"Real love is only what you give," writes Kate Kerrigan in her brilliant novel, Recipes for a Perfect Marriage. In our me-centered culture that promotes the highly dysfunctional myth that love is a feeling your partner ignites in you (he makes me feel alive; she makes me feel whole), it's easy to fall into the thinking trap that if you're not feeling enough — enough love, enough attraction, enough desire — there must be something wrong with the relationship.
Yet the paradox and well-kept secret is that it's in giving that you ignite the feelings. Your partner can't make you feel alive; aliveness is a quality that you cultivate by learning to attend closely to your inner world. Your partner can't make you feel whole; wholeness arises when you devote yourself to a daily practice, like yoga, meditation, or journaling, which helps you to connect to your intrinsic wholeness.
When you give to your partner from the seat of your own alive wholeness, a beautiful relationship unfolds between you. In other words, giving to get love or validation or as a way to fill yourself up doesn't work, but when you can give from the filled-up place inside of you without condition or expectation, your relationship will transform.
How do you give in ways that makes your partner feel truly and deeply loved?
1. Learn your partner's love language
Giving to your partner means giving in a way that he or she can best receive. An immature or self-centered way of giving seeks to give to another in a way that would like to receive. If you feel most loved by physical touch, you're likely to express your love through a lot of affection. But what if physical touch isn't how your partner feels most loved?
This is where learning the Five Love Languages can be extremely beneficial in a relationship. You can take the test here, but most people already know just from reading the list of love languages which are theirs and which are their partner's. The five Love Languages are:
- Words of affirmation
- Physical touch
- Acts of service
- Quality time
2. Listen without offering solutions
Most people just want to be heard. They don't need solutions, advice, or feedback (unless specifically asked) and when unsolicited feedback is offered, it's usually experienced as invasion. So when your partner is sharing with you — anything from her angry feelings about her best friend to an incident he's perplexed by at work — listen with your heart and reflect back that you're truly listening with affirming comments.
3. Initiate loving reunions
Reunions, simply defined, are times when you come back together after being away from each other. We generally think of reunions as occurring after long absences, like when one of you has traveled, but we also reunite first thing in the morning after sleep and at the end of the day following work. We even reunite when we’ve been in our separate spaces within the same house for several hours and then come back together again.
When you initiate a loving reunion — whether by greeting your partner with a warm smile and a hug first thing in the morning or making it a point to meet her at the door when she returns home from work at the end of the day — you send a clear message to your partner that you’re available and you grow the love between you through positive action. And initiating a loving reunion through your partner's love language will enhance the love even more.
4. Let go of the need to be right
Ask yourself this question: Is it more important to be right or to be loving? Many arguments are rooted in each partner's bull-headed need to be right, even about the most trivial topics. You're driving to a restaurant and your partner turns right when you thought the faster route would have been to turn left. Do you say something? Is it really that important? Or do you breathe into your need to be right and choose to let it go?
"Don't sweat the small stuff" means being willing to let go of the need to be right about the small stuff. You have a difference of opinion; let it go. You remember an event differently; let it go. As soon as you feel that tightness inside that indicates the need to be right or control, make a conscious choice to zip the lip and let it go. Your partner will feel the difference and your active silence will cultivate a loving garden in which your relationship can blossom.
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