Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Loving Actions Create Feelings Of Love

January 4, 2010

What is love? Love is an overpowering feeling, an intense romantic high and unbounded passionate desire for the presence and affection of our loved one. Right? Wrong!

Love is an action. It is putting the well-being and happiness of a loved one consistently ahead of our own. It is commitment and choice. It demonstrates a willingness to attend to another’s well-being and nourish the relationship despite how we feel. Love is seeing a need with the eye of the heart, taking that extra step to meet that need and making sacrifices to do so if necessary.

Romantic love. Our culture is steeped with notions of romantic love. What most people mistake for love is the passion of a new relationship. The importance of intense feelings of passionate love is exaggerated to the point where it is difficult to sustain over time.

Feelings of romantic love drop off after the first few years of marriage. The newness of the relationship has been replaced with discovery of irritating differences and annoying habits. There are problems to be solved, work to be done.

Marriage now needs to be sustained by daily loving acts of thoughtfulness, consideration, generosity, kindness and helpfulness. This practical side of love takes work, courage, effort, concentration, commitment and acceptance.

Love takes effort. In India, researchers studied the difference between couples who married out of romantic love and couples whose marriages were arranged. Couples in love-based marriages reported a decrease in their feelings of love after five years.

By contrast, couples in arranged marriages felt more love as the years went by. After 10 years of marriage, the arranged marriages were reported as more loving than the marriages formed through romance.

Why would that be? Perhaps couples who believe love to be a feeling didn’t extend themselves to create love by their own loving actions. They took love for granted - something that should be there and doesn’t require work.

On the other hand, couples from arranged marriages knew from the start that loving actions would be necessary to create feelings of love in their partner. Their conscious decision to love each other came because that was their only choice.

With time, loving actions created feelings of love. Part of those loving actions include affectionate and sexual touch along with deep sharing and confiding. Besides creating feelings of attraction and passion, loving actions create feelings of satisfaction, contentment, trust, mutual support and understanding.

Love and attention. We change the way we feel by how we act. If we act in a loving way, with time we will feel love toward the person we are loving. "What we serve is what we learn to love, and what we learn to love takes our time, and what takes our time is what we love." - Marvin J. Ashton.

If there is a discrepancy between the way we feel and act, feelings tend to catch up and mirror our actions, not the other way around.

We choose to whom we direct our loving attention and actions. Our ability to love is limited by the amount of time and attention we have to give. The things and people that we give our attention tell us what we really value and love.

Be the first to love. If we love someone, it makes it easier for that person to love back. People can't resist love. If we start loving first instead of holding back, we can change a relationship. Consistent love over time also changes the way people perceive and feel about us.

A woman lamented the actions and attitude of her husband. She judged him harshly and felt he was the big stumbling block in her unhappiness. She decided to be unconditionally constructive - to unilaterally turn on her warmth, charm, love and go out of her way for him for six weeks.

Later, much chagrined, she exclaimed, "It must have been me! He's changed completely. He's responding in a loving and sweet way. It must have been my attitude that was causing the problem."

A relationship can change even faster when two people both try at the same time. Each partner sees the effort the other one puts forth. The pathway to love is starts with simple, sustained actions.

We choose to love by:

- Doing fun things together. Life is to be shared.

- Making life less difficult for our loved one. Love is a form of work. We choose to love by doing our fair share of work in the house and with the family. We choose to love by sharing decisions.

- Not escalating a fight or retaliating when it is well within our right to do so.

- Giving affection and intimate physical touch in the context of a loving relationship.

- Listening and giving an understanding heart to a partner's feelings.

- Sharing private hurts, dreams, and joys of life.

- Being compassionate in giving potentially hurtful concerns and criticisms.

- Supporting and encouraging a partner's growth.

- Expressing love, appreciation and admiration for you partner’s special qualities, gifts and thoughtful actions.

Love is as love does. Don’t wait for feelings to change - or for your partner to change. If we wait until we feel like it, it might not happen. Feelings catch up to the way we act.