Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Dismaying Story #85: Love is a Verb!

Today's question is the most succinct I have received, as well as one of the most significant since it pertains to choosing a life partner.

Dear Andrew,

How do you know when a man really loves you?

Signed, Wondering

Dear Wondering,

I once talked with a man who was in the midst of a career change. He was moving to a new city for a couple of years, and then he would be assigned a position in yet another city. It was highly unlikely that this work would ever take him back to his hometown. He decided to make this move knowing that, for a variety of reasons, his wife and young children were staying in the hometown.

I told him that no career aspiration would ever be important enough for me to move away from my family, that I simply loved them too much. This made him angry. "You have no idea," he said, "how much I love my family!"

As I reflected on this conversation later, I came to the conclusion that he and I used the word "love" in entirely different ways. He was talking about the intense emotion he felt inside. Despite how he phrased his response to me, he was referring to love as a noun, as an inner feeling.

To me, though, love is a verb. It is expressed by our actions toward others. When I say I love my family, I mean that I do things for them in an effort to make their lives better. Sure, this results from those strong feelings I harbor in my heart, but by themselves those feelings have no impact whatsoever on the people in my life. It is only when I translate those feelings into action that my love has a chance to enrich those around me. I could simply adore my wife and children, yet if I abuse, ignore, abandon, or otherwise treat them poorly, what good would my feelings of affection be to them?

I interpret your question to mean: "How can I tell when a man really harbors a deep and abiding love for me in his heart?" (And by the way, the question is equally valid when asked by a man about a woman.) In other words, I believe you are asking about love the noun. My answer is that you will never -- can never -- experience this type of love directly. It will always be hidden from view. I believe you should be concerned with his actions toward you. How do his feelings translate into behavior? What do you experience as a result of being with him?

Does he do supportive things for you? Does he make you feel good about yourself and about the two of you as a couple? Does he let you know that he cares, or does he keep it inside and assume you should just know? Are you doing all the giving in this relationship, or do the concrete expressions of love flow in both directions? Has he learned what makes you happy and what stresses you? More importantly, does he make an effort to do the former from time to time, and to avoid the latter?

In other words, if he generally treats you well, what more do you need to know? And if he doesn't, then that may be all the answer you need.

Here is another possible interpretation of your question: "How can I tell if he loves me enough to stay with me forever?" Unfortunately, as in other areas of life, there are no guarantees in love. If he has proven himself to be a caring and giving individual, though, and he seems to love being with you, then hopefully there is a good chance that will continue. Talk with him about your respective views on marriage, commitment, and divorce. How does he react when people you know get a divorce? Again, there are no guarantees, and every relationship must withstand highs and lows. Hopefully you can get a sense of how committed he is to your relationship.

I urge you to resist the following thought: "I am not very happy with the way he treats me now, but I know things will be better once we are married." If you have had this thought, you should think seriously about whether this is the relationship for you. In the vast majority of cases, what you see now is what you will get later. Do not count on changing him (or her, if you are a guy).

Finally, this is just one way to approach your question. I bet many readers will have other ways to gauge how their partner feels about their relationship, and these approaches are sure to be equally as valid as my thoughts. Make sure you drop back and see what others have to say. Hopefully you will find a few nuggets amongst the collected advice that will help you in your own situation.

All the best,

The Question of the Week is about negative self talk and how it can inhibit our success in life. I'd love to hear your thoughts, so take a moment today and leave a comment.


  1. Anonymous1:00 PM

    wow - how this post speaks to me -- say doc, you got a brother? smile

    when people love each other -- they treat each other with respect, with caring, with consideration

    and i have to agree with the doc here, there are no guarantees in life...but that doesn't mean you shouldn'y get on the love train for fear of it not working happy for the time you have together, as some of out here haven't had but a minute of it

    if a man loves you -- his actions will speak louder than any words that come out of his mouth...

  2. Anonymous1:32 PM

    Definitely, love is a verb. My husband and I talk very openly about how we feel about one another, and he will say to me, "Don't tell me you love me, show me you love me." I will occasionally take offense at this, thinking my saying it should be enough, but it's not enough for him. I have discovered that he needs me to show him through little gestures that I do love him, something tangible for him like a back scratch when he didn't ask for one or taking him out to dinner.
    I think too, it's how you grew up. If you grew up in a household that was abusive, but everytime after the abuse they said they loved you, the words meant nothing by then...
    Love should be demonstrated... not talked about to death...

  3. Maryam in Marrakesh5:27 PM

    This is the first time I have been on your blog and I find your writing style very touching (like the way you dealt with that love letters issue). However, don't you think that love can be a noun too? For exp, I know a man who took a posting in Iraq - not because it was exciting in some way or interesting but because he wanted to be able to afford a down payment for a house for his family. He is back now and I think that they all feel it was worth the sacrifice (although I have not spoken to his children about it).

