Most theories of relationships focus on how intimate partners feel about each other, but according to John Gottman’s behavioral approach, you need to focus on outward signs to test the health of yours. This approach follows from the assumption that observable actions provide, in many cases, harder evidence about what’s going on inside a person than the inferences we make from what he or she says.
I’ve taken the liberty of translating Gottman’s theory, along with information from other supporting psychological research, into 11 clues you can use in your own daily life to gauge the depth of your lover's feelings:
- Wants to spend time with you. Wanting to invest time into your relationship is a key indicator of successful long-term intimacy, according to one recent theory. Although both of you may be tied up with work, family, and other commitments, someone who truly cares about you will use whatever time is left over to have some alone time together.
- Asks about your day. During that time you spend together, does your partner ask about, and show interest in, the high and low points of your work day? Couples build their love for each other not necessarily on the ethereal, but on the practical supports that keep communication routes open.
- Trusts you. Partners who truly care about you will give you the benefit of the doubt. Research shows that in successful long-term relationships, partners want to have a sense of knowing where their mates are at any given time. However, they don't have this wish because of worry that their partners might be up to something nefarious. A partner who doesn’t question where you are if you come home late or doesn’t snoop through your cell phone bills is showing the kind of trust that shows true caring.
- Helps you when you need it. As busy as we all get, adding extra chores or duties to your day may be the last thing you feel like doing. However, if your partner is a technophobe, and you’re techno-savvy, you’ll help out when something goes wrong with your home Wi-Fi network. Similarly, if you absolutely need something from the drug store and are too sick to go there yourself, a partner who cares about you will run a rescue mission and get you that cold medicine.
- Shows respect for your views. If recent research on complementarity in relationships is true, it’s possible for you and your partner to be on completely opposite poles of the political spectrum and still remain happy together for years. The key feature is not what your beliefs are, though, but how open you can be to accepting your partner’s perspective as valid. Let’s say you’re an ardent feminist and your partner holds pre-1970s views about women. If he truly cares about you, he’ll at least listen to you when you express concern about women’s status in the workplace.
- Includes you in decisions. Couples decide on everything from mundane chores to high-stakes questions of where (and how) to invest their income. It’s fine and probably advisable for each person to specialize in some tasks needed to keep the household going, but at some point you need to feel that your views will still be sought (and heard).
- Shows affection. Couples don’t have to engage in frequent sex, or even any sex at all, to be emotionally intimate. However, showing some sign of physical closeness, even if it’s resting a hand on your shoulder, suggests that your partner feels a vital connection to you.
- Looks at you. The nonverbal cues that partners share with each other reveal their deeper feelings. If your partner looks at you while you’re talking, or if you catch him or her darting a glance your way, this suggests that he or she takes pleasure in being with you. The two of you don’t need to spend hours gazing into each other’s eyes; even a quick glance can be enough to send positive, love-confirming, vibes.
- Likes to talk about the past. Couples who spend time reliving their enjoyable moments from the past, and do so in a positive and supportive way, can strengthen their ties in the present and future. If your partner uses phrases such as “Remember the time we…?” and then proceeds to tell a great story from your past (which you might not even recall), it suggests that you and your shared experiences play an important role in your partner’s mind.
- Is willing to go to bat for you and your relationship. Does your partner defend you when someone else criticizes you or does he or she join in the fray? We certainly know from great literature that people who truly care about each other will risk their own well-being for the other's welfare. Partners in more ordinary relationships can still show their love for each other by bonding together against outside attacks. In a study of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals in close relationships, San Francisco State sexuality researcher David Frost found that many who felt stigmatized because of their relationships drew strength from each other and felt that they bonded more closely in the face of adversity.
- Makes you feel good about yourself. A partner who truly cares about you boosts your self-esteem and sense of identity. If nothing else, being with someone who makes you feel valued provides you with strong positive reinforcement. We want to be with people who make us feel good. This doesn’t mean that you’ll always have wonderful days and nights in which you never quibble or become frustrated and annoyed with each other. However, overall, if you feel that your partner boosts your self-confidence, you’ll not only be more likely to want to spend time together, but you'll also regard yourself more positively in the times that you’re apart.
There's no set number of these 11 that would indicate whether a specific partner hits above or below the threshold for truly loving you. However, with these signs as a guide, you can gain insight into your relationship's strengths and weaknesses and from there, address the areas of weakness. At the same time, if you want your partner to feel truly loved, ask yourself honestly how you would rate on these 11 indicators. Perhaps it's time for you not only to count the ways that you're loved, but the ways that you show your love.