Love has always been one of humanity’s great mysteries. It is incredibly difficult to define because it looks different depending on who is feeling it and for whom they are feeling it. Yet somehow, it’s relatively easy to recognize. We sure as heck know it when it hits us. We write poetry and songs about it, we philosophize about it, we even have weird little cartoons about it.
Most of us seem to think about love as a feeling. Love makes us feel dizzy, silly, gooey, and just plain smitten. All at the same time. In the therapy business, we call this feeling limerence. Limerence is the relationship stage when the other persons’ very existence seems like a gift from God because everything he or she thinks, says, and does is just plain perfect.
This feeling of being in love is important because it’s the kick-starter of lasting romantic connection. But it’s not what longer-term romantic love looks like. Longer-term romantic love is less a feeling and more a verb. When you love someone, your actions reflect that love. Here are six suggestions that can help you turn love into a verb.
- Develop and express empathy for the person you love. The most significant step in developing a loving, intimate long-term bond involves empathy—the ability to understand and share and care about the experience of another person. When you actively empathize with another person, it becomes much easier to accept that person’s ups and downs and quirky behaviors. When you engage in the action of loving someone, you must accept them as they are, and the easiest way to do that is to feel their feelings with them, and to invite them to feel your feelings with you.
- Learn to disagree with the person you love in healthy and productive ways. No matter how in-tune you are with your partner, you will inevitably disagree about certain things—some large, some small. These disagreements are not a bad thing. In fact, working through them in healthy ways tends to result in deeper intimacy and connection. The trick is being able to resolve relationship conflicts in ways that strengthen rather than diminish your relationship. One useful tactic is for you and your partner, at the start of any argument, to remember and affirm that you are allies and on the same team. So, instead of fighting each other, you are fighting the problem—whatever the problem happens to be. When you and your partner can actively agree that you’re on the same team, disagreements tend to dissipate and resolve. And when that happens, it is incredibly easy to remember how much and why you love each other.
- Be trustworthy with the person you love. In loving relationships, trust is critical. You need to feel as if the other person will always have your back, always tell you the truth, always be there for you. And you need the other person to know they can count on the same from you. To actively build trust in a love relationship, you should make rigorous honesty a way of life—not just with your significant other, but with everyone. It’s much easier for your partner to trust you when he or she sees you being honest in every aspect of life. You should also keep your commitments, even when it’s not fun or convenient. When your partner sees you doing this and doing it consistently, your partner knows you are a person he or she can always count on.
- Be grateful for your relationship. Research shows that writing a list of things you’re grateful for is a great way to combat depression, anxiety, and all sorts of other unpleasant emotions. (It’s just very, very difficult to be grateful and unhappy at the same time.) And sharing your gratitude list with another person—your partner, for instance—can be a wonderfully intimate and affirming act. This is doubly true if one of the items on your list is something like, “I’m grateful for the loving connection I feel with my spouse.” Provided you are sincere and haven’t added an item to your gratitude list just to impress your mate, this gesture will be appreciated, and will help develop emotional intimacy.
- Think and speak about us and our instead of I and my. When you talk to the person you love about the life you share, a great way to actively express your love is to use words like us and our instead of I and my. For instance, if you’re sharing a gratitude list with your spouse, saying, “I’m grateful that we have a nice house to live in, and that our kids are healthy and seem to enjoy life,” will generate a stronger sense of love and connection than saying, “I’m grateful that I have a good job and great house for my family to live in, and that my kids are doing things I can brag about.” This shift in language may seem inconsequential to you as you read this blog, but it’s not. Using inclusive language is an active expression of love that your partner will assuredly sense.
- Don’t just say “I love you,” show it. Telling a person that you love them is nice, but actions speak much louder than words. The good news is that you needn’t show love with extravagant gestures. In fact, little things tend to ultimately be more meaningful. So, listen to what your partner says and try to really hear it. Let it sink in. Remember the dates and events that are important to your partner. If it’s on your spouse’s calendar, make sure it’s on your schedule too. Most importantly, spend time with your partner. Do some things that he or she enjoys or help with tasks he or she doesn’t enjoy. And make sure you invite your partner to join in activities that you enjoy. It doesn’t matter what you do together if your partner understands that your goal is to spend time together.
Turning Love into a Verb Turns It Back into a Feeling
The six suggestions listed above are not the only ways you can express love. They are, however, ideas that can help you get started on the path to deeper emotional intimacy and connection. And the best part of these suggestions is that when you implement them, you tend to get a big blast of limerence—that enjoyable feeling of being deeply in love.