Jim, my ex husband, was my first real relationship and I was his. Neither one of us knew anything about expressing love.
We believed that love was just a feeling.
If being with Paul, my partner, taught me anything, it is that love is more than a feeling; it’s a verb. It’s behaviours. But not just any old behaviours. It’s behaviours that our partner actually recognises as love.
As long as I can remember, I yearned for love. I yearned especially to be loved. I didn’t give a lot of thought about doing any loving myself. In fact, I had no idea what love actually looks like, not just feels like. That came later.
When I was young I imagined love was gazing into each other’s eyes or walking hand in hand into the sunset. I imagined love was mushy feelings.
Sadly, the early romance tends to fade to be replaced by ‘real life’ – the job, the children, the frail parents, all those duties and responsibilities – until we’re too tired to pay attention to our partner, to reach out, to join hands – physically or metaphorically speaking.
The main casualty with Jim and me was that we stopped looking at each other.
With Jim I made some huge mistakes. Here’s just one example.
I believed that loving meant shielding him from some harsh realities. I took on the burden and believed myself to be loving. For example, I never told him when something happened at work that upset me, I took over the management of our finances but hid from him when we (I’m using the word ‘we’ loosely) were struggling financially. Eventually, I also stopped sharing with him when things were going well.
Unfortunately, in doing so, I trained him not to be there for me, not to notice when I was in distress but pretending I wasn’t, not to share my burden. When he learned the lesson well, I felt resentful, taken for granted, unloved.
A quick aside: how are you training your partner to behave in your relationship?
As I said earlier, love is not just a feeling; it’s behaviours.
So what behaviours make it clear that you love each other?
Here are some examples of what works for Paul and me:
- We talk. We have conversations about everything that comes into our head. We’re curious about each other.
- We show physical affection or share a twinkly look that makes us both feel naughty.
- We accept each other. To me, accepting him means letting pass small irritations. To him, it means accepting my peculiarities without making me feel stupid. It also means that I accept it when he feels or thinks or interprets something differently from how I do even when I don’t understand it.
- We listen to each other and remember what the other has said.
- I don’t try to fix or rescue him as I used to with Jim.
- We have fun together.
- We spend time apart pursuing our interests. Yes! Encouraging each other to do this is a loving thing to do and brings us closer together.
- And we seduce each other – yes, we do, even after 2 years, 4 months and 12 days. And I don’t mean just in the bedroom. Seduction starts outside of the bedroom.
By the way, if you believe that’s how we were from the very beginning, you couldn’t be more wrong!
This was a journey – discovering not only what I do and say that makes him feel loved but also discovering what he says and does that makes me feel loved.
Understanding this is important because it allows me to ask for more of what works for me. And I can ask him to stop saying or doing something that makes me feel hurt or upset, however unintentional it may be.
I commented in the headline that expressing love is not as easy as you’d think but I’m not talking hard work necessarily, though I have to say that it becomes hard work when we allow resentment and anger to build up.
With Jim – not only did I never bring up things that hurt, irritated or frustrated me believing that doing so was not a loving thing to do; I allowed resentments to pile up until the pile was so high I couldn’t see past it.
The reason I did that was because, individually, those things felt so minor or trivial that I felt petty bringing them up – the problem was that, by ignoring the small stuff I was allowing it to accumulate and fester.
Does this chime with you?
If it does, here’s what I’d like you to do:
- Think about how you’re training your partner to be thoughtless, for example (this is what I used to do with Jim), when your partner did something around the house, did you make it clear that he wasn’t doing ‘it’ right?
- Pay attention to what you say and do that may irritate your partner or that he might interpret as a criticism – even if that’s not how you meant it.
- Try out new, more positive and loving behaviours and watch how he reacts. Then do more.
- And finally, please give me feedback. I really need to know whether or not what I write about makes a difference to you.
For detailed help with this read my book ‘Open Your Heart: The 7 secrets of strong and loving relationships’ which is available on Amazon.
With love and gratitude,
P.S. I coach women over 50 who have not yet made the connection between the quality of their relationship with themselves and others and the quality of their health.
P.P.S. My third book, ‘Open Your Heart: The 7 Secrets Of Strong And Loving Relationships’ is now on Amazon and getting 5* reviews!