Many people have asked me how to know whether or not they are loving their spouse or partner in "healthy enough" ways. They wonder how they can best support their loved one on a daily basis, in the daily activity of their relationship. First of all, ask them. In a quiet moment, when you are talking about your relationship, ask them directly in which ways you could do more to make them feel loved. The goal is to allow them space to be who they really are authentically inside, to freely support them as they express their loving self in the world at large, to forgive them when they make mistakes as we expect them to forgive us in return, and to give plenty of room for change, balance, growth and evolution. In the person, as well as in the relationship. Realize that everyone experiences love differently. The mistake we often make is assuming that the way we like to experience love is the way our partner likes to experience love. For instance, I feel very loved when my husband does little things for me without me having to ask him, like emptying the dishwasher, vacuuming the floors, or picking up clutter around the house. Why?
Because I know that he does it, not for himself since he could likely care less, but for me. He is showing me that he understands me and the way I feel lighter when the house is clean, organized and full of peaceful energies. It would be futile for me to express love to him in the same way. Unless I were to choose something to do for him that matters a great deal to him. He does very much appreciate when I do the laundry, for instance. Or if I put away our gear from some outdoors adventure before he gets to it, since he considers that his job.
But what really makes my husband feel loved is when I listen to him, very intently. Or when I look deeply into his eyes and tell him that I love him. And when I show him that I have his back. When I encourage him to do what he really wants to do, whether or not I agree with him. That's how he feels love and support. I know because he has told me so.
Believe me, I know how imperfect I am at loving him this way all of the time. It is humanly impossible to perfectly love all of the time in each and every moment. But we can practice, and practice, and practice. With time, we get better at it.
We become more aware of what makes our spouse happy, more conscious of practicing love for our partner and catching ourselves in the fears that inhibit our love. We can practice listening to our loved ones and respecting their points of view, without arguing or challenging or belittling. We can make them feel heard by summarizing what we think they said in words, and perhaps more importantly, saying aloud what we think they felt, even if they didn't express any words of emotion. When they are speaking to us, sharing something heartfelt, we can notice their body language or the tone of their voice for hints as to whether they are feeling anxious, worried, angry, frustrated, or sad. "Honey, I'm so sorry you're having to feel such frustration over that project." If we don't have it quite right, we can notice how they restate it, like "Well, I'm not frustrated, I'm more sad that I can't get it done as fast as I would like." Listening is key. When we assume how they feel, by assuming how we would feel, we are "projecting" our feelings onto them. And when we do so, we will likely be wrong more often than right.
To express support, we can thank them for what they contribute. We can say, "Sweetie, thank you so much for cleaning today." We can tell them how grateful we are that they are in our lives, "I am so blessed to have a partner who is so cheerful and fun to be with." We can offer our appreciation for how they get up each morning and go to a job they may not even like simply out of duty to bring home a paycheck for the family. We can express gratitude for the hardest job of all, being a really good parent and homemaker. We can ensure our loved one gets equal play time. Instead of always getting our way, we can hear how much they have wanted to take a particular trip, or to see a certain movie, or to take a special hike. And we can show them that it is now as important to us to go do that activity, just because it is so important to them. Love makes us feel a sense of "we're in this together" or "what is important to you is important to me." This is the reciprocity and mutuality of love. If we have heard them say how much they love flowers, we can bring them flowers, just to see their face light with love. If they have been longing to see a Broadway play, we can buy them tickets for that play. Thoughtful loving gifts are those the person would want for themselves, not those we think they should have. Lastly, we can show them how much we love them through our touch. Maybe they love when we hold their hand, even while watching a movie on television. They may be happy simply sitting next to us on the couch. Others need more. They may need passionate kissing or frequent lovemaking. Many don't. This area, perhaps more than any other expression of love, requires very clear communication.
It is essential that we not assume what feels good to our spouse or partner, just because it feels good to us or someone who wrote a magazine article. So the next time you are wondering how to make your loved one feel even more love from you, ask them. And then really let them know you heard them by saying it, showing it and following through with it, again and again.