Oh, So That's How You Love!

There have been countless times over the many years of my marriage when my husband will say something that makes me feel loved or do something that gets us back on track when we’ve been in a negative feedback loop and I’ll think, “Oh, so that’s how you love!” It could be something as small as walking me to the door to say goodbye instead of being satisfied with a kitchen goodbye or apologizing with a hug and an “I’m sorry” instead of just the words, and I’ll look at him with a certain amount of awe because he seems to know innately these simple ways of loving and repairing that I’ve had to learn. My husband has shared with me that he also marvels at certain ways that I intuitively know how to love.

This is how it goes in marriage: we teach each other how to love. We don’t teach by manuals or workbooks (that’s how it happens in school). No, we teach by example. We teach by action. We teach by modeling what love actually looks like. Through trial-and-error, through countless cycles of rupture and repair, my husband and I have created a relationship where we spend more time in the positive feedback loop than the negative. We’ve both said at different times that, while there are many things of which we’re proud in our lives, the thing we’re most proud of is our marriage. We still stumble and fall, of course (and we always will; healthy marriage will almost always include some conflict), but we get back on track faster and faster and the time between ruptures is longer and longer. And it was no easy task getting here. As two very passionate, highly sensitive people, our levels of reactivity have been off the charts at times. But we’ve stayed the course, sought help when necessary, and learned, day-by-day what it means to love.

In “101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married” in a section titled, “You don’t have to be able to love well to get married; the training occurs on the job”, Charlie Bloom writes about how intensely overwhelmed and inadequate he felt the first several years of his marriage, to the point where several times he packed his bags (but never left). He says:

“What I couldn’t see as a twenty-five-year-old was that it was okay that I wasn’t “fully cooked,” that if I just hung in there and did my work, the experience itself would eventually grow me up. And it did…

…Those who are unwilling to risk falling never learn to ride. No amount of preparations, workshops, therapy, books, self-help tapes will be sufficient to prevent the breakdowns that the development of the capacity to love requires. We don’t become a loving partner prior to getting married; we bring our unfinished, un-grown-up self to the marriage and finish the job there. If you wait until you’re ready, you never will be.” (pp. 177-8)

You’re in a committed relationship (whether married or not) because you’re willing to risk falling. And yet once here you look around and wonder, “Shouldn’t I be feeling more than this? Is something missing? Is this right? Is there someone better out there for me? I’m not very attracted to my partner and sometimes I’m so irritated I want to jump out of my skin. This can’t be normal.” It’s all normal, and it’s all part of the learning that must occur when you “hang in there and do your work.”

But what is this “work”? While there are no step-by-step instructions and there’s especially no manual for your particular relationship because the unique configuration of the two of you has never existed, there are signposts that can point the way, arrows that those of us who have slogged through the muddy terrain of long-term, intimate partnership can offer to help along the way. The Blooms’ book is one such roadmap. You can find other books on my Recommended Reading Page. And my Open Your Heart course is another.

For many of us, we have to learn how to love. Either we didn’t see the actions of love modeled growing up or our fear-walls are so thick and high around the castle of our hearts that the feeling of love is kept at bay. And by “the feeling of love” I don’t mean shooting stars and butterflies. I mean the calm oatmeal love that sits warmly in our bellies and gives us that sense of security and home. When fear overpowers the love, we lose access to that warm feeling, and we have to learn the counter-actions that shrink the fear and grow the love. It’s these counter-actions – Love Laws and Loving Actions – that I teach in Open Your Heart: A 30-day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner.

It’s action that breaks down the walls and teaches us what real love and real attraction are all about. We think we can figure love out in our heads, and while there is an element of cognitive truth that we need in order to dispel the damaging distortions we’ve all absorbed living in Western culture, the real work must take place through action. For nothing cuts through fear and reduces its power more effectively than doing the very thing fear tells us we shouldn’t do. If you’re ready to learn these Laws and Actions, please join me for my eleventh round of Open Your Heart. The course begins on August 26, 2017, and I won’t be running it again for six months. I look forward to seeing you there.

