I recently read an interesting article on Psychology Today that asserted that there are ways of qualitatively measuring how good you are at loving another person. According to the author, if we assume that love is more than just a warm, fuzzy feeling for another person, then it must involve certain behaviors towards them that can be ranked in terms of effectiveness.
I’ll admit that my first reaction to this “Love Inventory” was negative. It seemed like a cold, calculating way of approaching the feelings you have for another person. But something about his approach stuck with me:
Love… is an activity. Moreover, this activity involves skill-building. Thus you can work at cultivating your love for another. You can get better (or worse) at loving someone.
This skill-building approach to love throws cold water on a pending holiday that is almost entirely dedicated to warm, fuzzy feelings. It calls out the hard work required to actually make a relationship work on a day-to-day, down in the dirty little details kind of way. And as someone who is rounding the corner on seven years of marriage, this rings more true than much of the folklore around love permeating the media in February.
My wife and I learned a long time ago that relationships atrophy without proper care. Since being married, we’ve established ourselves in a new city, started careers (several times over), both gone to grad school, and had a baby. At one point, we were doing all of these at once.
Each new life stage brought with it new challenges to the status quo of our relationship. We’ve waivered between spending copious amounts of time together and barely spending any. And children change the dynamic completely, making most of the time you spend together anything but “intimate.”
We definitely haven’t figured out the formula to make a relationship work through these kinds of difficulties. But we keep at it in little, hopefully meaningful ways, understanding that small efforts can make a big difference. Of course we try to keep the all-important date night with semi-regularity, but there are everyday things that, at least from my perspective, are even more important to maintaining connection. Things like saying “hi” when we walk through the door, acknowledging each other, seeing each other. Looking into each other’s eyes when we’re listening to the other person talk about their day.
One of my favorite traditions we have is what we call the “State of the Union.” Every year on our anniversary, when we’re sitting down to a nice dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, we take the time to reflect upon the previous year from the perspective of our relationship. We talk about what worked and what didn’t, and what we’d like to get better at. Then we talk about our history and where we’ve been overall. It’s a nice way to make plans about the future and pay homage to our past. I guess it’s our version of a “Love Inventory.”
I’d love to hear some of the ways other people protect their relationships. If you’re honest with yourself, are you getting better or worse at loving the other person?
Caleb Gardner is an amateur father and husband who writes at The Exceptional Man and dabbles in photography, design, and music. When listening to the cacophony of modern-day America, Caleb prefers a side of Scotch. He calls Chicago home, and in winter, less-nice things.