  4. Excellent response to this question! You hit the nail on the head, Love is a verb! When you are truly loved, you know it. You will have a knowing.
    If you have to ask, then there is doubt. I suggest that you take a time to write down all of the ways that you know he loves you and then write down the things that cause you doubt. Writing these things down will help you get a more clear perspective of your reality (let's face it, when we attempt to sort these things out in our mind, everything can get jumbled). Once you have done this with complete honesty, then you will know.

  5. I is definately a verb.

    In any situation, actions should speak louder than words. Not simply because there is more truth and sincerity in actions, but because not everyone is able to articulate how they are feeling for someone else. Anyone can say "I Love You", but through their actions you can gauge whether or not they mean it in the way that you want it to mean. If the feelings are there, then several indicators will show that they there.

    Alternate reasons for staying together include compatibility, being comfortable, or fear of being alone --- if someone stays in a relationship, it doesn't mean that he/she actually "loves" the person they are with. It really is about how they contribute and nurture the relationship itself and ultimately, what they would sacrifice to keep the relationship together and growing.

    All of the examples that Dr. Andrew pointed out would be good indicators on whether or not he "loves" you.

    Unfortunately, if you have to ask, its likely because instinctually you know that he doesn't. Good luck!

  6. Be warned: someone can love you and then one day just -stop- ! Unfortunately, if you love them, that risk won't be enough to keep you away.

  7. Anonymous3:49 AM

    All I am going to say is, if you have to ask that question then you are in trouble.

    Happy Thanksgiving Andrew

  8. I agree that love is risky. You can talk yourself into feeling anything or believing you love someone despite their actions. I don't have much to add as Andrew really explained it all. I would add that men and women sometimes have different types of verbs. Showing you love someone takes all forms and you really have to look for it sometimes...but in the beginning. If he's not telling you and showing you move on. It'll hurt but you have to love yourself also.

  9. Shan-- I disagree. but I think that people can let their love go until one day they realize it is gone, and they were merely engaging in a habit for a while.

    Andrew-- not much to be said that hasn't already.. but.. one guage I had-- I knew my husband loved me when he was able to make me elated and feel loved without buying anything or promising anything. Basically, when he reached the point he knew and understood me well enough to be able to figure me out, that is when I knew he lvoed me. Because he took the time to do the figuring out.

  10. Hi Andrew,
    This is my first visit to your blog, and i find the discussion about "love" interesting. I don't even think of "love" as a word, it is a kind of nebulous "thing"...we use a word to describe many aspects of love, but what IS it really?

    Perhaps it is many different things to different people. I guess i am thinking about it more these past few days because my daughter just told me that her father (my ex-) is getting married again (his third marriage) in December. And it has stirred up many memories, some good, some bad. I don't know what made me think about men who are resistant to marriage counselling, which he was in about our 6th year of marriage. When it looked like our relationship was going to end, I ended up going "solo"; the marriage hobbled along for another few years and i came in to a large amount of money, we started to build a house and things were looking quite rosy, and i became lovable again. Then something shifted (long story, old Blog post) and i realized that it was not really me that he loved, but the big house we were building. Then suddenly my ex- was anxious to go into counselling,....anyway, i have seen a pattern here. A lot of men will only go into marriage counselling when they see their material wealth slipping away...

    Julianna; i like that point you make about your husband really making an effort to get to know you. my ex- had a preconcieved notion about who i was, and i was not allowed to change.

    i don't think it is too difficult to see this nebulous thing we call love, if we are honest with ourselves, but we have become so accustomed to self-deception that we convince ourselves that we are loved, or that we love, (i suppose for many and varied reasons) and this is so sad. But things like when you see a man/woman sit by a partner's bedside while she/he is ravaged by cancer, not caring about his/her own imminent loss, but just wanting to bring some kind of comfort, then i think you truly see love. or the famous 1.Corinthians 13:4-8 verse "love is patient and never ends", really says it all.

    Hah! we teach best what we most need to learn..thanks for reminding me!!!

  11. When i shut down my computer last night i dusted off my copy of the Kings James Bible (which my mom gave me when she quit going to church) to check what i had quoted, and could not find a the reference to "love" in Corinthians 1. But what i did find was this: "Charity suffereth long and is kind,...rejoiseth not in iniquity, but in the truth, Beareth all things, believeth in all things...", etc.

    I wonder if there is anyone out there in the Blogosphere who could tell me at what time in History the word "Love" replaced the word "Charity" in this verse? i'm just curious to know.