Attention — 13 February 2005
The many ways to say ‘I Love You’

As Valentine Day approaches we are reminded to express our love to those whom we hold dear. Flowers are sent, cards and gifts are exchanged and dining out is marked by a special romantic atmosphere. It is wonderful that the expression of love is graced with its own holiday. Yet, love exchanges should be part of our daily routine and need not be expressed only in the above ways.

In order to show your love, you first have to feel it. Some people associate love with their role definition, “of course I love her, she is my sister”. The familial connection may or may not create a loving feeling. There may be an erroneous expectation that because some people are related they automatically share feelings of love. We all know that not to be true. We may have a sense of responsibility and affiliation to family members, but not necessarily warmth and emotional connection.

Love is the tender and caring emotion of appreciation for another person. It may entail a prayer-like deep wish for the well being of the loved one and the desire to better that individual’s life in any way possible. Love is a positive emotion that produces outpouring energy toward enhancing the beloved’s life. Though there are many definitions of love, people clearly know when they feel it or receive it.

Children seem to have a refined intuitive sense deciphering who loves them and who does not. They respond with warmth and affection to those adults whom they perceive as loving of them. This intuitive awareness persists into adulthood. Reciprocal love is mutually intuited and responded to at any age. You know who sincerely treasures you and what words and gestures truly come from the heart.

Love gets conveyed through words and actions. It is very reassuring to hear the words “I love you” especially when it feels authentic. For some people this short sentence does not come easily. They may feel the affection and caring, yet are reluctant to express it verbally. Perhaps for some this is associated with being vulnerable and disempowered. Actually, being loving and secure enough to declare it does, under most circumstances, affirm the speaker’s strength and integrity. There should never be shame associated with the appropriate expression of love.

There is additional language that is used to convey loving feelings. Words of appreciation, admiration and awe, said in a tender and connected way transmit to the listener deep affection and affirmation. “You are a very special person”, “It is such a privilege to be with you”, “I am such a lucky person to have you as my partner”, “the day I met you, my life has taken a turn for the better”, “You have made me a better person”, are some examples of conveyed affection and admiration that do not include the word love. The sincerity and attentiveness that accompanies these sentences aid in having them be received as words of love.

The appreciation we give must be accompanied by the appropriate non-verbal cues. In talking of love, people need to keep a steady eye contact, touch tenderly, use a soft and sincere voice and connect with the essence of the listener. Messages of love have an ongoing soothing power beyond the moment in which they are uttered. The recipient of these words is likely to rehearse them in his or her mind over and over, since they affirm the deepest core of the individual’s self-esteem. Loving words pay ongoing dividends by the positive impact they have on the listener over a long period of time.

Talking of love intermittently helps keep your partner continuously reassured and secure. Trusting that the love is there and will prevail supports the partners even during times of conflict. The knowledge and feeling that you are loved upholds the foundation of the relationship as well as your own sense of well-being.

Aside from words and non-verbal manifestations of love, certain acts serve as unquestionable expressions of love. Unsolicited and thoughtful gestures affirm your understanding of your mate’s needs and your love. For example, canceling your schedule to accompany your mate to the physician, because you know that your partner is worried, is an act of consideration and love. Volunteering to pick up the in laws at the airport, though you are a reluctant driver, so that your partner can complete his golf game, is an act of love. Attending social functions that matter to your partner, though you are inherently shy and uncomfortable in crowds, is kind and considerate. Agreeing to any activity or choice that slightly compromises your preference because it is very important to your partner- is loving. I am not suggesting that one needs to be consistently deferring at one’s expense, that is not loving to oneself, or the partner.

Other small loving behaviors stem from anticipating and performing tasks that make your loved one’s life easier. These may be ordinary and non-dramatic acts of kindness. For example, offering to run to the store when your partner is busy preparing a meal for company and is short an ingredient. Or running a bath for your mate who is coming home late after a long, hard business trip. Suggesting watching the children to give your partner a break. Surprising your loved one with tickets to see his or her favorite performer. Being attentive to the details of your partner’s day and helping wherever you can makes you a loving mate.

Actually, when we feel love for another, all these verbal, non-verbal, helpful and caring acts come very naturally. They are often very appreciated and reciprocated with equal caring and love. The key here is to keep your love in the foreground of your thinking and not get distracted by the stresses of life.
Appreciating the importance of expressed love in relationship helps us be positive, decent and live up to our higher selves.

February 13, 2005

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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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