Love is a word we throw around a lot. You can love your dog, love your car, love your spouse, love your favorite food, and even love a piece of clothing. But what does it really mean to love something? Shouldn’t there be a difference between loving a celebrity you’ve never even met and loving your spouse of 20 years?
The truth is, there is. The problem is that we have a wrong understanding about this word we throw around so much. We think that love is a feeling, but it’s not. Love is an action. And when you understand the difference between what love is and what we think of it as being, it can unlock a whole new level of relationship.
LOVE STARTS WITH ACTION, NOT FEELING.
When we think of love, we often think of that warm, fuzzy feeling we get whenever that special someone is around. Although that feeling is amazing and many of us love the feeling that what we call “love” gives us, that’s not actually love. Love is not about how you feel, love is about what you do, but there is no doubt that the action and the feeling are deeply intertwined.
Think about it: When you first meet “that special someone,” that feeling you get might lead you to do all kinds of things you wouldn’t normally do. Sometimes this can be a bad thing, but if you have any semblance of discipline in your life, it’s generally a good thing. It can sometimes mean we spend hours FaceTiming them or sending them frequent texts or DMs. We show them we care by making them a priority and picking up when they call or responding quickly when they text.
In many cases, we may drop other plans if they have a need or make them a priority when we have a number of options of things to do. Generally, in those early days of a relationship, we might send them gifts or even photos of things that remind us of them. In other words, we spend a lot of time engaging in loving actions, and lo and behold, our feelings seem to grow. We often think this is because they are such great people, but the truth is more like we are getting out of our relationship what we are investing in it. As with anything in life, the more you invest in something, the more likely it is to grow.
Beyond that, there are literally thousands of different ways, small and large, that we express our feelings for them, even when we don’t know we are doing it. When we’re watching a movie and they fall asleep on us, we might sit still for hours just to keep from waking them. We might bust out our grandmother’s favorite recipes and cook some things that are ordinarily too time consuming or spend hours digging through our parent’s attic to find pictures of when we were little to share with them.
LOVING ACTIONS LEAD TO LOVING FEELINGS
One of the things that neuroscience has shown us is that our brain does not know the difference between reality and our imagination. When you have a sad thought, it makes you sad. When you think about something that scares you, your body has the same reaction as if something had actually scared you. When you are constantly thinking about how much you love someone, it leads to you feeling love for them. So, what do you think happens when you stop thinking about them or start thinking about them in a different fashion?
We’ve all seen or possibly even had the experience of having someone say, “I just don’t love you anymore.” We know that love can fade, but we don’t seem to really know why. What’s interesting is that we often tell children that we will always love them, even though we no longer love their mommy or daddy. Why does our love for our children seem to last when our love for our partner, mate or spouse does not? Perhaps it is because of how we treat children versus how we treat our partners.
When a child spills their milk on our laptop, no matter how angry we get, we do our very best to keep ourselves under control and simply clean up the mess. Usually, in a very short time, we will go to them and tell them we forgive them and that it is okay. If we did yell at them, we apologize. If our spouse does the same thing, however, we may not show the same restraint. We may yell and scream at them and possibly even remain angry for days. During that time, we can potentially spend hours thinking about how careless they are and how much they inconvenienced us and maybe use that incident to branch out mentally into a long list of their many faults.
Our thoughts have a powerful effect on our emotions. When you think loving thoughts, you tend to feel loving feelings. When you think angry thoughts, it tends to make you angry. So, what do you think all of those negative thoughts about your partner do to your feelings about them? Most parents spend several hours a day thinking about their children in some fashion or another, and those thoughts tend to be positive more often than not. In fact, we may actually spend a good deal of time every day thinking about things we need to do for our children. Every one of those actions we take, from cooking them dinner to helping with their homework to picking them up from school, is like a little token of love. Every one of those tokens is a deposit in your “love account.”
Every negative thought we have, however, subtracts from that account. Relational accounts are always joint accounts, so it compounds matters even further when both parties start drawing heavily on the account. So, what do you think happens when you spend your time adding, adding, adding to your children’s account, but subtracting, subtracting, subtracting from your partner’s? Eventually, your relational account becomes so overdrawn it can seem hopeless to ever get it back in the black again. When that happens, some people simply cut ties and break up or get a divorce, while others choose to go through the long and sometimes painful process of refilling their relational account.
Just like with money, the best option is to keep it full and never let it get overdrawn in the first place. You do that by making sure you are making regular, steady deposits. Actions of love lead to feelings of love.