Rainier Behavioral Health

LOVE: What it is and what it isn’t

“He who is not jealous is not in love.”  St. Augustine

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”  Lao Tzu

“True love is inexhaustible; the more you give, the more you have.”  Antoine De Saint-Exupery

If you dare to love, you will be hurt. Love anyway.” Hieronymus Anonymous

The saddest thing in the world, is loving someone who used to love you. Anonymous

Who among us does not wish to love and to be loved? Who among us has not been disappointed in love? Who among us has not been disappointed in love and gone back for more – sometimes unwisely? But there are a few who have been burned by the fire of love and have not returned. In this article, I would like to explore the nature of love and provide some techniques of falling in and out of love – because both are necessary at times.

Love is an emotion. This is perhaps the most common definition of love, especially romantic or erotic love. As the song goes, “I can’t help falling in love with you.” Implicit in this definition is that it is beyond our control, that love just overwhelms us and we have no say in the matter. While it feels good, it makes us feel helpless and prevents us from moving on if the situation demands it.

Love is a decision. We can decide to love someone or not, as the situation requires. In arranged marriages, for example, the spouses can gradually come to love each other if they want to. Or they can decide not to for reasons such as resentment towards the parents who arranged the marriage, the culture that sanctioned it, etc. Couples can also decide to continue to love each other after an event that has broken their mutual trust, such as an affair, although it can be difficult. They can also decide to bask in continued resentment, nursing their wrath to keep it warm.

Love is an action. We don’t typically think of love this way but every time we do something for someone that we wouldn’t normally do or that we’d rather not do we are expressing love for that person. For example, a husband who picks up after his wife or who cooks dinner for her is acting out of love. A mother who takes time out of her busy schedule to spend time with her child is acting out of love. A wife who refrains from criticizing her husband even when she thinks he deserves it or supports him even when she thinks he’s wrong is acting out of love. In Fiddler on the Roof, when Tevye asks his wife if she loves him, she replied, “Do I love him? For twenty-five years I've lived with him, fought with him, starved with him. Twenty-five years, my bed is his...”

How to fall in love. This is easy, and we do it all the time when we first meet an attractive potential partner. We think about that person, even obsess about that person. Furthermore, our thoughts are all positive; about that person’s good qualities, how that person can make us happy. We rarely think any negative thoughts and may resist listening to – even resent - others who caution us about that person. This is the “honeymoon phase” and anyone who has every engaged in marriage preparation knows how difficult it is to encourage them to look realistically at each other. “We’re in love,” they say, “everything will work out!”

How to fall out of love. Why would anyone ever want to do this, you might ask? Well, it can be helpful if the love object, for whatever reason, is not available. But couples sometimes do this without intending to and it can hurt or destroy their relationship. Here’s how it occurs and it’s the reverse of falling in love. If couples in a relationship constantly think negative thoughts about their partner, make negative comments to their partner, apply negative labels to their partner, and rarely think any positive thoughts about their partner or make few positive comments to them, they will inevitably fall out of love and/or drive the other person out of love with them. This is often what occurs in distressed relationships and in working with such couples I recommend a ratio of 5 positive comments or thoughts to one negative.

Do you want more love in your relationship? Here’s how to make it happen. First, make positive comments – and think positive thoughts – about your partner. For example, why did you fall in love? What do you like/love about your partner now? Dwell on that. Second, attribute any failings or negative aspects of your partner to temporary, external factors. For example, think – or say – my partner is just feeling down today but it won’t last. Third, attribute any failing or deficits to external factors. For example, say – or think – my partner is sometimes angry because of childhood experiences rather than my partner is just an angry person. Fourth, attribute your partner’s negative attributes to certain situations only. For example, say – or think – my partner isn’t always depressed, just during holidays rather than my partner is always so depressed. Fifth, listen to your partner. Do not comment, do not offer suggestions, do not criticize. Remember, “The greatest gift you can give is to pay rapt attention to another’s existence.”

These techniques may be difficult to do – many people would rather complain about how badly their partner treats them than take the necessary steps to make the relationship better. But if you try these techniques you too can have more love in your life. For, as the song says, “Love is something if you give it away you will end up having more!” A licensed mental health professional can help you with this.

E. Thomas Dowd, Ph.D., ABPP

Licensed Psychologist

Board Certified in Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology

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