What Makes You Feel Loved?

Valentine’s Day is approaching, and love is in the air. But did you know that love means different things to different people? When Don says, “I love you,” he may be thinking about how hot the sex is. When Marcia hears these words, she may think, “Wow! He’s committed to me.”

In a dating relationship, it’s super important to unearth secret expectations and wants. You want to please each another, but it’s dangerous to assume you know what pleases someone. They may not feel comfortable telling you straight out.

Here’s a fun activity you can share with someone you’re dating that can help you feel safe talking about wants and expectations. The activity can be equally helpful to share with your long-term partner. It reveals each person’s hidden expectations and the personal meaning you each attach to the L-word. It’s a great way to get to know each other better…..and maybe even get to know yourself better, too.

Take turns asking and answering the question, “What Makes You Feel Loved?”  For example:
Harvey: What Makes You Feel loved?
Anita: When someone listens to me attentively…looks at me and acknowledges what I have said.
Anita: What Makes You Feel loved?
Harvey: When someone appreciates something I have done…tells me I’ve done good.
Harvey: What Makes You Feel loved?
Anita: When someone I care about gives me a back rub.
Anita: What Makes You Feel loved?
Harvey: When someone I love says she doesn’t want me to go home after we’ve made love.

You continue this question and answer process back and forth for a few minutes until you both feel complete. Then you talk might talk together about anything that surprised you or something you learned.

In a more committed relationship, you might also try the  “If You Really Loved Me…” exercise. Even if you have never uttered the words, “If you really loved me,” you may secretly harbor some ideas about what love means that your partner does not share and does not know about. This is another way to find out who expects what and who will be disappointed by what. Each of you writes the sentence “If you really loved me…” at the top of a sheet of paper.  Then list all the things you can think of, as in:
“If you really loved me…..
•You would help around the house without my having to ask.
•You would buy me gifts when you go on business trips.
•You would hold my hand when we’re walking down the street.
•You would touch me the way I’ve told you I like it without my having to repeat myself.
•You would tell me about the things I do that you like during lovemaking.
•You would tell me you’re proud to be with me.”

This list is just a sampling of the kinds of wants and longings partners keep secret from one another—until the proverbial gunnysack of grievances gets too full, and then everything comes tumbling out.

Once you have both made your lists, read your partner’s list, and discuss the differences, similarities, and surprises. Doing this exercise together can help you prevent needless disappointments. It can also raise awareness about your own beliefs about love and the origins of these beliefs. The statement, “If you really loved me, you would stop communicating with your ex,” can now be looked at together—without the hidden assumption that you are not loved or that your partner should automatically change. It is an expectation--one person’s belief about how life should be. It is not necessarily how life is. The exercise is designed to help you get a healthy distance or detachment from your expectations and beliefs. Maybe, after reading your list, you’ll even be able to see that while some of your expectations come from genuine core needs, many of your expectations are based on your own unconscious programming about love. They may even come from an unwillingness to tolerate the normal discomforts of being in relationship with a person whose needs are different from yours.