I have come to the conclusion recently that love is at least a two-stage process. Let me see if I can explain exactly what I mean.
The first stage is pretty basic; it starts with the knowledge or awareness of being loved. I know, trust, sense or feel that a given person loves me. This is of course a very valuable experience, one that some people rarely or never feel. It is important to bear in mind how often we can take being loved for granted and nothing brings this tendency more powerfully to the fore than recalling all those who don’t feel loved in their lives.
The second stage is where things can become a little more complicated. How exactly is this love communicated? My wife loves me and I trust and understand this. But how she expresses her love to me can often become a bone of contention. Being who she is, she expresses her love to me in ways that are idiosyncratic to her. One of those ways is verbal: my wife tells me that she loves almost every day, sometimes more often than that. But for whatever reason, probably dating back to early familial or cultural experiences, it doesn’t really connect with me. Already knowing or trusting that she loves me, her verbal utterances to this effect only tell me what I already know, that she loves me.
For me, given who I am, physical demonstrations of love carry much more meaning and impact. When she gets up early in the morning to go for her walk and is quiet and doesn’t disturb my sleep, this speaks volumes to me that she loves and cares about me. Even if she does drop her sneaker or otherwise awaken me and says, “Oops, I’m sorry”, this means a lot to me. So her being particularly quiet in the morning means much more to me than her telling me that she loves me.
The difference here is in what I call translation. Translation is akin to somebody speaking a foreign language that you understand but do not think in. When she tells me she loves me, it’s as if she were speaking Swedish, “Jag älskar dig.” This introduces an intervening step: I now have to stop for a moment to translate this: “Oh, she is reminding me that she loves me.” Only then do I get it. I have to use my intellect to recall that when she says this, it is her way of letting me know that she loves me. Conversely, when I wake up in the morning having slept undisturbed and she is already gone for her walk, I require no translation: I feel loved by her. Immediately. There is no intervening step, no putting together of two times two equaling four; I get it.
Now while this point may seem arcane or even juvenile, I have noticed in my clinical practice how often it can become a severe stumbling block in a relationship. Many times people don’t want to have to bother making the translation. They begin thinking and saying things like, “If you loved me then you’d do this or that, etc.” I suspect that such demands reflect a loss of contact with the first stage of love, knowing you are loved. Sometimes, particularly when one or both parties in the relationship are feeling emotionally stressed, getting the message without having to translate comes as a very welcomed relief.
So, how is this information helpful? Well, to begin with, it is helpful to realize that someone does love you even if they are communicating it in a way that requires translation on your part. You are much better off once you’ve realized you are having a second stage problem and not a first stage one.
It is also helpful to discuss with your loved one which kind of things require translation on your part and which don’t. Armed with this knowledge they can provide, should they feel so moved, direct communication of their love in a way they know you will understand instantly. Of course, knowing them as well as you do, you can do the same. In fact, taking the initiative in providing your loved one with this type of direct communication will help set in motion a benign cycle of deeper love, trust and understanding: everybody wins. You can get this started. You can make your relationship better all by yourself. You can inspire your loved one to bring out the best in themselves just by following your loving example.
It is a commonly understood concept in psychotherapeutic circles that we each have an inner child, a psychic part of ourselves whose emotional development has been arrested due to some trauma or emotional wound. Not having to translate means, in effect, that the inner child receives and understands the message without having to wait for someone to explain it to him (if, indeed, there is anyone available to do it in the first place.) While holding an insistent demand that this always be the case may be an indication of the need for some emotional growth, sometimes it is just nice to receive the message directly. And while I know I have to sharpen my verbal skills where my wife is concerned (that’s how she best perceives love), it is a comfort feeling reassured by her in a way that I can clearly and instantly recognize. In fact, it’s so easy for me, I can do it in my sleep!
I’m interested in your reaction. Please comment or “Like.”