What Would Love Do?

what would love do

By Lissa Rankin MD

Guest Writer for Wake Up World

He broke your heart, violated your trust, betrayed your confidence, ignored your needs, and disrespected you. When you tell your friends, they shake their heads, clucking, shaming. You’re better off without him. He doesn’t deserve you. You can do better than him. You make up a story, one that casts him as the villain and you as the victim of his dastardly deeds. It’s a good story, the kind they make movies about. You feel righteous when you kick him to the curb. You did the right thing, they all say. There’s lots more fish in the sea.

But deep down, there’s hurt underneath the anger. And beneath the hurt lies Something Larger, something that understands why he did it, something you’d have to reckon with if you acknowledged it, something that disrupts your story. So you stick to your story, ignoring what lies beyond it. It’s easier that way. You have to protect yourself, after all.

But I ask you this. What would Love do?

She blames you. It’s all your fault, you asshole. If you hadn’t done what you did, her life would be roses and violets. How could you? How could you? That thing you did—you know the one—how could you do something like that? What kind of person are you anyway? Who would do something like that to someone you love? You don’t deserve to breathe the same air as her. She’s right. You’re a schmuck and you deserve to be punished. They should just brand you with a scarlet letter so everyone can see. You could traipse around with your walk of shame and pay the price publicly. Let them spit on you. You are the devil. You deserve to rot in hell. Her friends think you’re Lucifer. They guard around her, minions protecting their queen. You dare not get close, much less try to apologize. Forget that. You tried apologizing. She couldn’t hear you. She was too angry, too stuck in her story of what an ass you are. She couldn’t hear that you never meant to hurt her, that you love her, that you were doing the very best you could in the moment.

You knelt at her feet and asked her forgiveness, at least you did in your mind. You would never intentionally hurt her. You would tell her you still love her, if only she’d listen. She’s probably right. You’re just an asshole. You should skulk away with your tail between your legs, cut your losses, hope for better luck next time.

But I ask you. What would Love do?

You tried so hard to save her, even though she wasn’t interested in saving herself. You put your heart and soul into the rescue attempt, invested your money, energy, time, and love into the intervention. You thought it might finally work this time. Yes, you’ve tried and failed before. Yes, maybe you should have learned your lesson. But this time you really believed she might be ready to finally receive your help. You thought you might save her this one last time. Who would do it, if not you? Who would keep giving her the benefit of the doubt, if not you? Who else but you loves her enough to keep putting up with her shit? All the lies. All the broken promises. All the times she said what you wanted to hear and you believed her. Again.

But God damn it. She did it again. You did it again. You let her do it to you again, and she’s not even grateful. How can she not be grateful, after all you’ve done for her? What kind of person uses people that way, sucking them dry and then leaving them, worn, depleted, and drained on the side of the road, without even looking back? You should just cut your losses. Give up on her. She’s a lost cause.

But who will take care of her if not you? Maybe you should give her one more chance. Forgive her again. Keep trying. If you don’t, what will become of her. Yes. She needs you. She’d fall apart without you. You can be the bigger person, keep showing up for her, be the one person who will never abandon her, no matter how bad thing get.

But I ask you. What would Love do?

We’re all at risk of falling into one of three patterns in an unhealthy triad of victim, perpetrator, and martyr. Sometimes we play the helpless victim at the mercy of bad people and a hostile universe. Sometimes we cast ourselves or let others cast us in the role of the villainous perpetrator. Other times, we play the self-sacrificing but resentful martyr. None of these roles are healthy. All of them stem from the Small Self’s story of separation. Every one of these patterns arises from fear.

But we can disrupt these patterns with one simple question gifted to me by my spiritual counselor and transpersonal psychologist Ted Esser, PhD.

What would Love do?

I dare not suggest I ever know the answer to such a question. But I pose it to myself often these days, and more often than not, I find myself choosing to do the kind thing when I ask myself this question. This question softens hard edges in me and disrupts my victim, perpetrator, and martyr stories.

What Love Does

Sometimes Love forgives what feels unforgivable.

Sometimes Love questions everything from a place of curiosity and humility.

Sometimes Love sets boundaries.

Sometimes Love prays for help.

Sometimes Love opens the heart even further than you ever thought possible.

Sometimes Love confesses an unspeakable truth.

Sometimes Love leaves you bare and vulnerable, a turtle without a shell in a briar patch.

Sometimes Love leaves.

But always, Love makes choices that unlock the soul cage and help you and those you love grow. Always, even when dosing up tough love, Love is kind. And always, just as you can always recognize the ocean because it tastes like salt, you’ll recognize Love because it tastes like freedom.