52 comments to Oh, So That’s How You Love!

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl,
    I dont feel anxious but i still have these thoughts, i dont love my husband enough, I am not attracted to him enough. It may be I am projecting my sadness because of my mums attitude and she is ignoring my texts calls. Its her birthday 2morow she is 70, i wanna celebrate it with her, even though she didnt care about celebrating my birthday last week.
    I am not feeling happy at the moment. I just feel I am not meant to be feeling this way. Like i said I am not feeling anxious.
    I feel now that i feel no fear that my truth is I dont love my husband and I am not attracted to him. Like you mentioned b4..
    What do I do Sheryl?

    • Marlene

      Angela,
      I had an interesting experience recently. The realization came into consciousness that I am deeply disappointed with myself for not being/doing all I had hoped. Once this came into conscious focus I felt worse about myself and BETTER about my husband. It was a very strange, almost palpable experience. It reaffirmed what we have been learning here for a long time: that it’s much easier to project/blame our sadness on our spouse than turn the high-powered focus on ourselves and face that we don’t always feel “right” or “enough.” I hope this will give you some comfort.
      Hugs and best wishes,
      Marlene

  • Anne Marie

    Hi Sheryl,

    This is somewhat unrelated to your post, but I’ve been meaning to ask. Do you have any blog posts or nuggets of wisdom about the fear of falling in love with someone else? I’ve lately noticed that I am attracted to my fiance’s best friend, and I’m a little afraid of it turning into a crush, even though I know that’s ridiculous.

    • agnes

      Hi Anne Marie, this article may help:

      http://conscious-transitions.com/a-watertight-marriage/

      I would also love to see Sheryl talk more about attraction to other people, if it interests her to do so. It inevitably comes up and I am experiencing this a bit now as well and I do worry about it getting out of control. I try to remind myself that I am sticking with my wonderful partner despite these challenges and just because I have a feeling, doesn’t mean it needs to turn into action.

      To find yourself attracted to someone else is also an escape hatch. If life gets boring you can find a part of yourself scouring the room for a new, exciting crush to focus on, to take you away from the lifelessness. It also helps me to remember that whilst someone new may possess qualities my partner doesn’t have, this person is also flawed and imperfect, and will inevitably have difficult traits too. There is no perfect partner and mine will do just fine, I’m sure yours will too.

      This can then lead to a need to grieve singledom and accept that we’re never going to get to do that ‘getting to know’ bit with anyone again.

      I hope this helps.

      • Celaine

        Yes! I would love more on this too… I am having the same thing pop up. I am going to be doing the Open Your Heart course when it starts and hope that growing the attraction and love will naturally lessen my attraction or pull to other people… but it’s definitely been uncomfortable. I’ve spent almost two years questioning my now-husband’s place in my life and feeling less and less attracted as I’ve gone down the rabbit hole as it were.

      • Anne Marie

        Thanks, Agnes. I appreciate the comment. I was also thinking that it’s an indication of grieving my singledom, and that my relationship hasn’t been particularly exciting. My fiance has been depressed for months, following a huge life disappointment, and so my “escape” is to look to other people. I love my fiance, though, and that’s deeper and longer lasting than any crush.

  • Olivia

    Oatmeal love is the best! 🙂

  • Briana

    This post was so timely, thank you Sheryl!

  • April

    Hi Sheryl,

    Is there still spots in the open your heart program? I am interested in joining. Thank you.

  • Lifelines

    Reading that I really believe that slowly I actually start relasing what true love is and what its not. Thanks for your wisdom and kind words again Sheryl !

  • CT

    Reading that I really believe that slowly I actually start relasing what true love is and what its not. Thanks for your wisdom and kind words again Sheryl !

  • StillMe

    A great pleasure to read these beautiful, wise words.
    Thank you so much for this post.

  • Genevieve

    This is beautiful. I hope I find this kind of love one day!

