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The Art of Relationships

with Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

There is an art to maintaining the intimate relationships in our lives. Read on to explore our experts' perspectives, and learn new techniques to improve your own relationship skills.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Love is Action

couple kissing

All too often, people think that their love lives should be like a fairy tale — and that their love will make everything okay. They expect that their partner will just know what they want and need and will fulfill their dreams.  But, as time goes on, reality usually settles in.  In healthy relationships, partners learn to accept and love each other for who they really are. Through it all, it’s important for people to be aware that how partners treat each other speaks volumes; and that love is action more than a feeling.

What I mean by this is that people must express their love — it’s not enough for them to feel it. This is because relationships are all about how two people ‘relate’ to each other; how they show their caring. There are many ways to do this, such as:

Speak your love: You can do this with compliments; saying, “I love you”; or simply expressing gratitude.

Show affection: Hug, kiss, hold hands, or make love.

Spend quality time together: Go for a walk together; have long, soul-searching discussions; or, enjoy an evening out.

Offer gifts (small or big): Buy trinkets or jewelry; arrange for a vacation together; or, offer hand-picked flowers or a beautiful rock you found in the course of your day.

It’s easy to forget the importance of expressing love in the day-to-day struggles of life. In addition, everybody has their moments of frustration, anger, anxiety, or sadness; times when they really cannot be fully there for their partner. Instead, what they need is the other person’s caring. This is not to say that they don’t love their partner, but that the love cannot be truly felt and acted upon at those times. This is okay. It’s a normal part of any healthy relationship.

However, when a pattern of abuse or neglect emerges, the relationship is in real danger. Rather than being a mutual give-and-take, the partnership changes into something else. Sometimes it is about caring for the one who is needy (and cannot ‘be there’ for their partner); or one partner serving the other one who is demanding. Sometimes it is about surviving in parallel worlds. But, what it is not about is having a loving partnership.

How long a relationship can survive this really depends on the people in it; and the particular circumstances. Couples go through these difficult stretches for varying reasons (e.g. domestic violence, they both ‘forget’ to take care of their relationship). Some eventually find their way back to a healthy partnership again; or adapt to this new reality (such as when one partner is seriously ill). Other couples just remain in a ‘loveless’ marriage (even if somewhere inside of themselves they feel love).

When someone is distressed by a marriage that is distant or abusive, they seriously need to consider trying to fix the relationship or leave. In cases of domestic violence, this can be a matter of physical life or death. But in many other cases, it is a matter of psychic life or death — either because of the pain of feeling so alone or because of the pain of feeling emotionally attacked; or both.

So, pay attention to how love is expressed in your marriage; and always remember that love is action. If love is not expressed, consider whether this is a pattern that needs attention, and whether it’s a pattern you think you can change. Then, act accordingly. If — on the other hand — love is shown in healthy, nurturing ways, keep up the good work and enjoy.

If you would like to join a general discussion about this topic, visit the Relationships and Coping Community.

Photo: BananaStock

Posted by: Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD at 9:15 am

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