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In popular American culture, love is equated to the feelings and intimacy of romantic relationships. Oftentimes, this “love” is tragically lost, leading to breakups and divorce. Love, though, is not a feeling, but a choice — a choice we are supposed to make in all our relationships, not just romantic ones. It is desiring the good for another, even when it seems undeserved or difficult. Choosing to love requires sacrifice and perseverance, but this ultimately leads to happiness and stability.

I grew up in a family of 12 kids. I am the second oldest, so I was given more responsibility when it came to my younger siblings. Over the past 20 years, I’ve learned a lot from my siblings about what true love really is. I mean, let’s face it, siblings are not always the easiest people to love. They break your stuff, hack your Facebook account, and play pranks on you. So ultimately you are left with two choices — resent them forever and try to find some way to keep them out of your life, or choose to love them every day through good times and bad. I found the best way that leads to happiness and harmony is the latter option, and it has taught me a lot about choosing to love. So here are some of the things that my siblings have taught me about love.

Forgive and forget: I have one sibling who I used to find very hard not to resent. She would break my things, make a huge mess in my room, insult me (and I’d insult her back), etc. Usually, we would have our arguments and then be playing together again by the end of the day. Every once in a while though, she or I would do something the other viewed as unforgivable. This led to long-held grudges and extended arguments that made both of us feel miserable. As we got older, we learned how petty this was, and my sister and I tried our best to forgive and to avoid holding grudges. We’re now the best of friends, but it took a lot of work and sacrifice in order for us to become friends (and stay friends.) As the saying goes, “don’t let the sun set on your anger.”

There is no such thing as incompatible personalities: Since every person is unique and there are 12 kids in my family, I am sure you can imagine the personality conflicts that can ensue. In order to keep war from breaking out, we have always worked on studying and identifying our personality types. We mainly use Myers-Brigg and DISC. Knowing our differences, along with our strengths and weaknesses, helps us to resolve and prevent conflict. Once you know how other people think and why they do what they do, the excuse that you are incompatible just doesn’t stand up. If I choose to love and want what is best for someone else, I will learn about our individual strengths and weaknesses. Then I’ll use that knowledge to make our personalities compatible.

Put others first: The world does not revolve around me. You learn this quickly with 10 younger siblings. This means letting younger siblings have the last of the cookies. Or taking care of them when they’re sick and vomiting. Or helping your parents change the baby’s diaper. Or dropping everything when a sibling needs your help. I do this for my siblings and they do some of these things for me because we choose to love each other. It is hard to do and a lot of times we fall short in this area, but we learn to persevere and work on overcoming our selfishness.

Accept that I am not always right: As individuals, my siblings and I have a habit of thinking that each of us is the smartest and knows everything. Every once in a while, we get a good lesson in humility when it turns out someone other than ourselves is right. The key here, though, is accepting that you are wrong and your sibling is right and not resenting him for it. It is easy to be proud of your sibling when she’s smarter or wiser than another kid, but when she’s smarter or wiser than you, it’s not as easy. Love isn’t prideful and jealous, but celebrates the achievements of others.

Don’t be afraid to be yourself: Each of my siblings has his own quirks, but we aren’t afraid to let our other siblings see them (or hear them, as is the case with my excited or angry mousy voice.) We don’t need to wear makeup or pretend to be someone else around each other. I love my siblings the way they are as individual persons and they love me the way I am as a person. Of course, if any of our actions are wrong or harmful, we are quick to correct or take action.

We will always be there for each other: I know I can always count on my siblings and they can count on me. It doesn’t matter if it is inconvenient to help or if we are currently having a disagreement: If they need help of any kind, I’ll be there, and if I need help, they’ll be there. Even if everyone in the world hated my siblings, I’d still love them and be there for them. I’ve even had siblings offer assistance if I were kidnapped or if I needed to break out of prison, though I hope I never need to take them up on that. So, yeah… don’t ever think of messing with my siblings!

I know that any of my future relationships, whether friendships or marriage, will have as their foundation my relationships with my siblings. Learning to continually choose to love people, even when it’s difficult, prepares all of us to have lasting and happy relationships. We’re all difficult to get along with at one time or another, but that doesn’t mean we should choose to not love a person because of it. Even when we fall short, we can always get back up and seek forgiveness. Love is a choice we make every day.

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