With this being the season of love and celebrating Valentine’s Day, I wanted to write about what I’ve learned about loving well.
However, huge disclaimer—
Please don’t mistake my desire to discuss this topic as any sort of declaration that I have the answers. Quite the opposite actually. I wanted to speak to this because I value it. And after 26 years of marriage—with both highs and lows—we still have a friendship we love. It’s nice to know we’re still each other’s favorite human.
So, here’s what I have learned in my journey of trying to love well.
I think it was about 5 years into my marriage that it dawned on me how different we were. But I just wasn’t sure how. My internal ponderings went something like this—
- Ohhh…I’m starting to get it, marriage is different than simply choosing a roommate – and he’s not like any roommate I’ve ever had!
- Hmmm…I guess I expected him to respond like my girlfriends in this situation.
- Geez…I wonder why we’re so different…?!?!?
- I guess I should find out what he needs to feel loved.
- I give up…he’s so different!
- Oh…here’s a thought, I’ll just go ask him.
Did I mention we got married young? 23 to be exact. And it was probably around this time that I also picked up the book, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus.
So, in the hopes of shedding some light on an area that can often be a mystery, here’s 4 Truths that I have learned over the years and continue to ground me in my journey of loving well:
#1 – Honor the Difference
We see the differences very clearly, but how quick are we use them to separate, judge, critique or shame? I had to often remind myself that I had not married someone like me. I had chosen to marry someone who had different qualities and unique ways of looking at the world. And I wanted this. Did I really want to change him just to make myself feel better? I decided I’d rather spend my energy getting to know him and understand him. As I let go of expecting him to respond in the ways I would respond, our trust grew and an openness developed between us that deepened our love and our friendship over the years.
#2 – Use your Power for Good
At the young age of 23, I didn’t realize how much power I held as his life partner. I don’t say this to diminish him or elevate myself in our relationship, but more as a confession in how sloppy I often was in my communication. As his wife, my words held more weight than any other person. And the reverse was true – I cared more what he thought than anyone else. I began to learn how much my words could cut down and diminish. As this sobering realization sunk in, I renewed my vow ‘to love and cherish him until death do us part’. But how? I wanted my words and my communication to be uplifting, clear, direct, lovingly truthful, but above all else I wanted him to feel emotionally safe in our relationship. I’ll be honest, because of my strong nature, I had my work cut out for me, but it made me (and continues to make me) a better person.
Which leads me to my next truth…
#3 – Have the Courage to Ask for Truthful Evaluations
If I wanted my partner to feel safe and loved in our relationship, I had to ask him how I was doing. But most importantly, I had to learn how to hear the hard truth. It’s not fun to hear how my actions hurt his heart or ripped it open–but very necessary in order for me to change and grow. When we feel the weight of how we cause pain to someone we love, there is no greater motivator. And it is the fuel for bad habits to be broken and new ones established. Learning how I had hurt my husband was hard, but it continues to be the strongest motivation for me choosing better patterns. Allowing myself to see the reflection of who I am in his eyes helped me understand what he needed. And here’s the unexpected good news—as I changed in areas that had repeatedly hurt him, I also got to see how he responded when he felt loved by me. Flowers, gifts, surprise trips…you get the picture.
#4 Remember Why you Fell in Love and Commit to Growing this Love
In my lifetime, I have only said vows to one person. I intend to keep these vows, but honestly, I don’t think I really knew what I was getting into when I said them. As my husband and I have “grown up” together, we wanted to stay married, not through sheer determination and grit (although sometimes that is required), but through a growing love that aged like fine wine over the years. Our shared commitment became a renewed effort to love and befriend each other as we aged. On our mirror in our bedroom, we have this quote by Robert Browning, “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be”.
Often our apologies end with, “Sorry, Babe…I’ll be better when I’m older.” And I know that we are both committed to asking the question, “How do we love well?” Choosing to love well really is just that—a choice—and one well worth the effort. What a powerful life-changing commitment marriage has been for me—for us. To be in a relationship, friendship, and partnership that honors this commitment to love well during the highs and the lows—both in the beauty and in the mess—I believe we truly learn what it means to live wholeheartedly and show up with our best self. And I’m all in.
My heart is with you and for you,