THREE CONCEPTS OF LOVE
We usually think of love in three different ways in the context of our intimate relationships: words, feelings and actions.
The differences in the manifestations of these three concepts cause a lot of confusion and often misery in our lives. How often have you heard a friend describe her difficult and troublesome relationship by saying, "but I know he loves me!" When we have partners who treat us poorly, perhaps even abusively, it is not uncommon for these same people to insist, "but I do love you!" When we talk of ending difficult relationships we are often persuaded to stay by our partner's insistence on how much they love us and their promises to change. Even in physically abusive relationships the remorse and tearful claims of love have a tendency to encourage us to stay put when that may not really be in our best interest.
It is the third concept, actions, that is actually the most critical for a relationship to be rewarding for both people and to enable the relationship to flourish. As I often repeat to my own clients, "love is behavior, not words."
It is always easy, especially in the early stages of a relationship to confuse sex with love. When someone is strongly attracted to us they want to be with us all the time, they want to make love frequently and they tend to be demonstrative and affectionate. Nothing feels more loving. Sex and affection are certainly important components of healthy couple relationships; necessary, but not sufficient. This is lustful love and while it feels wonderful, it rarely endures with great intensity, and sex alone will not make a relationship work. What is critically important is how our partner treats us. Are they kind? Are they respectful? Are they considerate? Are they caring towards us when we are distressed or ill? Are they supportive in words and actions when we experience difficulty in our own lives? No one needs to be wonderful all the time, but the general trend must be in a positive direction the majority of the time. Love needs to be mostly about how the other person acts, how they treat us.
Everyone has bad days when they are less available to their loved ones because of serious problems in their own lives. This does not mean that being stressed or unhappy is an excuse to be chronically unpleasant or thoughtless to our partner. It's easy to slip in to a state of mind where we think, "Her boss is terrible, of course she's in a bad mood and tends to be harsh with me," or "He had such a hard childhood, he can't trust people and that's why he neglects me," or "She's upset about that weight she gained from being ill, it keeps her in a bad mood." It can be so easy to get in to the habit of making excuses for our partners, to forgive chronic mistreatment. We may lose sight of our right to be treated with respect and compassion.
LOVE AND WORDS