by Daniel Rutley, Psy.D.
Marriage is a loving enterprise. Love is an emotion that helps us bond with others and above all, can generate strong emotions of pleasure and happiness.
There is a historical and biological account for our deeply rooted desire to be loved, accepted, or to receive approval. As we emerged from our primordial state, the desire for love, acceptance or approval was a characteristic that would help ensure the survival of the individual.
If you had the desire to acquire love or approval, you would be more sensitive to others and develop a greater sense of empathy and social awareness. This would help you develop alliances that could be beneficial to your survival, and thus help you to pass along your genes.
In modern society, survival in order to pass along our genes seems like a moot issue, but our desire to love and be loved is as strong as ever. This emotion of love has driven men and women mad with desire, inspired paintings, songs and poetry, instigated wars and has been the impetus for many of the world’s greatest achievements.
In an intimate relationship, love can be very strong “glue” that helps us stay together through tough times. In truth, being loved is nice but it isn’t what truly makes us feel wonderful; it’s loving someone else that greatly impacts our emotions.
If you’ve ever had someone love you that you did not like, then you know that being loved doesn’t necessarily bring good feelings. It’s the act of loving that feels wonderful.
Let’s be honest: loving can feel wonderful and captivate our heart and mind in ways that few other emotions can, as expressed by Elizabeth Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese:
How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth
and breadth and height
My soul can reach,
when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being
and ideal Grace.
The vast majority of people seek out love to various degrees. But, the real key to happiness and bonding is in the act of loving another person. You will be happier when you actively love than when you do not.
Especially in intimate relationships, it’s important to behaviorally demonstrate love. Just saying the words, which, for most people can be very important, but sometimes, words aren’t enough. It is important that it be displayed in action. It’s important to put both words and actions together.
Although being loved has its emotional and practical benefits, actively loving another by putting your love into words and actions will benefit both you and the other person.
By putting your focus on loving instead of being loved, you are less likely to become “needy” as a person. No one desires a needy person in his or her life.
Practice actively loving your mate. This advice, of course, needs to be reciprocated so the love flows in both directions.
Depending on the culture, how you were raised and what we learned about gender roles, it’s not uncommon to find men saying “I love you” less often but also displaying less loving actions. This is enormously outdated and is a detrimental attitude.
It is equally important for both men and women to behave in loving ways. It creates good feelings in the person who is doing the loving behavior and the person who receives it is happy and delighted… and this interaction can bring untold benefits within the relationship, lower stress, improve contentment along with related health benefits.
Just saying “I love you” without a loving action will come across as empty after a while. Behaving lovingly is good but can be misinterpreted as caring, being practical, generous, etc. and that’s different from loving. When words of love are spoken in a loving, gentle and sincere way, and then it’s followed up with loving actions (as interpreted by the other person) then the message hits home.
For deeper intimacy and a stronger relationship, display loving both in words and in actions.