After working with a husband recently (see last week’s blog) and arriving at the conclusion and understanding that not all expressions of love and affection (be it gift-giving or another love language) are equal, it was important to dive deeper—I put myself in the husband’s shoes and asked myself what might lead me to believe that all gifts are the same. I certainly advocate for showing a fundamental appreciation to anyone who presents us with a gift. However, I am also clear that some efforts touch us more deeply than others.
Why would someone believe, or want to believe, that all efforts are equal? It took me some silence and thinking to come up with an answer. Here’s what I arrived at:
The easiest way to avoid a feeling of responsibility to others is to create an environment in which we say, “I don’t ask you or anybody else for anything.” It is a near-perfect justification for disconnection. The problem is this is pretty much antithetical to being in a relationship. After all, we are usually in a relationship because we wish to connect.
When we are disconnected, we might also say to ourselves about our partner, “If they do something for me, I can reciprocate equally by doing something for them. And they should appreciate whatever I do, no matter how much time, effort, or heart I put into it—even if I had my secretary pick it out and pick it up.” We like to make ourselves feel as though we are not in debt to our partner. “I do as much for my partner as my partner does for me.” We take this position because we are emotionally uninvested. “It’s all the same. Just appreciate what I do for you. Be grateful.”
Let’s be aware of the lack of investment we may have in our relationships. Instead of doing and giving as little as we can so that we can make the argument that we are doing our part, let’s explore new ways to be generous with our loving. Work to touch your partner and connect with him/her deeply.
In Dr. Gary Chapman’s (check out my interview of Dr. Chapman) classic, The Five Love Languages, he teaches us that people have different preferences for the way they want to be shown love. There is a particular way that each of us prefers to be shown appreciation and affection. If we wish to connect with our partner in the deepest way possible, it is important that we take the time to decipher their preferred way to be loved. This will be a lot like a literal research project. But we are up for it. It will take time, insight, and energy. We will experiment, listen, and possibly have to remind ourselves frequently that it is a worthy effort.
When giving love (and being loving), please do not take the position of ‘Appreciate whatever I do for you, no matter what it is.’ Being loving requires insight, connection, time, and possibly imagination. If those traits don’t come easily to you, get help. Figure out exactly what’s hard about it for you. Is it the time investment? Is it the sensitivity that it requires to effectively read your partner? Is it money? Is it concentration? Whatever it may be, if you need help, get it. Ask friends, confidants, neighbors, whomever, how they connect with their partners. Search the internet. Get a coach (hint, hint), but move your ass if your partnership and your partner are important to you.
If you are so fortunate as to be on the receiving end of a loving gesture, encourage your partner’s efforts with enthusiasm. A smile, a hug, whatever you can come up with. We all want encouragement and to be appreciated for our efforts. That’s a way to be loving too. Take care of each other.
Frank Love coaches individuals that are in and/ or wish to be in a relationship on ways to be more loving. He is also the author of Relationship Conversations You Don’t Want to Have (But Should Anyway) and 25 Way to Be Loving. To schedule a consultation contact Frank at Frank@FrankLove.com.