Yes, it takes courage to do what Love would do. But as Sara Bareilles dares you in her song “Brave,” “Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live. Maybe one of these days, you can let the light in. Show me how big your brave is.”

With love,

Previous articles by Lissa Rankin:

About the author:

Lissa Rankin MD, Wake Up World bioLissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and healthcare providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. She is on a grass roots mission to heal healthcare, while empowering you to heal yourself.

Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities – HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a speaker, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.

Connect with Lissa on Facebook and Twitter, or visit LissaRankin.com


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  • amber

    I love this site but think this article is irresponsible. After 5yr of putting up with a man who was killing my spirit on so many levels I finally was able to put some space between us and feel like im on a much healthier track. He’s an addict in inpatient now and I still love him and understand he hasn’t been in a healthy frame of mind….. I fear I will go back to him when he’s out bc ive always been the one person he could rely on to meet his needs. Going back seems like spiritual suicide. He sucks my energy and always manages to gain power over me and our relationship. Reading this makes me second guess myself as if im doing myself a disservice when ive FINALLY gotten to the point of understanding I deserve happiness too. I love him to death… its been so hard…..years to get away.

    • Stephanie

      Hi Amber,

      I hear your hurt and confusion (that you feel this article has brought you), but I think the “love leaves” that’s written at the end of the article, applies here. Sometimes, in the service of yourself (AND the other person) doing the loving thing means leaving. I’ve been in an abusive situation that was not going to improve if I had stayed because he was not ready to change nor was I, so the most loving thing for both of us was to part ways at that time. It does not mean that two people who part ways cannot reunite. Once we have established our own boundaries, we will not let others treat us badly and vice versa, we will not intentionally treat others in a hurtful way. I think we must go inside ourselves when we feel hurt, angry, etc to truly determine the most loving response in any given situation. Does the situation require that we forgive? Accept? Let go (of the situation or the person)? And so on… I hope this helps. Much love to you on your journey.

    • Jennie

      Don’t second guess yourself! The whole point of this brilliant article is to ask, “What would love do?” Setting healthy boundaries, giving tough love when needed, loving yourself enough to honor and take care of yourself, not allowing others to disrespect or feed off your energy, following your heart and speaking your truth is what Love would do!
      Stay strong Sister and don’t settle for anything less than a man who will love, honor and respect you, one who is honest and kind, who walks in integrity and takes responsibility for his feelings and needs, and gives you the freedom to do the same.
      Love yourself enough to create the life of your highest dreams and visions. Love yourself first, and all good will follow.
      That’s what Love would do in my humble opinion. I honor your journey and pray for your peace. We are all connected and your joy is mine.

  • recovering addict

    This article is well written but it’s seriously misled. If you are asking what would love do? Why wouldn’t the other person need to ask that question. I am a drug addict with two years in recovery. I drug countless people through the mud, and only when every one of them left me alone and let me destroy myself did I recognize what was happening to me. I damaged people who were sweet and caring people and made them coarse and cruel. I pushed gentle people to the point of violence. This article is so misguided. Do not follow the example given here, let go of the people who are destroying you. Save yourself.

  • Elisse

    Yes, what would love do. That depends on one thing… first and foremost, do you have a healthy self-love? Because if you’re crossing the ocean for someone who wouldn’t jump a puddle for you, that’s co-dependent behavior… and love needs to be pointed inward first.

    We can’t truly love anyone else in a healthy way, until we love ourselves first. Those of us who are co-dependents struggle constantly with that.

    Easier said than done. If you’ve lived your entire life of putting people first, and being a martyr or doormat, it’s going to take some time. We need to heal our own wounds before we’re ready to love another.

    Narcissists have a malignant self-love, where they are on the opposite end of the spectrum. They will take and take and never give, never appreciate, never feel remorse, never even be able to stand in someone else’s shoes to understand how they feel. They won’t ever see the need for that.

    So when you say ‘what would love do,’ in this article, assuming it is directed at people who are basically healthy in their love and respect for themselves, yes, love would go the extra mile and never give up, knowing we are all imperfect and need grace.

    But when talking to an audience of people who love themselves too little (co-dependents) or love themselves too much (narcissists) then that’s a totally different ball game.

    Codependents need to heal inner wounds so that they can love themselves in order to have healthy relationships.

    And narcs? Well, they honestly wouldn’t read an article about love (or anything on self-improvement) because they have created a ‘false self’ that is already perfect, and entitled to everyone’s love.