I received this *powerful* question recently. If you don’t have a partner right now this wisdom is still gold. You can practice most of these with your friends and family. And the last one is all about you!
Shana, what do you think the most loving thing I could do for my partner is?
Dear Loving your partner,
First of all, one of the most loving things you can do for your partner is ask this question, so congratulations on a great start!
Here are five of the most loving things you can do for your partner:
1. Discover how your partner wants to be loved
This might be news to you but we don’t all experience love in the same ways. Some of us feel loved when we people give us gifts. Others feel loved when we are listened to or touched. Gary Chapman’s book “The 5 Love Languages” is a great resource to learn more about this.
Most of us naturally express love to our partners in the way we want to be loved. But your partner might not experience this as love. It can be confusing, or even infuriating, when your partner doesn’t feel loved. If you have different love languages you may find yourself saying “But I just spent all this time with you,” or “I just fixed your car,” or “I massaged you for 30 minutes,” “how can you possibly think I don’t love you?”
One of the most powerful and relationship affirming conversations you can have with your partner is to find out how s/he wants to be loved, and to share how you want to be loved.
Then the key is to make a point to actively give to your partner in those ways. Which leads to # 2.
2. Be generous
If you discover your partner wants to be loved in a way that isn’t your natural way, it would be easy to say, “Well that’s too bad. I am going to love you my way.”
I watched this with my parents for thirty years. My dad would ask my mom what she wanted for mother’s day. She would say she wanted flowers. Every mother’s day my dad would come home with a plant. “It lasts longer,” he said.
He missed the point. She felt loved by receiving flowers. She felt misunderstood, and like her desires weren’t important, when he loved her in the way he wanted to love her, by giving her a plant. If he was being generous he would spent $5-10 on flowers, even knowing they would die, to give her the joy of being loved as she wanted to be.
Another part of being generous is to have attention on how you can contribute to your partner, rather than what you can get from him/her. The more you contribute to your partner’s happiness the more s/he will feel inspired to do the same for you.
Note: You can lose yourself through giving and not considering your own needs. That’s not what I’m talking about. There has to be balance and an eye on self-care. But relationships where couples have their attention on being generous are more likely to thrive.
3. Stop defending yourself
As human beings we often take things personally. A comment that doesn’t have anything to do with you can easily be interpreted to mean something about you.
For example: I am identified with being a caring person. There were times when my boyfriend said, “Clearly you don’t care about me. Rather than lovingly saying, “Wow, that’s not true at all, but I can imagine how it could feel that way when I cut you off in the middle of your sentence,” I would say “Are you f’ing kidding me? F%&* you if you can’t see all the ways I’ve been caring about you and I’m caring about you right now!” My shame was talking.
I took it personally and then defended myself to try to prove that I was acting in a caring manner. In my defense I stopped acting in a caring way.
Couples often get into communication breakdowns:
“You don’t listen to me!”
“What are you talking about? Of course I listen to you. I’m frickin’ listening to you right now.”
An undefended response would be something like “What do you want me to hear right now?”
When you are able to hear your partners complaints without going into shame and blame for yourself, you can respond in a loving way and create connection, rather than distance.
I remember saying to our couples coach, “I can’t be with a man who sees me as uncaring.” Our coach said, “Why not? Don’t you sometimes see him as an asshole? Why does it matter how he sees you? You know who you are.”
Marianne Williamson said that one of the greatest gifts you can give to someone is to believe in that person, even when others don’t. The lens of seeing your partner as his/her greatest potential, even when s/he isn’t living up to that is different than attempting to get your partner to grow by pointing out the ways s/he screws up.
Imagine the difference with your partner speaking to you:
You came home from a horrible day at work where your boss criticized you and your partner says, “I know your boss laid into you today but wow, in your recounting the story I can see what you are striving for. I see what you are valuing here and I think you’re amazing.”
Your partner pointing out your faults would be you coming home to, “Your boss laid into you today? I always said you should work on your social graces. You knew this would catch up to you sooner or later.”
It is much more effective to speak to the highest potential you see in your partner rather than nagging. Your connection will strengthen with your partner and you’ll get more of what you want when you say, “If you would bring dinner home tonight I’d feel way more relaxed and actually able to unwind with you rather than be a stress case,” vs. “I always handle dinner. Why can’t you just bring something home tonight? Why do you always make it my responsibility?”
You can remind your partner of who s/he is at his or her best. Otherwise you add to the sense of being beaten down. You’ll destroy the trust and feeling of safety in your relationship.
5. Keep yourself fulfilled
It is easy to fall into the habit of depending on your partner for your fulfillment. But that is a recipe for distress. When you depend on your partner s/eh is always on the verge of letting you down if things don’t go well.
When you are responsible for your own fulfillment you add energy and joy to your relationship, rather than draining it.
This doesn’t mean you always have to be happy. You can experience a wide range of emotions without needing to be saved by someone.
It is generous to your partner to be the one creating joy, nourishment and pleasure in your life, setting your life up to support you. Then your partner can have his/her attention on how to grow and deepen your love, rather than maintaining a base level of making sure you’re okay.
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