“Sanskrit has ninety-six words for love; ancient Persian has eighty, Greek three, and English only one. This is indicative of the poverty of awareness or emphasis that we give to that tremendously important realm of feeling. Eskimos have thirty words for snow, because it is a life-and-death matter to them to have exact information about the element they live with so intimately. If we had a vocabulary of thirty words for love … we would immediately be richer and more intelligent in this human element so close to our heart. An Eskimo probably would die of clumsiness if he had only one word for snow; we are close to dying of loneliness because we have only one word for love. Of all the Western languages, English may be the most lacking when it comes to feeling.” – Robert Johnson, The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden, p. 6
There are so many ways to experience love.
The “I love you” I say to my older son, like sweet summer light, is different than the “I love you” that I whisper into my husband’s ear, like a steady river, and different still from the “I love you” I tell my younger son, a redwood grove. The “I love you” that I’ve said to my various cat-friends that have graced my life over the years is different than the “I love you” that I say to my best friends. This might sound obvious, but it’s important to note that we generally accept and normalize these different shades of love.
Yet when it comes to our intimate partners, we expect to feel one kind of love in one measurement: namely, “madly in love” without a a hint of doubt or uncertainty clouding the pure, ecstatic experience. We exert immense and unrealistic levels of pressure on ourselves – especially during the early stages and during an engagement – to feel an exact amount and sentiment of love for our intimate partners. We believe that we can measure love, that there’s a right way to love or an adequate quantity of love that signals that you’ve met the “right” partner and now you’re legitimized to marry.
Just as our culture propagates one image of physical beauty and one measure of success, so do we absorb one definition of romantic love: namely, a heart-fluttering, ecstatic feeling accompanied by 100% certainty that we’ve found “the one.”
Sadly, and all too often, we hear that an engagement or marriage ends because one person “fell out of love.” What does this mean? I can only assume it means that the butterflies escaped and the “in love” feeling dimmed, causing the one who “fell out of love” to arrive at the conclusion that the relationship must be fundamentally flawed and inevitably over. It’s a false conclusion that too many people jump to and causes them to walk away from a healthy, loving relationship that may need a little fine-tuning – or, most likely, an adjustment in the way they’re thinking about love.
Just as there are many ways to have a healthy, fulfilling marriage, so there are many ways to love. In order to widen our perspective on romantic love, it’s helpful to break down the phrase “I love you” so that we start to see its variance. And when you break it down, you see that there are so many ways to love your partner.
There’s the appreciation you feel when he does something thoughtful and kind, like brush the snow off your car in 20 degree weather or buy your favorite kind of bread.
There’s the comfort you feel when you come home at the end of a hard day at work and she’s there, waiting for you with a plate of hot food and your favorite TV show cued up.
There’s the gratitude you feel when she attends the twelfth family gathering of the year.
There’s the warmth you feel when you see him across the room and know that he’s your guy.
There are the tingles you feel when she kisses you, maybe not every time, but enough to know that a spark still burns between you.
There’s the trust you feel when you walk through a difficult conflict together and emerge stronger than ever on the other side.
There’s the awe you feel when you remember to remember how rare it is to find someone who “gets” you and who you “get.”
There’s the softness you feel when you focus on one physical quality in your partner that melts your heart and brings a smile to your face.
There’s the joy you feel when you listen to your favorite song together or have a blast on the dance floor.
There’s the contentment you feel when you read together but separately before going to bed.
There’s the feeling of stability that grows when you nurture the garden of your marriage year after year, enduring challenges and celebrating joys, and always knowing that you support your own and each other’s growth and happiness.
We live on an abundant planet. There isn’t just one fruit to be enjoyed in summer, not merely a single sweet plum to delight in as the first juice runs over your fingers; but cherries, blackberries, strawberries, melons, grapes, nectarines, peaches. Such miracles!
Likewise, there are so many ways to love. When we attune our awareness and widen our consciousness to include these variations on our narrow cultural definition, we know that romantic love is multi-colored and multi-dimensional. It’s infinitely richer than the images presented on the big screen, infinitely more nuanced and alive than the one-dimensional feeling of butterflies that sometimes initiates a relationship. It’s appreciation, comfort, gratitude, warmth, tingles, trust, awe, softness, joy, contentment, and stability (to name just a few words for love). It’s real and honest, and when we commit to loving one person with whom we can learn about, it becomes one of the most fulfilling and meaningful paths we can embark upon.
