In the spirit of the holiday season, I wanted to write about understanding love. Not just what is love from the perspective of a verb (so many are fond of quipping “love is a verb”), but from the complex and unique way that love is a state of being.
When exploring and understanding love, I turn back to a bit of novel nostalgia. When I was a little girl we had a little book, Love Is. It was a series of cartoons created by a New Zealander artist Kim Grove. Here stories featured a naked girl and a naked boy, and each page was a different depiction of what love might be or look like.
For example, “love is a big hug when you drop your ice cream“. For some, it can be the common situation of “love is a helping hand when you can’t open the pickle jar.” And then there are the dire scenarios, “love is saying I’m sorry when you accidentally drive over the tulip patch.”
Four approaches to understanding love
A state of being
Love is a way of being and behaving, as well as a feeling. It is so many things. I prefer to think of love as the essence of life – the animation of being. It is also what life energy is made of the source of life energy, where it comes from and how it is generated. I also think of it as the essence that makes things happen (creation itself) and heals what has been undone or damaged.
I have tentatively summed up the most important three phrases that need to occur every day in a loving relationship. Each phrase is likely warranted, whether you think it is or not.
“I love you”
If those phrases were freely and generously exchanged every day, it would be difficult to maintain tension and conflict.
These three phrases create an environment ripe for understanding, soft and gentle openness, and sweet care. They foster respect and appreciation, accountability, and trust. Engendering the belief that you have each other’s back no matter what.
These are some of the main elements that couples in my practice say are missing when they are unhappy in their relationship. Most of the time, unhappiness starts with the simple experience of being unheard, misunderstood, and/or unappreciated.
So, being heard, understood and appreciated are some primary antidotes that can generate an environment where love can grow and thrive again. Love takes form in:
- Resilience: The potentiality and expression of it
- Trust: Belief and faith in each other and what you have and can create
- Pleasure and Reward
- Oxytocin, vasopressin, dopamine and serotonin: create euphoria, pleasure, and bonding
- The ability to experience less pain and addictive dependence
- A strong desire to physically and spiritually connect
- Life flourishing:(Brain/body requires social connection to survive)
Love is still a choice. You choose who you love. You behave in ways to nourish and encourage love – or kill off the love. How you behave will create thriving or dying love. Love is communication, trust, and intimacy. It requires emotional security.
- Intimacy – Think of everything that refers to feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness in loving relationships.
- Passion – The drive that leads to romance, physical attraction, sexual consummation, and similar areas in loving relationships.
- Commitment/ decision – This component works twofold. It is both the short-term (the decision that one loves a certain other) and the long-term (one’s commitment to maintaining that love).
- Words of affirmation – This type values verbal acknowledgements of affection. Use “I love you,” compliments, words of appreciation, and verbal encouragement. And don’t forget this goes well into digital communications, like texting and social media engagement.
- Acts of service – Essentially, actions speak louder than words. These people thrive when shown appreciation. Action doing smaller and bigger chores to make their lives easier or more comfortable.
- Gifts – While it may seem superficial, this love type doesn’t necessarily focus on the monetary value, but the symbolic thought behind the item. They recognize and value the gift-giving process:
- Careful reflection
- The deliberate choice of the object to represent the relationship
- The emotional benefits of receiving the present
- Quality time – This love language profile involves actively wanting to spend time with their loved ones and hanging out. Prioritize active listening, eye contact, and full presence.
- Physical touch – They value the feeling of warmth and comfort that comes with physical touch. This value of touch ranges from hugging and kissing to sex. Cuddle during a film, hold hands on a walk and apply supportive physical contact during an activity.
As Nike says, “Just Do It.”
What are you waiting for?
Why are you holding back?
Feed the fire with kindling
Love requires kindling once the spark has created fire. Fire will go out untended. And it is the same with love.
Here is just a small list of ways to build the fire of Sternberg’s three critical components.
- Being able to admit defeat (and not have it rubbed in your face)
- Being transparent (and loved anyway)
- Exploring issues (and not having to have a solution)
- Asking for help (and receiving it without judgment)
- De-escalating conflict (and easing tension)
- Openness without an agenda/ Or having a clear agenda with expectations, shared freely to collaborate
- Being the wraparound blanket of support, held in heart and mind
- Need (and be needed without shame)
- Sharing power
- Knowing the difference between impacts and intentions
- Caring more about what happened rather than why
- Breaking unhealthy patterns together
- Being allies (even under disagreement)
- Having a “we” mentality
- Having shared dreams (and digging to find shared meaning)
- Helping your partner ask for what they need
- Helping your partner give you what you need
- Appreciating the small deeds (and minimizing mistakes)
- Putting people’s feelings above issues, concepts, beliefs, or rules
- Protecting the other’s dignity at all costs (even if it makes you wrong)
- Taking responsibility for your mental and physical well-being/health
- Sharing what you have
- Enjoying the other for who they are
- Putting down defences (and setting the needed tone)
- Initiating affection and not holding back
- Receiving affection when given
Love is saying, “Thank you, I’m sorry and I love you” every day.
Understanding love in your life
Want to explore more about your relationship with love, your partner and the world? Contact our team to delve deeper into understanding love and work together to unwrap your answer.