  • agnes

    Ugh, this was absolutely divine. I love reading about your marriage, it makes me feel so hopeful. Thank you!

  • Bob Holdsworth

    When I use the word “work” in relationship, I use it to mean something that I put effort into. Actions, intentionality and commitment are key. Thanks for expanding on this!

  • Frost

    Most of my anxiety stems from being with the same person since i was 15. Im now 26. Is it wrong not to have a varied dating experince before settleing down? Also my partner has a chronic illness (similar to ibs) he developed young and it stops us from doing a lot of things together often (trips, camping etc.) So that gives me anciety as well. What can i do to keep the relationship strong despite this? Hes a great person.

  • Laurel

    It is unbelievable how I receive these blog posts exactly when I need them. Thank you Sheryl, I really needed to hear these words. My partner and I are both extremely sensitive people and are prone to overreacting. I’ve been stressing about how to “fix” this before marriage, but this helped change my perspective. Thank you.

  • Jade

    Thanks you, Sheryl! This was, as always, a very well timed post! My partner and I had a rough week, which tends to happen when things get busy. Over the weekend we finally had a chance to air out all we’d been bottling up, and as always, at the end we were back to our happy connected selves. I have been wondering, though, about how normal the frequency of this negativity is? Every week, by Friday, I find myself feeling incredibly flat and depressed. Then by the end of Saturday, after we’ve had a chance to talk (or sometime argue) things out, I feel okay again? It’s not like we don’t talk during the week. We spend a lot of time together, I just seem to be so unable to unwind on weekdays. I’m not sure how to have that same level of calm throughout the week as I do on weekends. The cycle is so incredibly predictable by this point but I can’t seem to stop it. We come out stronger every time, but the frequency of conflict hasn’t lessened, our means of dealing with it have just improved, if that makes sense.

    • Kathy

      I go through this exact loop myself. It’s been especially bad lately, particularly last week, because we are moving in together and the stress is pretty much putting us both on a short fuse. I’ve found that it was helpful to just recognize the pattern and not get too hung up on the frequency. It’s hard for me to accept and understand that relationships have ups and downs, which makes me feel even more flat and depressed, but I’m learning how to better manage now that I recognize the pattern. I have a tendency to become super withdrawn and really snappy with him (and then get more irritated and more sad when he reacted or didn’t react the way I wanted). It helps me to just notice the thought “I’m getting super irritated/depressed with this person” and then remember “but this happens from time to time and it will pass just like all of the other times”. Because it’s so predictable I’ll find myself really leaning into the ups with loving and appreciative actions and then making the effort to turn toward (instead of away from) my partner during the inevitable downs. It’s really hard, I’m not very good at it, but it’s helped me not to worry about it as much. I think as long as you both have a (healthy) way of dealing with it the frequency doesn’t matter.

      • Jade

        Oh, it’s always so encouraging to know I’m not alone! Thank you for your advice! Luckily we’re both fairly good at vocalizing our problems and what we need, so as soon as we’re able to disengage from the negative emotions, we can recover pretty quickly. You’re so right, though. I put way too much focus on frequency, which I’m sure only makes the situation worse. If I’m expecting it, it’s sort of a self fulfilling prophecy. Which brings up another thing you mentioned which was the expectation piece. He and I are both very aware that I tend to have a script in my head of how I want or expect things to go, and if it doesn’t happen that way, I can get pretty moody. I have a hard time not being stubborn when that happens. I know I’m being ridiculous, but it’s hard to swallow my pride. It’s been something I’ve been trying hard to work on! Like I said, it’s so good to see that other stuff have dealt with this and come out fine, or have at least seen improvement!