Sheryl, this is beautiful! I’m going to print this out and hang it on my wall where I can read it regularly. Thank you!
Love this post Sheryl. I’ll never forget what I said to my husband a few months after our engagement, “I love you, but I don’t love you enough to get married.” That makes me sad to remember that I said that to him. It hurt him so bad. I was so confused about what love truly meant. Now, 3 years later, I rarely have anxiety about my relationship anymore. I’m so thankful that I found you and the ecourse. And even more thankful that I married my amazing husband that I share all of these ‘love languages’ with. Now, of course I know I love my husband ‘to the moon and back.’
I love this because I have really been struggling with whether I love my husband or not (ha, I wrote fiance first then caught myself, married just over a week and a half!). I can identify with so many of these statements, maybe not ALL of them right in this moment, but I imagine that over time I will identify with some of them at some times and others at other times. That is why it is love. It doesn’t have to be the 100% complete definition as you listed it above, but can be my own definition and my own experiences. The difficult thing about love is I think that everyone has their own conception of what it means to them, so when the anxious person starts to talk to their friends about love and relationships, everyone gives their own answer. However, love is unique to each couple. Thus, I’d like to add a few that fall into my definition of love:
1) There’s the holding on to the commitment I made to him in the easy, happy-go-lucky times when we are going through the difficult times, having faith that we will make it through the difficult times stronger and more together- even if this difficult time isn’t completely over.
2) There’s the moment when you are sitting together, quiet, content, and realize there is nowhere else in this world you would rather be.
3) There’s the strength in his hands when he holds yours and the strength in his arms when he holds you when you are crying.
4) There’s the perseverance and the love that he has for you that makes you want to be a better person.
5) There’s the happiness in your life together, in your home and all that you have built together.
So, when I catch myself ruminating on whether I love him enough or in the right way, I’ll refer to my list. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t the “right” way according to someone else. It’s my way and that’s enough for me.
Exactly, Blm! I love what you’ve added here and encourage others to do the same. If there could be 96 words for love, what would they be for you?
Sheryl! You knocked it out of the park again!
What an amazing post. It is so so true. It was nice going through the examples above, and be able to relate. Although, a couple of them did spike my anxiety! But because of your site, Sheryl, I am learning to take these things a lot more lightly than I used to. This one spiked me the most ” There’s the awe you feel when you remember to remember how rare it is to find someone who “gets” you and who you “get.” I felt this way, bc sometimes, I dont always feel like I get him, or that he gets me – at least “enough” to go along with what our society makes us believe. But again, I am learning how to deal. Everyday is a struggle for me, and I literally go back and forth from one minute to the next. I feel so in love one minute, and the next minute, I cant stand him! This constant cycle is exhausting, but it is so nice to hear that I am not alone. Janelle, I love everything you had to share. And I feel that we have a lot in common as well. Keep up the good work 🙂
You know, I expected some of these lines to spike! But the point is that you don’t have to experience all of these ways of loving, you only have to trust that what you’re experiencing are your forms of loving.
Thanks for this post. As I navigate through a somewhat new marriage (just shy 2 years), I am nervous about the “in love” and “needy” feeling being gone from my marriage. But what I am feeling is deeper and more mature – it’s something I have to be OK and happy with! I often feel just plain ol’ comfortable when around my spouse, but think of that – I can’t think of hardly anyone else I feel that way with, except maybe my parents and even then, it’s not so freeing. I’m fortunate that I have a partner who allows me to be this way. Somehow in our lives, we have come to fear what is not dramatic – anything short of amazingly great or a tremendous challenge appears boring and unnatural to us now. I’m just now reminded of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 – his love is ordinary, but how lucky and rare.
