Most of us think of love as getting what we want. When it comes to romance, we imagine and hope for an ideal partner – the “perfect” soulmate who will meet all of our needs. We have an emotional hunger and need for connection and intimacy after all, so we look to fill it. Culture reinforces our longing and tends to idealize romantic love with messages like “you complete me”, “love conquers all”, and “all you need is love.”
And then there are cultural messages that encourage us to “do what works best for you” and “watch out for #1!”
Combine our longing for love with these self-serving messages, and we’re in a hot mess when it comes to love and marriage!! Because when you look to marry, you’ll look for a deal – a bargain of sorts – approaching your relationships with a “I think I’ll get out of this as much as I’m putting in” outlook.
From all of my years as a couples therapist, I can confidently say that this “bargain mentality” and self-centeredness will be destructive to your love life.
So here’s what I propose: that you think of love as an action where you serve and commit to the other.
If you’re a parent, my guess is you already do this with your kids – you love and serve them even when they’re a tantruming toddler or a sassy, seemingly ungrateful teenager. You give to your kids over and over – you drive them here, there, and yonder; you change their diapers and wipe their bottoms; you rearrange your schedule so you can get them to their cross country meet on time; you make their lunches and throw birthday parties for them; you clean their dishes and help them with homework, even when they’re being snarky. You serve them. Every. Single. Day.
And your service to them becomes more and more intertwined with your love for them. The more you give, the more you love. Your feelings of love follow actions of love.
So what if you applied this to your romantic relationships? What if you made a conscious effort to actively love and serve your partner? How might your relationship change?
Here are five simple and practical LOVE-IN-ACTION things you can do today to deepen your love and intimacy with your partner:
1. Listen to listen, instead of listening to respond. Attentively and actively listen to your loved one for the sake of hearing not only their words, but their feelings and overall sentiment.
2. Validate your partner. Show interest in what they’re saying, feeling, and doing. Accept and respect their perspective, even if it’s different from yours.
3. Look for the good in him/her AND share it with them. When you intentionally do this, you are making “love deposits” in your relationship.
4. Surprise them! Think of something that would make them smile (e.g., surprising them with their favorite warm drink, spontaneously cleaning up their dishes, planning a fun night out, leaving a love note in their wallet) and do it!!
5. Empathize – try to see it from their perspective. I love the African proverb The lion’s story can not be told by the hunter as it reminds me that there are two perspectives to be considered.
Pick one of these to focus on this week as you actively stand in love, my friend!
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Diving Deeper / Journal Prompts:
1. What is your conception of romantic love, and how might it differ from parent-child love? In other words, do you have a “what’s in it for me” mentality or a service-oriented idea of love?
2. In what ways can you work to reorient some notions you have about love?
3. Write down three specific ways you can serve your significant other this upcoming week.
4. Bonus challenge: think about one or two big picture, long term ways you can serve your partner. Share with him/her!