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Love

Author: Sam Sly

A version of this article was first published in Learning Disability Today.

Over the past few months I have been reflecting on Love. Yes, I know it has been Spring-time and I have attended my daughter’s wedding which may have coloured my views but it is more than that! 

I am currently updating for re-launch in the late autumn Hands Off It’s My Home the quality improvement tool kit I developed to help providers striving to make services that help people have real lives, in line with Simon Duffy’s Keys to Citizenship.

It was time for a refresh partly because Simon is also updating Keys to Citizenship and the element that we agree was not made prominent enough in his work and mine before this, was love! 

Why when love in all its guises is such an important, if not the most important part of our lives, do we not prioritise supporting it to flourish in the lives of people with learning disabilities? Seems crazy doesn’t it? But maybe relationships, and especially the parts around sexuality and sex, are just a bit too difficult and uncomfortable to get to grips with? 

Love has many layers, all as important as the next. C S Lewis (The Four Loves, 1960) talks about two different kinds of love: ‘need-love’ that of a child for a parent and ‘gift-love’, the love we give to one another through humanity. Love is important to everyone and most people’s hopes and dreams (people with and without disabilities) are to find and develop love through family, friends, relationships, sex and children. It is only through giving and receiving love and kindness, and feeling the range of emotions (both highs and lows) that people become alive. Love as a citizen is also about being responsible for others and respecting people’s differences.

All types of love need developing and nurturing, and a person with learning disabilities often will not have learned how to do this, because of isolation, segregation, discrimination and congregation. People’s relationships are a reflection of how they think about themselves. People we support may have been badly treated, discriminated against and may not seek positive relationships, because they do not respect or trust others. They need support to feel good about themselves and develop and nurture loving relationships. 

Lewis talks of four loves, which may be a useful way of support providers thinking about how they can help the person they support develop and nurture love.

Affection – the love for those who are ‘family’ or who get together through chance. This is a love without coercion, love that descends discrimination and is without condition. It may be described as natural love, and love born out of familiarity however, the vulnerability of affection is that it appears to be ready-made and it is therefore expected and is extremely hurtful and destructive if it is not there. 

Friendship – the love that is developed as a strong bond due to common interests, activities, histories, traits and characteristics. Friendships are freely-chosen and can be life-long or last as long as an activity or interest does. People may have a wide circle of acquaintances but much fewer true friendships. Choosing friends and going on to form lasting relationships may need support as if people have not had chances to in the past they cannot always differentiate between kind honest people and people who may take advantage of them. 

Romance – the strong sense and feelings that come with ‘being in love’ through attraction, desire and longing for a connection of body and mind. This love is very powerful and can sometimes grow out of friendship but not always, and people sometimes get confused about this especially if they have had little experience of friendships. Most people want to experience sexual relationships which may lead to commitment and a family or may not. Having sexual experiences, lasting or not and of the person’s preference, and being seen as loveable and desirable by others is very important to people.

Gift-love – love for others through their connection as people with humanity and giving without expectation of love in return. This is the love that binds communities together and those who give love in this way are often viewed highly by others. 

So I would like you to reflect and consider in whatever job you do with people with learning disabilities, or whoever’s life you touch in what you do: 

Can you put your hand on your heart and say you strive to increase the love in someone’s life on a daily basis? 

Do you ensure people understand relationships, develop new ones, nurture important ones, explore sex and their sexuality and have opportunities to give and receive love? 

I know I don’t, but I am going to go forward now and make a greater effort to, as it seems crazy that I didn’t see before how important love is to having a great life.


The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Love © Sam Sly 2013.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.