Beautiful reference to Sonnet 130, one of my favorites:
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
Thanks, Sheryl! I am still learning what “my forms” of love are. I still have to remind myself constantly that the “Hollywood” love that our culture portrays is not actually real…but for some reason, I cant get past it! I never knew that it was “normal” to actually question your love for someone (if you loved them enough, etc..) and that it could actually still be a good/heatlhy relationship. I just figured it meant it was wrong and that you should move on. But for some reason, I keep holding on to my boyfriend of 4 and a half years – thanks to your site 🙂
JILL – what you said is so true – “I often feel just plain ol’ comfortable when around my spouse, but think of that – I can’t think of hardly anyone else I feel that way with, except maybe my parents and even then, it’s not so freeing. I’m fortunate that I have a partner who allows me to be this way.” I can relate to this so much. I feel bad for my boyfriend sometimes, bc I think I’m a tad too comfortable haha!! But you know, this is who I am and he accepts me for that, which is such a wonderful thing.
Sheryl, thaks so much for this post. In one year and a half of marriage, the love I feel has new colors and I sometimes I find questions as these you wrote poping up in my head. But I feel I need to go further, to feel these new feelings, these new loves. They are the fruit of our good relationship. I must face the unkown love.
I think many people break up in moments like this because we don’t know what is going to be next. And we know how it is to have butterflies all the time. But if we keep coming back to butterflies, we’ll miss the new, the unknown.
To add one more meaning to love: I love my husbund when feel that he is the person with whom I want to walk through all this trasformations, to change and to evolve.
Best wishes for averyone in this transition!
Thank you Sheryl, and thank you everyone for your thoughts and reflections. I never fail to be calmed and restored by these fortnightly posts and the comments that follow. My marriage to my female partner is 6 weeks old, but our relationship is more than 7 years. We had a very lovely and easy first 5 years for the most part, but have had a very rocky last two years. My struggle with questions of love and commitment were further confused by questions of sexuality and societal expectations, and of course she had her own issues too. Nonetheless we had our ‘illegal’ wedding (gay marriage is not legal in Australia yet), which was a terrifying but somehow still joyous experience, despite the difficulties and extreme doubts and fears we both had in the lead up. When I think of what love is for us, where I come to at the moment is:
1. The determination to ride out the difficult and painful times together
2. The honesty we give to each other
3. The willingness to hold the best and the worst of each other
4. The tenacity and commitment we have shown t our relationship despite extraordinary odds
5. The physical comfort of holding and being held
6. The preparedness to put ourselves out for the sake of the other
7. The support we give to each others dreams
I must say, that my fearful doubting mind still has very big concerns at times, along the lines of “is this really love or codependency?”; “is this really healthy commitment, or are we flogging a dead horse”; “are we really boldly hanging onto something true, or are we both just too scared of being alone?”. I too swing wildly over the course of the day between gratitude for my partner, and really fearing that we are not a healthy match. I am wanting to live according to truth, but I am also conscious that we have choices about what we make of our relationship. This blog and all your comments encourage me to choose love over fear.
Thank you for chiming in here, Carly. That’s a beautiful list and doesn’t sound codependent at all! I think we have a lot of misconceptions about codependency in our culture and think that if we rely on someone or put ourselves out for the sake of another it’s codependency. Not at all! That’s love.
I’d encourage all of you to join the ecourse. There are a bunch of people on there talking about all of these things : ) MEB- I’m glad you found comfort in what I wrote! I’ve been married for almost 2 years now and thanks to this website and the ecourse and have transformed more than I could ever imagine! I hope to see you guys over there : )
Jill and Sheryl: Thanks for the reminder of sonnet 130…it was one of my (late) Meemaw’s favorites. Good to remember that.
I really like this post. For me, I know one of the times I’d label as a “love moment” is after I’ve shared something hard and scary with my husband, and while my fearful self is thinking that it’s finally that moment where he’ll reject my heart and insecurities, he instead hugs me tighter and says “that’s not at all true…thanks for telling me that.” I really value when moments of fear and doubt and confusion have an end in reassurance and love. Thanks for the reminder of all the different faces of love!
I was just thinking about feeling bored and how love at times is boring. Jill: I can relate truly to your sentiment of being totally comfortable. Sometimes I second guess that with thoughts of “settling” and not having total “romance”. I am still stuck on fantasy. Just last night I had a dream about some really hot guy I made up in my head. I just keep praying that I get to some acceptance and confidence like some of the women here that have been married for some time. Ive only been married for a month. I really want to embrace the real love instead of longing for the fantasy which I know only hinders my growth.
