Recently I was gifted with a book entitled, “What is this thing called Love?” Written by Dr. Glasser and his wife Carleen, the book has a clear purpose. It’s for women who have been told, “I love you,” but who recognize that the love in the relationship isn’t working somehow.
The story is of a single woman in a relationship with a partner who tells her, “I love you.” But he’s not ready to marry her. Not yet. Maybe later. Almost certainly later. Just not right now.
This leads her to examine the question: What is love? What does it actually mean when we say, “I love you?”
It’s an important question, not just for young single women but for any of us: old, young, men, women, in a relationship or not.
We use important words all the time. There’s a tendency to assume that other people understand those words to mean exactly what we understand them to mean. Fortunately, that’s often true; otherwise, we wouldn’t communicate at all.
Oddly, it seems to me that we’re more likely to have a shared understanding of behaviours that go with what Glasser calls the deadly habits (complaining, nagging, blaming, etc.) than we are to have common understanding of actions that go with the caring habits (supporting, encouraging, respecting, etc.)
For example, if we say, “Please stop nagging,” everyone understands what action is requested. The nagging might not stop, but we all recognize what it is.
“I love you,” is easy to say but not always an easy thing to do. What does love mean in terms of loving actions, loving words, and a loving future together? If two people in a relationship don’t have a shared understanding of what they mean by love, it’ll be difficult to create a satisfying, loving relationship.
Love, recounted in movies and novels, often begins with intense attraction followed by misunderstandings, jealousy and conflict. Depending on the author’s wish, the story might conclude happily with love ever after, or sadly, with misery and devastation.
Those stories can be entertaining, but are they stories of love? Perhaps it depends on your definition.
The conclusion of the Glasser book is that love equals commitment. To love each other is the same as committing to each other. What does that mean? “Commitment is doing things that get you close and keep you close every day you are together.”
What we think of as love can be muddied by demands and control. For example, “I love you so much that I need to tell you what you should do, how you should act, and who you should be. I’m only telling you what to do because I love you.”
Those “I know what’s best for you” sentiments come from a mindset of external control. They don’t bring a couple closer together.
What actions and behaviours go along with, “I love you”?
If love equals commitment, then love/commitment involves tangible actions that demonstrate that I am at your side no matter how hard things get. We’re in this together. Even when I don’t feel like it, or when it’s inconvenient for me, or when I’m mad at you, love means that I am committed to you.
The element of choice is also here. While we might “fall” in love; we can “choose” to be committed.
I want to thank Richard Nichols for the book and for his ongoing support and encouragement. And, come to think of it, also for his commitment!
Although the book is almost 20 years old now, I think the “love equals commitment” definition provides a helpful perspective that’s still useful today. What do you think?
When you tell someone, “I love you,” are you essentially saying, “I am committing to you?”