52 Ways to Show I Love You: Recognizing the Relationship
On February 26th, the film La La Land, nominated in 14 categories, won six Academy Awards. Musicals have always been my favorite film genre, watching dance my favorite spectator entertainment. From Busby Berkeley through Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron to Gene Kelly and now Robert Fairchild, I feel the thrills of freedom and yearning in a dancer’s movements as I watch, a blessing from my mirroring neurons. I have been especially enthralled by the ways in which two dancers partnering can express love. But watching La La Land, in spite of all its charms, the note of love rang shallow to me, simply because the “us” failed to transcend the priority of the “me”.
One critical way to express love is to recognize that the couple itself becomes its own entity and that nourishing the relationship can be equally or more important than feeding each individual’s opportunities for growth. For many people, their most important growth can only come through learning to be a loving member of a relationship.
Earlier, I wrote about “Choosing” as a way of showing love. Today, I focus specifically on choosing the “we” over the “me” as a uniquely important way to send a message about loving. As someone whose love triumphed to overcome challenges of a long-distance relationship, I feel quite personally the potential positive power of addressing the needs of the couple as its own entity.
Collective societies such as India naturally put the welfare of the communal above that of the individual. In the West, we are far more likely to see the individual as the primary social unit. This sense of separation sets up a duality in which our connections to one another can take on a biased texture. “How does it affect me?” can easily replace “How are we doing?” A communal frame of mind can transform power struggles into cooperative efforts and help a love relationship thrive.
What can be prioritized for the couple? Almost anything – but first you need to ask:
- What experiences best nourish each individual and the couple?
- What experiences are challenging to the couple but manageable with consciousness?
- What experiences prove threatening to the life of the couple, even its very survival?
How can two people accommodate their own needs and also those of their couple?
- Inventory the needs and wants of each individual and be clear about the difference between them. Transportation is a need. A Ferrari or a Humvee is a want. A lovely essay by Cathy Fiorello describes one lyrical solution.
- Inventory the glue that maintains the attraction and keeps the bonds vibrant. What is your ideal mix of individual and couple activities? If you have a larger family, how much time with other family members is your sweet spot? John Gottman and his colleagues have amply demonstrated that the balance of positive experiences to negative ones should be no less than 5:1. What are those positive experiences for you and your loved one?
- Address ways in which a higher need can be met by redefining the concrete solution for what is perceived as a need. Perhaps you want your home to provide easy access to work so that time can be spent more easily together. Or perhaps re-configuring the ways in which you spend time together can provide the quality that you require to accommodate a different kind of quantity.
- Determine what “work” must be done — household, financial, social, familial, emotional, logistical — and create a process for allocating it in ways that seems fair and respectful of each other’s abilities and availability.
Be aware that some needs are developmentally determined. They will require adaptation as individual and family life cycles evolve. Nothing is more urgently demanding than a baby in the home. On the other hand, the time of infancy is amazingly brief and can offer its own unique rewards that will soon disappear.
Why does prioritizing the “we” show loving?
- It demonstrates consciousness and consciousness signals openness to learning and changing. If two people can trust each other to be open to learning, adapting, changing, then they can feel safe in their ability to solve problems together as they arise, and a huge area of potential insecurity can be laid to rest.
- It communicates a commitment to working together to take care of each other rather than engaging in a power struggle over separately conceived solutions. If the good of the group (or the couple) is recognized as also serving the wishes of the individuals, especially those that cannot be met alone, then power struggles become unnecessary. People can trust that they will listen to each other, and treat each other’s desires with respect.
- It recognizes and applauds differences between the individuals — in needs, in styles and in naturally preferred solutions — and finds ways to honor them rather than attempting to obliterate them. Acceptance can become “unconditional positive regard”. Fear of walking on eggshells, being rejected for being insufficient or lacking in some way, disappears and safety is the reward.
When have you put the benefits to the couple or family ahead of the wants and needs of the individuals? What did that choice do for the relationship? For each individual’s sense of connection? If one felt constrained, was a way discovered to satisfy the unmet need?
Copyright 2017 Roni Beth Tower First published on PsychologyToday.com, Life, Refracted