Well said, Shannell ! I feel the same exact way in my relationship. And it’s hard not to compare to other couples and their relationships. That is one big insecurity of mine that I hope to change over time.
Most of these posts are from those who are either engaged or married (and all women from what I can tell). I’m a man who experiences these same fears (and serious anxiety) and its prevented me from proposing to the woman I love, whom I’ve dated several years. She’s about to leave me and she should. She is absolutely wonderful and has been more than patient with me (and I can’t figure out why she has stayed with me this long). I don’t want to spike anyone’s anxiety here, but sometimes I wonder if we are just trying to brainwash ourselves into our partner more or if we really do suffer from a condition that hampers our relationships (and other transitions). How do we really know? Could we find someone else where there is little to no anxiety? Or will this be a condition we’ll always deal with? My partner deserves better than someone who has stretched our relationship out for years and can’t even propose (although I think I view engagement almost the same as marriage). Sorry to ramble, but I was hoping engaging in this online forum would help me. Therapy didn’t work. Never gave me any coping strategies. I stumbled on this site over the weekend and it seemed to really hit on the issues I have (even though I’m male). Thanks for your post Sheryl. I spiked on the “get me” bullet, but related to all of the other ones.
At least 50% of the e-course members are not engaged or married and have still found the course enormously helpful. The truth is that relationship anxiety can hit at any time, and the sooner you learn to deal with it the better chance you have at working it through. And about 10% of the e-course members are men. I can tell you with a fair amount of certainty that this will be a condition that you’ll always deal with until you learn to deal with IT, by which I mean you learn to address the root feelings and false beliefs that are underlying the anxiety.
DC! I’m in a long term relationship with my boyfriend – we’ve been together for over 4 years and I do think we will get married but I am extremely scared to get engaged. I feel the same way you do, just on the other end. I ask myself the same thing – how can my boyfriend put up with me and all of my doubts – whether I love Him or not, do I love him enough, what if we get married and then it ends in divorce, etc… I recommend looking up “ROCD” – Aka relationship OCD. Between this site and info on ROCD, it has helped so much. Good luck!
How does one begin learn to address those root feelings and false beliefs?
DC, I am one of the 10% male members on the e-course. Best thing I’ve ever done. Over a year ago, I was convinced that proposing to my now wife was the biggest mistake I had ever made. I joined Sheryl’s e-course and dragged myself through the wedding, honeymoon and first year of married life trusting in the idea that it would get easier. With a lot of hard work, things are so much better. You ask how one deals with the false beliefs, etc, well, it takes a hell of a long time. But if you keep working at it, take my word for it, you can trust in the hope that you’ll get through this, because it’s not about her, it’s about you. All that you have to learn won’t fit in this box. Buy the e-course, mate, and don’t expect a quick fix.
Thanks for these comments. For some reason I can’t figure out how to register for the e-course. It helps to know there are others out there. I’m curious if the anxiety/panic0 I have experienced (that some of you may have experienced is also associated with sadness and depression. I often feel sad at times when otherS experience joy (birthdays for example). Buying a house was a huge struggle for me and I analyzed the purchase to a point where I almost walked (but my partner helped me through it). I felt no joy on closing day – numbness and guilt. Are these symptoms related? And would they potentially affect my ability to become engaged. Sorry for the rambling but if you’re reading this then you know what I’m going through.
“I often feel sad at times when others experience joy (birthdays for example). Buying a house was a huge struggle for me and I analyzed the purchase to a point where I almost walked (but my partner helped me through it). I felt no joy on closing day”
Yes, this is common for the anxious/sensitive personality type. You’ll learn all about it in Lesson 1 of the e-course, which you can purchase here:
I am also wondering if my anxiety about losing my parents plays a part in my relationship anxiety? I am a very independent person, have a great family and great relationship with my parents. For being so independent, I worry ALOT about losing my parents and how I’ll be able to move forward. Between this and my relationship – these are the only two big things I stress over. A part of me wonders – am I pushing engagement/marriage away bc for some reason it keeps me young and still “under” my parents? Does anyone else experience this?
DC – thank you for sharing. It is really leveling to hear a man share similar experiences and anxieties.
