties with family members include marital dysfunction, but are even more common among other family relationships.

When we think of family difficulties, we usually think of dysfunctional marriages and contested divorces. Indeed, bad marriages and bad divorces are challenging, both leading to fights of all kinds. But the really difficult family challenges are those that are blood related or related by marriage. You can actually get rid of your former partner or spouse, at least to some degree, but you can’t get rid of your blood relatives. Money, children, and property often divide couples and make for tremendous difficulties. These are hard to endure, but they have a way of eventually fading as children grow up, property deteriorates, and money problems slowly disappear. Not so with siblings, young children, adult children, parents, and to some degree in-laws.

You can quit your job if you don’t like your boss; you can move to a new neighborhood if you don’t like your neighbors; you can end a friendship; and you can leave your spouse, however difficult that might be. But you can’t get away from family. You can’t divorce your brother, you can’t quit your children, no matter what age. And you are stuck with your in-laws for the duration of the marriage. Relationships with children of any age, siblings of any age, and in-laws are often fraught with discomfort, dissatisfaction, and distress.

Childhood by its very nature is challenging, both for parents and for the children. Who really likes being awakened by an infant in the middle of the night, or the changing diapers, the colicky baby, or the eight-year old bed-wetter? Things get dicey particularly in the toddler years of two to six where kids are learning the use of their basic feelings. These years can be very taxing on parents as they attempt to nurture and direct their children beyond the natural narcissism of the toddler years into the social years of middle childhood. It is hard on parents to deal with the demands of these young children, but realize that it is even harder for toddler-age children to cope with having to transition from getting most of what they wanted in infancy to getting very little of what they want. These are years when parents and children often simply do not like each other even though they usually love each other. So much of early childhood is not particularly likable. I try to help parents admit to the paradox of loving a difficult child while not particularly liking the child.

Children are difficult and not always likable at any age, but siblings can be truly vicious to one another. The teasing, poking, prodding, and humiliation that goes on between siblings rivals the gang wars of Chicago. There seems to be no limit as to how some siblings talk to each other and treat each other. I think this sibling rivalry thing exists because you can’t get away from your sibling, no matter what age of the sibling. You can get away from your parents by running away from home, at least for a few hours. Eventually, you grow up and leave home. You can get a new teacher or a new job or a new friend, but you can never get a “new” brother. You’re just stuck with him. The terrible things siblings say and do to one another is due to this “can’t get away from him” phenomenon.

You would think that this sibling dislike and attack would end with adolescence but it often doesn’t ever end. I occasionally hear of wondrous friendships between adult siblings, and many of these relationships have been fostered after years of childhood and adolescent rivalry and hatred. My very best years of friendship with my own brother began when we were both in college and then lasted another 20 years. More often, however, relationships among adult siblings continues to be challenging, seemingly forever. I know of siblings who despise one another. Some of this vitriol is due to the fact that they are forced to be with one another at family functions, but more often these adult sibling problems are due to resentment that stretches back into childhood, and then continues into adulthood. It is remarkable that Jack still resents the fact that (he thinks) his sister was spoiled. It doesn’t help if his sister is back at home with Mom and Dad together with her three kids. It would be easier for Jack to see some distant acquaintance going back home to live as an adult, but when he sees his sister there, it galls him. The difficulties between siblings that began in childhood often exacerbate in adult lives to the point where these siblings never see each other at all. Yet the old feelings of ambivalent love remains. It is as if these still rivalrous siblings wish they could start over and understand each other. My first 18 years of modest rivalry with my brother was followed by 20 good years as we went to college, got married, and went to work. But the relationship deteriorated after that, partly due to the influence of in-laws.

There are many other combinations of siblings that cause potential problems, such as liking one sibling more than the other, having “two families,” one composed of the three oldest children and the second family of the four youngest ones. Rarely do these early “families” unite. It makes life with adult siblings challenging.

Equally challenging are adult child and parent relationships. When children leave the nest and find some life in work and their own families, their values and standards often change. Sometimes the adult kids don’t live up to their parents’ expectations, whether in school, partner, work, or how they raise the kids. Parents say to their adult children, “That wasn’t the way it was done when we raised you.” And from the adult children’s perspective, things are even harder. A child who might revere parent or parents early in life might later find fault with those parents when he is an adult himself. I know of one mother who hasn’t seen her son for a year and a half and has never seen her new grandchild, all for some unknown reason. I know of other grandparents who haven’t seen their grandchildren for months without hearing why their son has kept his children from them. These parent-child adult relationships might be some of the most difficult of all.

And of course, there are always the in-laws. Relationships with in-laws are fraught with potential difficulties. My parents did not want me to get married and refused to come to our wedding forcing us to postpone it for months. Perhaps my intended wife was not good enough for my parents for some reason. Variations of scenario are played out in all quarters. The problem is that the in-law doesn’t love, and may not even like, their children’s new partners. We don’t have the “love him but don’t like him” phenomenon; we may just have the “don’t like him” part. I certainly didn’t like my former sister-in-law and she certainly repaid me the favor.

Parents, children, siblings, and in-laws. It is the best of times. It is the worst of times. It is never easy. Young children can find ways to fight out their differences and have no trouble “hating” one another, but when they grow up, they no longer have the privilege of childhood. And adult relationships are much more complex. They seemingly have to find ways of relating to relatives that they really don’t like. The typical answers are: (1) never see your relatives and pretend that they are dead, or (2) pretend that you really like them and put on a happy face. Neither of these practices works.

My advice? Take it slow. There is no quick fix. Try the following:

  • Note that you are sad more than mad. Sure your sister was spoiled when you two were growing up, but that was not her fault. She probably still harbors some of the results of this spoiling, but you can’t change it. It is sad that you can’t change it. There is no value in your being angry at her for what happened 30 years ago.
  • Note that if you are sad, you love your sister, or whoever is difficult in your life. The only reason you get sad is because you love that person, whether parent, sibling, parent, or adult child. You probably even love your in-laws to some degree, and they can easily be frustrating.
  • Speak kindly to your loved one without pretending. Kindness is a choice, and it should be done out of generosity, not obligation.
  • Note that you don’t like your family member while also noting that your dislike for this person may not be entirely rooted in the present. Perhaps it is about something long remembered or long forgotten. Yet it still bothers you.
  • Let your sadness run its course. Sadness always ends. When you are no longer sad about your sister, brother, mother, child, or in-law, you might then be able to think clearly enough to know what to do or say.
  • There may be nothing to say or do, at least not right now. But you should never say or do anything while you still are resentful. Eventually, you might be able to say or do something out of love that is genuine, but first you have to get over the resentment, even if you still dislike this person.
  • Be honest. But that doesn’t mean telling your difficult family member everything you think or feel. Better to say something short and sweet that is true rather than to make it into something that it isn’t. Honesty, by the way, doesn’t mean saying everything you want to say. You need discretion, which you can discover only when you no longer resent your family member. Then the words will come carefully and honestly.

You might be interested in the following:

  • A chapter Deb and I wrote on narcissism a few years ago in a three-volume series on Evil edited by J.H. Ellens and published by Praeger.
  • Our forthcoming The Power of Positive Sadness by Praeger Press due out next month also by Praeger
  • Our 4-8-12 blog and forthcoming book by the same name