By: Emily Tonn, RMHCI
How do you define love? And what does it “look like” when you feel loved? Working with couples is extremely rewarding. I’ve learned that while every couple is unique and has their own successes and challenges, there are undoubtedly some common themes.
Inevitably, during therapy, I ask couples to share their individual definitions of love. Usually this is a take home assignment and the only rule is that they are not allowed to help each other or see each other’s answers until they come back the following week. As you might have guessed, there is no one right answer.
More often than not, the couple does not have a clear understanding of how their partner defines love. This doesn’t mean they haven’t discussed it. Anytime core values and beliefs are the focal point of conversation it, rightfully so, can feel very personal. During these discussions feelings, emotions and differences in communication styles (including non-verbal communication) can direct a person away from their answer as they try to please the other. Therapy creates a safe environment to share openly and honestly, with guidance and mediation. It also provides an opportunity for the couple to practice seeking clarification. Once this happens, we begin to understand the true meaning of another’s definition.
Defining love isn’t quite enough. The next thing that we explore is what does it “look like” when you feel loved? I frequently talk about the importance of clearly stating your needs in all relationships. This presents challenges for many, because often people confuse needs with being needy. These are two very separate things. Being able to tell your partner what it looks like when you feel loved is not only empowering for you, but also for your partner.
Very often I hear “he/she should just know”. We work through this by examining all other relationships in our lives. Do children “just know” how to behave, do co-workers, employees or even friends “just know” what is expected of them? Usually not, therefore why should romantic partners “just know”?
By exploring these questions, couples are able to develop clear road maps that include an understanding, sometimes for the first time, of how their partner defines love and what it looks like when they feel loved. Sharing and appreciating each other’s individual needs is a key element in any healthy relationship.