MEB – I very much relate yo your anxiety about losing your parents. I too have always been a very independent person (travelled overseas by myself for 2 years, moved out of home at 18, considered myself to have a very adult friendship with my parents etc), but when I become engulfed by the terror of transition into life commitment to my girlfriend, it was like pandora’s box opened on a panopoly of fears around losing them, and doubts about whether I could cope without them. I turned to them in my anxiety, and turned away from my partner. They responded as you would expect loving parents to respond, by taking my side, colluding with my fears, treating me a thinking rationally, protecting me from my increasingly distraught partner… the ultimate outcome was one of high-conflict and confusion, especially when I returned to my partner having realised that my fears were base-less. This has been a really piece for me, and I still struggle with it daily. The guilt I feel for having cause this conflict is enormous, and I am battling to mediate. The scared little child in me (and I hasten to add, I was not often scared as a child) is still afraid of what will happen if they give up on me. I think I sourced my sense of safety in the world from a subconscious belief that if it ever gets really bad, my parents will always be there to make it better. Collapsing into that belief in my adult anxiety did not really help, and I now feel the anxious hole that that belief was plugging. Having to find safety in myself, without reference to them, is very difficult.
DC – thank you for sharing. It is really leveling to hear a man share similar experiences and anxieties.
MEB – I very much relate yo your anxiety about losing your parents. I too have always been a very independent person (travelled overseas by myself for 2 years, moved out of home at 18, considered myself to have a very adult friendship with my parents etc), but when I become engulfed by the terror of transition into life commitment to my girlfriend, it was like pandora’s box opened on a panopoly of fears around losing them, and doubts about whether I could cope without them. I turned to them in my anxiety, and turned away from my partner. They responded as you would expect loving parents to respond, by taking my side, colluding with my fears, treating me a thinking rationally, protecting me from my increasingly distraught partner… the ultimate outcome was one of high-conflict and confusion, especially when I returned to my partner having realised that my fears were base-less. This has been a really big piece for me, and I still struggle with it daily. The guilt I feel for having cause this conflict is enormous, and I am battling to mediate. The scared little child in me (and I hasten to add, I was not often scared as a child) is still afraid of what will happen if they give up on me. I think I sourced my sense of safety in the world from a subconscious belief that if it ever gets really bad, my parents will always be there to make it better. Collapsing into that belief in my adult anxiety did not really help, and I now feel the anxious hole that that belief was plugging. Having to find safety in myself, without reference to them, is very difficult.
“A part of me wonders – am I pushing engagement/marriage away bc for some reason it keeps me young and still “under” my parents?”
Fantastic question, MEB, and the answer is quite likely yes. When someone has had wonderfully loving parents, there’s the danger that they’ve been “too loving”, meaning that they haven’t encouraged you to find your own way and become the source of your own comfort.
As Carly so astutely wrote, “I think I sourced my sense of safety in the world from a subconscious belief that if it ever gets really bad, my parents will always be there to make it better. Collapsing into that belief in my adult anxiety did not really help, and I now feel the anxious hole that that belief was plugging. Having to find safety in myself, without reference to them, is very difficult.”
And this is where Inner Bonding comes in, as it’s through this powerful process that you learn to become your own Inner Mother and Inner Father, thereby growing up in every sense of the phrase.
After reading your list Sheryl I feel that I have been feeling love for my partner for so long but I have just been thinking that maybe I don’t love him as I never had those in-love, heady rush of emotions, longing, the chase, the exquisite kisses, those moments of agony, the uncertainty of him staying, the instability.
Instead I always knew he will stay. From the start. He found me when I was shattered and has been everything to me eversince. My best friend, my lover, and even my father at times; holding me when I needed to be held. And I have felt joy, appreciation, comfort, the awe, the stability, the contentment every single thing you’ve listed above and now when I’m reading it, I know what I’vebeen feeling all along hasd been love. I just felt that since I didn’t feel giddiness, the intense romantic feelings, the mystery of the chase, I don’t really love him. Not knowing that love is just the opposite. You just educated me on that. After reading this post, Ican relate to every single word for love except that our instances in which they occur are different.
*what I’ve been feeling all along really has been love.
Thank you for educating me on love. And what it really is.