As much as being in love may feel like a natural state that we either experience or not, we have a lot more to say than we think. Research has shown that doing more loving actions can make couples feel more in love. In this way, there is much truth in the notion that love is more of a verb than a noun. The more we express love, the more we ignite it in our partner and cultivate it in ourselves.
Thinking about how we show love can be a powerful practice for keeping our feelings alive in a relationship. The key is not to focus solely on our feelings of affection, but to think about what our partner perceives as love. In other words, what actions would that specific person experience as loving?
It is common and quite instinctive to give love as we would feel it. For some people, that means showering their partner with cards and gifts, expressing lots of affection, and frequently saying “I love you.” For others, love is something more discreet, a quiet appreciation of the other person in which you give them space to do their thing.
Many relationship problems can center on misunderstandings or miscommunication about what makes each person feel loved. For example, a person may expect her partner to instinctively know what she wants and needs. They may feel hurt by their partner when they inevitably mess up, thinking things like, “I would do this for them. Why wouldn’t they do that for me?” The answer may be that your partner just doesn’t see that particular action as meaningful or desirable in the same way. They just have different things that they categorize as expressions of love.
For example, a couple I worked with often had heated arguments over their anniversary. For a couple, the day meant a lot to her and she wanted to celebrate it by doing something together. She thought of the occasion as an excuse to tell her husband how she felt about him and what she loved about her relationship. She liked to plan getaways and romantic dinners, and she was often disappointed that her husband didn’t put the same effort into celebrating.
For her husband, the date itself did not mean so much. Although she often bought her a small gift or flowers for her anniversary, she didn’t see the point in doing something so big one day. He felt that the most important thing was that he appreciated his wife and her relationship every day. He believed that romance should be more spontaneous and can’t really be planned.
His two perspectives inevitably disappointed one of them. While she felt hurt and rejected, he felt pressured and unappreciated. What ultimately helped them come to an understanding was that they each took the time to put themselves in the other’s shoes and recognize that the things that made her partner feel loved and appreciated were different from theirs.
Once they accepted that simple reality, they saw their actions as part of a goal to make the other person feel valued rather than a sacrifice that would distort them. Because they each wanted to make the other happy, they were able to be more open about what that meant to their partner. However, they realized that love was reduced to actions different from those they imagined.
The husband realized that kind and appreciative words, affection, and gestures meant much more to his wife than gifts that were not so personal. The wife herself began to understand how much it meant to her husband to let things happen naturally. She let her anniversary unfold more spontaneously and didn’t put as much pressure on a single day of celebration. Instead, she could appreciate the loving ways of her partner throughout the year.
All sorts of factors determine what each of us experiences as love. However, being curious and open to our partner’s unique way of feeling loved can make us better and more in tune. So how can we “get better” at knowing what our partner wants and needs?
1. Listen to what they are saying.
When we spend a lot of time with someone, on the one hand, we can feel like we know them better than anyone else. On the other hand, we may stop noticing certain things about them as they become more familiar to us. This is not because we are not interested or do not care. Often, just because our lives can become busy, routine, or comfortable, we stop actively getting to know the other person.
Paying attention to what our partner says sounds like the most obvious advice we’ll ever hear, but it’s something we have to remind ourselves to keep doing. Make a mental note of when they mention something they care about or are excited about. Encourage them to talk and ask for what they want.
2. Pay attention to how they express their feelings.
In addition to listening to what he vocalizes, we should always try to pay attention to what turns our partner on. It’s pretty easy to tell the times when they look bored and keep checking their phones from the times when they’re smiling and cheering. This does not mean that we are responsible for making them happy 100 percent of the time. It’s just a way of being in tune and sensitive to what makes them come alive and feel more like themselves. This awareness helps us to truly know our partners and understand the things that make them feel seen and loved.
3. Check in with your partner (and yourself).
None of us are mind readers, and we can’t be expected to sense what another person wants and needs at all times. It’s more than okay to ask questions and encourage our members to tell us where they are and what they need from us.
To that same extent, we must continue to control ourselves over what we need and want in order to feel loved and fulfilled. As much as possible, we should be open with our partner about these things, without expecting them to read our minds either. By encouraging free and natural back and forth, we make ourselves more vulnerable to each other and more able to offer each other what we want.
4. Notice how they express love.
Most likely, the warm ways our partner treats us somehow reflects how they enjoy being treated. If you seek a lot of physical contact or enjoy small acts of generosity and kindness, you can enjoy us.
Of course, this doesn’t have to be taken literally, and no task should match exactly. For example, it’s perfectly natural for each person to bring certain unique things to the relationship. One partner may enjoy doing the other’s laundry because it makes them happy, while the other prefers grand romantic gestures.
The point here is not to say that we shouldn’t have our ways of loving one another. Rather, it is just another way that we can be attentive and attuned to certain actions that could make our partner feel recognized.
5. Accept your partner’s needs as different from your own.
Relationships shouldn’t be about sacrifice. If constantly making another person happy means making ourselves miserable, something may really be wrong and the relationship is worth examining. However, we must always accept that our partner is a separate person from us. While making others happy can be a big part of our happiness, each of our feelings exists separately.
All of this is to say that it’s okay for you to want more affection and for your partner to want more communication. It’s okay for a person to feel more loved by their partner by wiping down the counter than by saying, “I love you.” Others may need the words. Each of us has different things to bring to the table and offer each other.
All of our desires do not need to be exactly in sync at all times to enjoy an equal and loving relationship. All that matters is that each of us maintain an open flow of curiosity, creativity, and energy to express our love to someone we conveniently already love.
Couples who continually examine and define what love means to each other have the best chance of keeping that feeling alive, both in their partner and in themselves.