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Some People Know Love Is a Verb; Other Folks Believe it’s a Feeling

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Which one do you think is more reliable?



January 15, 2023

Love as a verb is about how I take care of others and how I relate to them.

Love as a feeling is about how others make me feel — it’s about me, me, me.

Love as a verb.

Stephen Covey tells a great story that illustrates my point in his best-seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Covey did a seminar on how to improve relationships, exploring the idea that people who treat love as a feeling tend to blame outside forces –- other people or circumstances — for their negative relationships, rather than taking personal responsibility for changing things up.

After the seminar, a woman came up to Covey and said, “All great ideas, Stephen, but my situation is different. My husband and I don’t have the same feelings for each other that we used to have. We have three kids, and we’re worried about our marriage. What should we do?”

Covey said, “Love him.” And the woman replied that the feeling wasn’t there anymore.

Covey affirmed her. “Yes, the feeling isn’t there anymore. Love him.”

Frustrated, the woman heatedly repeated, “You don’t understand! The feeling of love isn’t there!”

Finally, Covey decided to put her out of her misery with, “If the feeling isn’t there, that’s a good reason to love. Love is a verb. Love, the feeling, is a fruit of love, the verb. So, love him, treat him with respect, make sacrifices, listen to him, empathize with him, appreciate, and affirm him Are you willing to do that?”

That is love in action, love as a verb.

And let’s be clear. This advice applies to either partner. It’s not one person’s job to carry the weight. It needs to be mutual. But until it is, you might like yourself better if you’re the one who is behaving with integrity and respect in a way that’s consistent with your values.

Also, we’re talking about relationships where no one is in danger.

Hollywood and steamy romance novels have brainwashed us. As a result, we believe our feelings are running the show — that we’re not responsible for them.

But here’s the truth — our actions tend to determine how we feel.

And this idea isn’t confined just to our romantic relationships. It translates to every relationship we have and to most other life situations.

For example, If you feel depressed and think there is nothing you can do about it, you will likely feel hopeless.

But the moment you do the opposite of what you feel like doing — which is to stay in bed and pull the covers over your head — and instead you go for a walk around the park, you will likely feel less depressed. How you behave has a significant impact on how you think and feel.

Don’t get me wrong. We all want to feel loved. And we shouldn’t settle for relationships without it. But we’ve been misled about how to make that happen.

Love, as a feeling, can be recaptured.

Covey suggests that when we express love through how we behave, we tend to take care of others and treat them with kindness, even those who sometimes offend or don’t reciprocate.

As a therapist, I’ve seen it happen over and over. When people assume responsibility for their own happiness, rather than waiting for their partner or their friends or their kids to make them happy, it invariably changes the dynamic between the couple.

I once worked with a couple who had been in love and worked together well until they had a child. They both deeply loved and valued their daughter, but somehow the responsibilities of parenthood made them stop attending to each other as partners.

They beautifully expressed love toward their daughter as a verb by actions they took over and over, day after day. And anyone who’s been a parent knows that’s not as easy as it sounds. It takes a sense of responsibility and commitment to change limitless dirty diapers and weather sleepless nights. It takes a conscious decision to be responsible and do whatever it takes for the well-being of your child.

However, with each other, this couple experienced love as a feeling. They only noticed what their partner didn’t do, did wrong, or did too much of.

“Love,” Covey said. Treat love as a verb. Love each other with your actions, even when you don’t feel like it.

Try it — be the partner, or the parent, or the friend who takes responsibility and watch what happens!

A great book that reinforces this idea is It Takes One to Tango by Winifred Reilly. In essence, she shows us how to manage ourselves, rather than try to change our partners. Our lovers, our friends, and our families don’t need to change to make us feel the love. Unless you’re dealing with a sociopath, they will likely respond in ways that delight you.

To sum things up.

Choose to see love as a verb, enabling yourself to behave with loving actions, no matter what. And that doesn’t mean being a doormat. It means taking one hundred percent responsibility for your own behavior.

On the other hand, see it as a feeling, and you’ll risk living on a roller coaster with love coming and going depending on how others or situations make you feel.

Remember, where you put your attention matters.

On one hand, you can keep exhausting yourself on a treadmill going nowhere if your attention is on all the things that are wrong–and they do and they will.

Or, instead, keep your attention on all the things about the the people and situations in your life that are right. You might be surprised by what you find.

Take responsibility for doing the next right thing, and let others manage themselves.

Thanks so much for reading all the way to the end!

As always, I love to hear what you think or have to add. Comment below or send me an email and make my day! I’ll always respond.

Much love,