Love. That’s a tricky one. What is love? How do we know it really exists? Will we ever find it? If we do, can we keep it? These are all questions that we have asked ourselves periodically throughout our lives, and may still be asking today. We’ve all heard a friend or family member proclaim their love for a person that we wouldn’t be caught dead with, or attended an extravagant, starry-eyed wedding only to find out the wonderful couple split up six months later. Love is a subjective experience. It’s unique to each person … and, if you want it to last, requires work.
The Oxford dictionary defines love as “an intense feeling of deep affection”. It does not, however, help us understand how we experience love or keep it once we’ve found it. Most couples in the early stages of a relationship describe themselves as being “in love” and their actions are often consistent with this statement. Why is this? Is it love, or something else? Lust, maybe? One thing is certain – they are making a herculean effort to understand and act upon the needs of the other person in a single-minded, highly-motivated attempt at winning them over.
There are many different and often conflicting thoughts, feelings and emotions swirling around in the ritualistic fest of dating – lust, newness, excitement and uncertainty to name a few. However, there’s one factor that emerges during this process and remains consistent over the course of the relationship (especially for those couples that report being in love after years or even decades together). That factor is desire. Not sexual desire, although this is almost always present with the “honeymooners” and more than you might expect with those more “mature” couples. Instead, it’s the desire to continue to please and meet the needs of the other person. Nothing is taken for granted, effort is expected and not hoped for, or acquiesced too. Like everything else in life, these couples understand (albeit instinctively with our “honeymooners” and more consciously with our “superstar” mature couples) that they have to work at loving each other, and pour endless amounts of energy into doing so.
But it doesn’t stop there. Not only do these couples bring a good “work ethic” into the relationship, they’re determined advocates for the other person’s needs. They take time to understand exactly how their partner needs to be loved as their relationship evolves over the years. Effort is little more than a good try if it is not purposefully and properly directed. Knowing how your partner experiences love and feels connected to you is crucial in maintaining the intensity of those “loving feelings” throughout the course of your relationship.
Here are some ways you can show love to your partner. Explore these together and be clear with each other about how you feel most loved by your partner. In doing so you are increasing your potential to be one of those “superstar” couples down the road!
- Date Night! Sounds a bit cliché, but prioritizing time together is critically important in any relationship. This is especially true for those couples that have small children or a demanding work schedule. Time together is rare, and must be maximized to the full. Plan a night out together once a week, or once every other week at minimum. You can take turns in choosing a destination or activity ahead of time, or surprise each other with a destination that you think your partner might like. Get creative and mix it up.
Ego check: Don’t procrastinate. All those other things you need to do will still be there tomorrow. There is nothing more important than your relationship and it deserves and requires your attention. Step up and make it happen!
- Tell Em’. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Try to free up at least 30 minutes every day to catch up. This is your opportunity to show your partner that you’re interested in what’s going on in their world. By actively initiating and engaging in a two-way dialogue with your partner every day, you’re sending a powerful message of love, caring and respect. (See Five Ways to Communicate More Effectively With Your Partner.)Compliments or affirmations of love and respect go a long way, too. Tell your partner how great her hair looks, or how handsome he looks in that jacket. Don’t just think it, say it. If there are qualities that you love about your partner, don’t hold back. If you admire her work ethic or his ability to remain calm in the midst of your two-year-old having a major meltdown, say it. Too many couples withhold these thoughts, sometimes because they mistakenly believe the other person already knows how they feel or because they fear losing power or control by acknowledging their partner’s worth.
Ego check: Get over it, and say it! These are building blocks to greater positivity and fulfillment in your relationship.
- Touch Em’. Easy guys! Sure we’re talking sex, but that’s only one aspect of the bigger picture. Sexual intimacy is an important part of many relationships, but can look very different from partner to partner. Generally speaking, women’s sexuality is more diffuse than men’s. Women, in particular, feel connected on a physical level through a variety of different experiences. These can range from just holding hands and hugging, to a back rub, all the way to intercourse. Although men also feel connected and often like the closeness of physical touch, sex tends to be a higher priority and is more actively sought after.Explore all options available and be open to one another’s needs and requests. Don’t be shy about expressing your sexual fantasies or desires. Speak up (the worst your partner can say is no).
Ego Check: This is not just about you. Focus on your partner. Who knows … if you give a little, you may get a little!
- Take the “weight” off. Like most people you probably have a long list of daily responsibilities that need to be completed. These might include, (deep breath) making the bed, doing the laundry, washing the dishes, getting the kids off to school, walking the dog, preparing the meal, cleaning up the meal, going through the mail… (deep breath), changing the kitty litter, helping the kids with their homework, getting them to practice (possibly multiple times a day depending on how many kids you have), walking the dog again, mowing the lawn, and oh yeah… work! Every day, you’re performing a giant juggling act in the circus of life and are no doubt overextended and exhausted a good majority of the time.Although you understand and accept that these responsibilities come with the territory of marriage and parenthood, sometimes you just need your partner to recognize that you’re having a rough day or that you’re particularly tired, and to pick up the slack. Take time to assess your partner’s energy level. If he or she is obviously struggling and doggedly plodding on in a determined attempt to complete the list before bed, then help out! Offer to take over and suggest that your partner take some time alone.It’s also important to understand those tasks that your partner really doesn’t like to do, and do them. Nobody likes chores, but some are worse than others, and vary from person to person. Find out what they are for your spouse and make an effort to do those more. Although this is not exactly Hollywood movie material (shame on them!), it is a powerful and underestimated gesture of love.
Ego Check: Sure, you may be tired, too. It only makes your effort that much more obvious and appreciated. Little acts go a long way. No excuses!
- Spoil Em’. Who doesn’t like to get gifts? Let’s face it, we all do. However, gifts can be deceptive. It’s easy, if you have the money, to buy your partner a bouquet of flowers or some chocolates, or even a new diamond ring or sports car (if you have lots of money). These types of gifts don’t necessarily require time, thought or feeling. Therefore, gifts need to be less grandiose in nature, and to be given in more thoughtful and often smaller gestures.Gifts can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. It could be as simple as writing some words from the heart in a card and leaving it in a place for the other person to find, or going back to the store you visited together the day before and picking up that outfit she really wanted. Gifts also tend to be more powerful when given in context of an experience. For example, pick up your partner’s favorite frappuccino on the way home from work (as opposed to just getting one for yourself, or because you know your partner has a paper to write and needs a caffeine rush for the late night ahead!). Or, bring home a souvenir from the game your fanatical spouse was unable to attend.With gifts, it really is the thought that counts. It’s demonstrating the fact that you’re thinking of the other person even when they’re not around, and being willing to go the extra mile to get something special for them.
Ego Check: This is not a gift for you. Moreover, it should never be bought to placate or substitute for everything else listed above. Make it genuine, put some thought into it. Even if you get it all wrong, rest assured the “love” message that you have sent will be received loud and clear.