Ever said, “I love you?” Sure you have. But did you ever stop and think what this really meant, or did you just wallow in the good feeling it brought? I would say, wallowing and gushing is probably more of what you’ve done.
But true love is not about the sentimental feeling we often long for and hope we’ll keep forever with someone. True love is when I create love towards you. The optimum words in “I love you” are “I” and “love.” Because true love is when “I” create love towards you. That is, “I” am committed to doing what “I” have to do to create love between me and you. I am not depending on you, but instead I am relying on myself to be strong enough to act in ways that are loving. And this doesn’t mean simply all the ways we traditionally think of as loving such as being kind, compassionate, and thoughtful.
The greatest paradox in relationships is that in order to feel really close to someone, you have to have enough psychological distance between you and them. We’re not talking about withdrawal here. But if a person is clingy, expecting their partner to do what they think is reasonable, and expecting them to love in a certain way and becoming angry when they aren’t providing what is “needed”… well, that’s not real love.
True love is when I am not depending on you to provide a loving feeling for me, but instead I am relying on myself to act in ways that are loving. And in order to do this I have to be emotionally distant enough to do the following:
- Be understanding
- Be kind
- Create and maintain appropriate boundaries
- Maintain a strong sense of self
- Maintain a healthy amount of independence
- Learn when to say yes and when to say no
- Handle rejection in a way that doesn’t devastate you
- Take care of yourself
As an example, I had a client once who was separated from her husband for four years, but they still saw each other regularly—went on a few vacations together and texted often. The husband was happy with the status of the relationship: friends, nothing more. My client, on the other hand, wanted more. And even though she talked to him numerous times about becoming closer, he refused.
After four years of this, she came into therapy and got to work. She unearthed issues stemming back to childhood that had kept her stuck in this unsatisfying relationship. Some of these issues were not directly related to commitment, but to her own growth. And as she grew, her husband picked up on it and even acknowledged how well she was doing. Within six months, he told her he was willing to work on “them.” By working on herself, my client had shifted the dynamics of their relationship, creating enough psychological space so he could step back in.
Now, it’s important to understand, she didn’t do this as a way of getting him to be closer. She did the work she needed to do to create enough distance between them, so she could make a decision and become who she needed to become to have the kind of loving relationship she wanted—with him or without him.
So, the next time you say, “I love you,” think about whether you’re actually doing what you need to do in your relationship that creates a loving relationship, instead of just being caught up in the good feeling that a fleeting love brings.