The problem with “love”

IS there a problem with love? Yeah, and it’s a big one. You say I love you—and you feel it too—but where does that really get you? What have you really accomplished?


Example. You love your dog. I’ve loved my dogs. I know how lovable they are. I know how we can love our dogs to pieces. So let me ask you: have you ever hugged your dog? Yes? I have. Most of us have.


Well, guess what? Dogs don’t like being hugged. They put up with it, but they don’t like it. Hugs are not in a dog’s vocabulary of affection. They’re in ours but not a dogs. Primate mommies hug their babies but mama dogs don’t hug their babies. They lick them: what we call “petting.”


So do you love your dog or do you “love” your dog?


“Loving” your dog means you smother it with hugs because that’s how you feel. It feels right to you. Loving your dog means NOT doing that. Why? Because what’s important to your dog is important to you.


And THAT’S love without the quotation marks.


We screw this up all the time in our relationships with the people in our lives. We think of love as the gift of our feelings. Take the Cole Porter song All of You:


I love the look of you, the lure of you

The sweet of you, the pure of you

The eyes, the arms, the mouth of you

The east, west, north and the south of you


I'd love to gain complete control of you

And handle even the heart and soul of you

So love, at least, a small percent of me, do

For I love all of you, for I love all of you


This love song is totally in the key of me, me, me. Or, to sum the song up, “Gee, you’re swell,” as they’d say in an old movie. Swell to me, me, me.


But what good does it do you for me to think you’re swell? For me to love the east, west, north and the south of you? Those aren’t important issues.


Here’s what important when it comes to love:


--> Do you know what’s important to me?


--> Does the fact that something is important to me make it—immediately and automatically—important to you?


THAT’S love without the quotation marks, however you feel about lure of you, the sweet of you, or the pure of you!


And this has nothing to do with “love languages.” This is one area where we all speak the same language: if what’s most important to me isn’t important to you, then no matter what else you say and do we’re miles and miles apart.


Now knowing what’s important to the one you say you love and showing that it’s just as important to you as it is to your partner is hard, way harder than mere love talk. It’s like the difference between talking about how pretty a sailboat is and actually sailing that boat on a windy, choppy sea.


And our lives are one choppy sea. After all, say I want to show you how much what’s important to you is important to me. Fine. But I also have to show my boss that what’s important to her is important to me. And what’s important to my ailing aging parents is important to me. And what’s important to my children is important to me. And, quite legitimately, that I make what’s important to me important to me: we can’t neglect ourselves.


Plus, if you ask most people, they’ll say their partners are always complaining, so that it seems as though there are 1,001 things that are really important to them, and how the hell do we make those 1,001 things important to us?



Sounds overwhelming. And many of us live as though it were overwhelming. But actually this is all very, very do-able. Here’s how:


ASK your partner for a short-list of what’s most important to them.


FOCUS on those things.


FOLLOW THROUGH. Keep on keeping on dealing with and paying attention to those things that you know are most important to your partner.


PAY ATTENTION TO BALANCE. None of this works unless there are conversations about whether demonstrated care feels balanced. Now of course, there’s no way to actually measure balance. But you can talk about what each of you needs to feel that the other understands what’s important to them and is delivering on that. Even if you can’t show your caring as well as you’d like, balanced caring makes things better.


What I’ve just shared with you just may be the single greatest secret of successful relationships. They say that something like “say more positive than negative things” is the secret. But come on. Why are people driven to saying negative things in the first place? It’s because their partners haven’t understood that they need to make what’s important to the person they’re living with important to them as well.


And by the way, for you energy savers out there... This isn’t about doing more. In your case, it’s more likely to be about shifting your energy from doing things that matter little to your partner to doing things that matter a whole lot. The things that have to do with what’s most important to them.

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