Saturday, September 04, 2010

Love is a Verb!

I was re-reading a few Dismaying Stories from past posts and ran across this one, which is the most succinct question I ever 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,


  1. Wonderful reply from Dr. Andrew.

    My thoughts are ~

    That we often have to learn by our own mistakes.
    Intuition, for some, can be a very accurate guide. If one follows intuition and is proved wrong, then something has been learned, and will be stored away for next time. A few such encounters will provide many valuable personal pointers - personal has to be emphasised because there's no definitive recipe. One person's "true, deep love" is another's "flighty affair".

    Trial and error can be painful, even in an informal relationship; if the relationship is allowed to evolve into marriage its ending can be expensive as well as painful.

    As Kahil Gibran wrote in a poem about Love, it's sometimes necessary
    To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
    And to bleed willingly and joyfully.

    One caution: It'd be wise to avoid having children until one is quite sure that this Love is what you expected it to be. Hurting oneself is acceptable, hurting children is not.

  2. I agree with you that love "the feeling" has little to do with love "the action". The actions are what speak to people. I love the quote "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care" You can change the words around to "People don't care how much you love until they love how much you care."

    It's doesn't matter how much someone says they love you if they make you feel horrible. How does the person make you feel is a much better question than do they really love me.