Most of us tend to think about love as that gooey feeling we get when we’re in the presence of a particular person. You know, butterflies in the stomach, unable to focus on anything but the other person, interested in every little nuance of who they are, what they think, and what they want to do next.
This feeling of love, which is especially prevalent at the start of a new romantic relationship, is known in the therapy world as limerence. Limerence is the relationship stage when the other person’s mere existence seems like a gift from God because everything that person thinks, says, and does is just plain perfect. Even the stuff that totally annoyed us about the person we dated before this one seems OK in this new person because, well, because we’re in love and it feels absolutely freaking great.
Unfortunately, limerence is not love. It may feel like love when we first start dating, but it’s not love. It’s the kick-starter for keeping two people together long enough to experience actual love, but it’s not love. Love is not a feeling (though we certainly do feel love), it’s an intimate emotional bond that strengthens over time through a series of vulnerable and supportive actions. We take actions that build love. We take actions that strengthen love. And over time, the intimate emotional bond that is love will happen.
And that can happen even when your relationship is struggling because of infidelity, addiction, or some other deeply painful issue. In the space below, I have briefly outlined four actions you can take to strengthen the love bond you have with your partner.
- Think and speak about us and our instead of I and my. When you talk to your partner, try to actively express love saying us and our instead of I and my. This simple shift in language may seem inconsequential, but it’s not. Using inclusive language is an active expression of love for your partner and an active validation of how much you value the relationship you have with your partner.
- Be trustworthy. In any relationship, but especially in romantic relationships, trust is critical. You and your partner both need to feel as if the other person will always tell you the truth and have your back. Usually, trust in relationships is freely given until it is abused. If your relationship has taken a hit with infidelity or addiction or some other betrayal, the perpetrator will need to be rigorously honest moving forward. If that occurs, trust can be re-established.
- Develop and express empathy. Loving, intimate long-term bonds involve a significant amount of empathy (the ability to understand and share the experience of another person). When you actively empathize with your partner, it becomes much easier to accept his or her ups and downs and quirky behaviors. The easiest way to develop empathy is to feel your partner’s feelings with your partner, and to invite your partner to feel your feelings. (If you’re not naturally good at empathy, you may need to work at it by saying, “I sense you’re feeling X, Y, and Z. Is that correct? If not, can you help me understand you are feeling?”
- Learn to disagree without fighting. No matter how in-tune you are with your partner, you will inevitably disagree about certain things—some large, some small. These disagreements are not a bad thing. In fact, working through them in healthy ways tends to result in a deeper sense of intimacy and connection. The trick is being able to resolve relationship conflicts in ways that strengthen rather than diminish your relationship. One useful tactic is for you and your partner, at the start of any argument, to remember and affirm that you are allies and on the same team. That way, instead of fighting each other, you are fighting the problem—whatever the problem happens to be.
You can find tips on Respectful Conflict Resolution at this link. Couple’s therapy with a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) can also be helpful, as can participation in the free webinars and drop-in discussion groups offered on SexandRelationshipHealing.com.