Being the best partner — 17 February 2004
If you really loved me – you would…

If you really loved me – you would…

This common phrase is erroneously used by people who correlate wished-for-behavior with evidence of love. The unfortunate use of this phrase actually interferes with loving behaviors.

Since love is not an easily quantifiable emotion we tend to use behavior as evidence of love. And indeed, loving conduct is often a manifestation of caring emotions. The converse however, may not be true. The absence of a specific tender gesture does not indicate the absence of love.

Most people have their own image of what love looks like. Men and women tend to have different expectations about the “clues” for love. Men, most typically, pay greater attention to actions, while women emphasize words as well as actions as means of gauging love.

For example, a man may disregard his wife’s protestation of love if they are not accompanied by a warm meal upon his return from work, or an enthusiastic love session. A woman may greatly appreciate her partner’s help with the house and the children, but may not feel sufficiently loved unless these behaviors are accompanied by loving words.

In addition to the gender difference, the view of love is impacted by each individual’s unique needs. More verbal individuals may assess a loving connection by the nature of their dialogue with their lovers. Some people emphasize the importance of physical affection as the crucial manifestation of love. Others may feel most loved when they share pleasurable experiences together. For yet others, the sharing of tender emotions is the best measure of love.

Couples are likely to have at least two different “systems” of evaluating the love they receive and may also need different expressions at different times.
An emotionally expressive mate’s feelings may not be well received by a partner who finds excessive words unnecessary. The emotional partner may say, “If you really loved me, you would talk often about your love for me. Since you do not do so, maybe you don’t love me”. This conclusion is an unlikely one. The more feasible explanation is that the less verbal person is uncomfortable with words of love and may show his or her caring thorough actions.

Some expressions of love are more universally seen as caring behaviors, such as taking a day off from work without pay to accompany a worried partner to the doctor. Yet, other specific expectation may challenge even our most loving mates.

Sue likes to write cards and receive them. When she was in the hospital, her boyfriend visited daily, brought her flowers and small gifts, delivered necessary items from her home, and called during the day. However, Sue was profoundly disappointed that he did not bring her a card. “If you really loved me you would know how important cards are to me and would have given me at least one card.” The boyfriend was hurt since he believed that he had acted very lovingly toward Sue.

We each express our love in the best way we know how- and often by the way we would like to be loved. Since it is such an individual perspective, it is very hard for any person to guess what specific behavior is the most pleasing to another at any given moment.

Happy, considerate couples share their wants and expectations openly and help their mates succeed in loving them. They do not wait to be disappointed and then regard it as evidence that they are unloved. If Sue had indicated to her boyfriend that she would love a card, he surely would have happily accommodated her wishes.

Some people, who doubt their own loveability, unintentionally withhold their needs and wants and reach false conclusions about their mate’s intentions. When they are disappointed, they use the behavior of their mate as confirmation of being unloved. A young woman, who questions her own competence, feels unloved when help is offered to her. She concludes that her partner’s behavior indicates that he shares her view that she is inadequate.

Some acts that are unrelated to expressions of love are assumed to be so. “You don’t really love me because you forgot to pick up milk on the way home, as I have requested.” This is a non-sequitor. Forgetfulness may not be proof of absence of love.

Sometimes people confuse other feelings for love. For example, a man who is a very hard worker was upset that his wife tossed out some still edible food leftovers. He saw it as evidence of her lack of love for him. Actually, his hurt was about her disrespect of his hard work to earn the money for food.

At times, the use of “If you really loved me, you would…” is a direct manipulation. The speaker puts the partner’s love in question to extract specific conduct. The listener is often caught in a state of confusion. He or she loves the speaker but sees no need to “prove” it through a specific accommodation. Often the manipulative phrases are the ones to which no response would be satisfactory. The listener may feel trapped and not considered.

If you really love your partner you would:

  • Abstain from using the phrase “if you really loved me, you would…”
  • Accept that all people love others in the best way they can. Phrase clearly your expectations of loving behaviors and help your mate please you.
  • See even ordinary actions (such as taking the trash out, making dinner, etc.) as evidence of love.
  • Do not assume that your partner’s frustrating behaviors are evidence of lack of love.
  • Know your partner’s capacity for verbal expressions of love. Model for your mate the words you wish to hear and the actions you desire.
  • Accept loving behaviors as they are offered and refrain from judgements about them.
  • Love is a gift. Give it and receive it with tenderness for a truly authentic and intimate relationship.

 

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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