  • Sarah

    Such a beautiful post. Thank you. 🙂

  • futureself

    Wonderful post Sheryl. You and your work have been a life saver to me. So looking forward to the Open Your Heart Course. x

  • Han

    One thing that helps me find that oatmeal love is through hugs and cuddles. I know that sounds kinda cheesy, but for me, I can tell it’s the oatmeal love because my whole body physically starts to soften when my husband embraces me, and I breathe into the connection. When I embrace back I feel my walls begin to come down. It helps anxiety and other harsh, difficult feelings dull. It gives me some perspective on pain. It helps me calm and feel his love for me and my love for him.

  • C0521

    Sheryl,
    After months and months of feeling numb to my thoughts I had a few blissful, wonderful days with my husband whee I felt warmth, love and attraction. However, I had a thought I’ve never had before that sent me in a tail-spin. The thought was “what if my husband is secretly gay or turns gay?” I know it sounds insane but this thought sent me into such a panic that I even asked my husband for reassurance which I’m sure hurt his feelings, but thank god he is such a loving and understanding man that he didn’t send me hiking for my crazy thoughts. Although I have NEVER had any reason to think this of him, the thought is still lingering and has made me feel as if I’m back to square one in my journey. Is this relationship anxiety still appearing in my life trying to disguise itself in a clever way or am I having these worries for a reason? I guess I’m just asking if this is common or normal for those who suffer. Thanks and God Bless.

    • I’ve had this thought before and it usually comes up when I’ve had a few good days with my partner and feel connected and love/loved. For me I think it means the love feelings scares me at some point and I’m afraid to get hurt and let down/disappointed so it’s my egos way of protecting me from that hurt.

  • Angela

    Hi Marlene,
    I just feel its so real and now without the anxiety, I dont love my husband only since sunday, I feel the rawness of it all and I feel doomed with doubt. Even by doing the work I know Sheryls work is so correct.
    Thank you for kind words and support. xo

  • Christopher Sumner

    Hi Sheryl and thanks for your post. I was wondering whether you mean for your line in your last paragraph “For nothing cuts through fear and reduces its power more effectively than doing the very thing fear tells us we should do.” to have a not in it prior to “should do”?

    In my mind what is meant to read is: “For nothing cuts through fear and reduces its power more effectively than doing the very thing fear tells us we should not do.”

    Spot the RE teacher pedant from England. Sorry!

    Chris

  • Anxiouslyengaged

    Thank you Sheryl. This is just beautiful. My husband and I were just having a heart to heart and he was explaining how he didn’t feel loved when I did something. I spent the night beating myself up over it and this morning am feeling anxious. Well is this right? Maybe I should just know how? This should be easier!

    But the truth is, we are growing, we are learning, and I’m immensely impressed with how much we have taught each other about love. That is what marriage is for. A safe place to learn. Thanks for the beautiful reminder.

  • Bra77

    Sheryl, I’m in a very different predicament. I plan to transfer to another school Next semester to be closer to my family, but I have this intense fear that when it’s time to transfer I’m not going to want to or I’m going to regret it. It’s to the point that I’m filed with anxiety to the brim because I don’t want to be here, but I’m scared to leave. Any recommendations to help?

    • Bra77

      Part of the anxiety is due to the guilt/anxiety of “why can’t I enjoy it here?” My biggest fear is that I’ll actually enjoy my last semester and not want to leave by the end

  • HannahR

    Ah, thanks so much for this. I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself for my relationship to look a certain way etc before I get married. I have 8 months to go and we have been engaged 8 months so we are half way and it has flown by! It’s nice to know that I don’t have to feel a certain way before I get married or even when I am married. Thanks for the reminder, you always bring me back down to reality when I start comparing my relationship to a Hollywood fantasy!

  • Alyssa

    Sometimes a simple reminder that we never will truly have love “figured out” is the most comforting of all. The loving nudge that marriage is a beginning and not an ending creates a softening in me where I remember not to be too eager. My anxiety seems to spike when I feel like I’m not doing something the “right” way, and I know I have to bring myself back down to earth and realize that there is no right or wrong way, there is only a loving and unloving way. I know what I will choose.

    Thank you Sheryl for another inspiring read!

Leave a Reply