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How Do You Define Love?

Why assuming we all mean the same thing is dangerous.

'Tis the season to celebrate love. Every year when Valentine's Day comes around, most of us focus on romantic love. But when you stop to think about it, there are many levels and types of love: I love my husband. I love my sister. I love my dog. I love my career. I love warm nights.

Although I'm using one word to describe my feeling toward all these objects, most people understand what I'm saying: I love my husband as my life and romantic partner; I love my sister, well, "as a sister," (I trust her and share some of my deepest thoughts with her); my dog opens my heart; I enjoy my work, and warm nights make me feel relaxed and happy.

The Greeks had the good sense to break love into four levels: "storge" was kinship, "philia" was friendship, "eros," sexual and romantic love, and finally divine love was known as "agape."

They might interpret the sentence, "I love you but I'm not 'in love' with you" to mean, "I feel philia toward you but not eros."

But while the Greeks gave love four spots in the dictionary, this emotion was feared. Both Plato and Socrates saw this emotion as, “Love is a serious mental disease,” and “Love is a madness.” And it was the Greeks who coined the phrase, "lovesick."

Love makes people do stupid things, dangerous things as well as magnanimous and bold things.

But what is love really? Because people define love differently, a common trap is for couples is to assume they are speaking about the same thing. And because people define love differently, they show it differently and have different expectations of what it should look and feel like. many, if not most, of the problems couples experience is a result of a miscommunicated love or a dashed expectation around love and connection.

Many of us show love in the ways we hope to receive love (the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have others do unto you) but this assumes your partner defines love the same way you do. In fact, the couples who come in to see me for therapy have been missing the mark for years. By the time they come to therapy, they have had years of pain and hurt because they have made too many assumptions about love.

One wanted physical connection, the other wanted to go on a walk together; one wanted to buy gifts to show affection but the other would rather have had him or her do the dishes, pick up the dry cleaning or even put money into the savings account rather than spend it, because that's their definition of love.

A book I often recommend to clients is Gary Chapman's, 5 Love Languages, because the author does a great job of outlining the five areas people give and receive love. When you know what matters to you, you can ask for this from your partner.

The areas are as follows:

1. Words of Affirmation

2. Physical Touch

3. Acts of Service

4. Gifts

5. Quality Time

Are you making assumptions about what love means to your spouse or partner? One way you can tell is by checking your resentment levels. If they are high, ask yourself why.

When couples start speaking the same language, they begin to feel understood, acknowledged and appreciated. When couples stop making assumptions about what love means to their partner, they start having better conversations and they begin to relate more consciously.

Funny how something that seems so simple is actually quite complicated.

If your relationship is a bit rocky, use this article as a conversation starter this Valentine's Day and see what happens. Do your best to understand your partner and you may be amazed to see that he or she tried harder to understand you.

Wishing you conscious and purposeful love today and every day!

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