Have you ever had a conversation about where we learned to give love or how we show someone we love them? There are no lessons on "love giving" at school! And who ever asks us about how we would like to be loved?
With Valentine's Day there is a wild flurry of activity -- sending flowers, doing things we think the other person would like (not usually asking them or finding out in previous conversations what they would really like). We surprise them and are loving (in our own way). And it may all be wasted! Well, perhaps not wasted -- just not as appreciated as it could have been.
When couples who have split up are interviewed separately afterwards, they often maintain that they showered each other with love and affection -- and the sad thing is that they probably did! But they showered with the love and affection that they would have liked to receive -- not necessarily what the other person really wanted, or could interpret as loving.
It's a conversation we rarely have. In fact, it's something that most people are unconscious of their whole lives!
We learn how to give love from our parents, by watching them together and by our experiences with them. For example, my wonderful mother used to always send me a Valentine's Day card. In our family we have a tradition of demonstrative loving and affection and it's okay to say "I love you." If you come from a family like this and start dating or partner with someone whose family is into handshakes after not seeing each other for five years, then the problems can begin.
Reflect for a minute about what happened last Valentine's Day, if you had one. Were you given love the way you wanted it to be given? In reality, you are probably thinking "I've never thought about it" and possibly "What a stupid question!" It's an important issue for you to think about yourself and a critical issue to discuss with someone you love, or are even interested in, or want to have interested in you! Or with your children -- maybe the most critical category of all!
One of the most important questions I think we can ask each other is, "What do I do that makes you feel I love you?" and then listen very carefully and write down the answers. (Make sure you ask it in this exact way -- it is easier to answer.) Discuss this article and the concept first because people need time to think about the answer. It's not your average, everyday conversation starter! Give yourselves a couple of days to reflect and then make it a dinner-table discussion, or a Sunday sit-down-and-talk-with-the-children type session. It would be wonderful to educate our children to think in this way.
You may be surprised at the answers you hear. Behaviors or words or actions that mean very little to you can be the thing that makes your partner feel loved, safe and secure. For women, it's often words or touch. Men are much more visual than women, generally speaking. So that may give you some hints.
For some people, it can be a spontaneous phone call to say "I love you," or recognizing you are tired and arranging for someone to deliver a home-cooked meal; an unexpected bunch of flowers; a massage; holding hands; sleeping cuddled up; cards and notes hidden in unexpected places; wearing favorite clothes -- anything that you do that makes them feel you love them.
What if you feel uncomfortable doing what they say indicates to them that you love them? Get used to it! How much more special is the gesture when they know you (initially) feel uncomfortable, yet you try to change your behavior because it means something special for them.
In the early romantic days of new relationships, we display delight at anything the other person does. Whether it really makes us feel loved or not, we interpret it as loving anyway! As the relationship stabilizes, our real self emerges and we may feel unloved even though our partner adores us. They just don't know how to let us know that.
As soon as you can, have this conversation with your partner and/or children and family. And remember to have an annual update. Things may change or people may become more aware as time goes by of things you do that make them feel loved. Keep adding the new ideas to your list. Make it okay to say on an ongoing basis,"What you just did then made me feel great, loved or safe." Both of you need to make sure you put this new information to good use and practice the new behaviors until they come easily. Enjoy!