One of our sons asked me recently how we can know for sure whether our love for someone is real. I thought about it for a while. I heard a great quote about love in a movie the name of which I don’t recall: “Love is not what you feel inside. Love is the way you treat the person you say you love.” This is what it means to me:
TO LOVE = To Give Your (TIME + ATTENTION + ENERGY)
This formula could be applied in a professional setting, adding “Give Your EXPERTISE” to the mix.
TO LOVE YOUR WORK = To Give it Your (TIME + ATTENTION + ENERGY + EXPERTISE)
If you say that you don’t love your work, and yet you give it your time, attention, energy, and expertise, you are acting as if you love your work. If you say that you do love your work, but don’t give it your time, attention, energy, and expertise, your feelings are not meaningful outside of your mind/heart.Notice the disparity between your thoughts and actions. “Your actions speak so loudly that I can’t hear what you say.” The disparity between your thoughts and actions is tough on you. Where do you want to give your time, attention, energy and expertise?
Think about about activities and people to whom you already give your time, attention, and energy. That’s where you love. Consider who in your circle gives you his or her time, attention, and energy. That’s where you are being loved.
I love coaching, and I love giving clients my time, attention, energy, and expertise. Among all the things I can guarantee to my clients, finding love isn’t one of them.
I help clients make decisions, clarify what they want, find common ground with their current partners, decide how they want to come across, but when it comes to finding love, I balk. Of course, finding love may be a magnificent side-effect of executive coaching, but never a guarantee. I’m an analytical thinker: I want a goal and a plan, with supporting evidence.
When it comes to love, things don’t seem to work that way. Trying to understand love through science is like hoping to grasp the mind through studying the brain, or expecting to experience happiness through studying positive psychology.
Still, there is something science can do when it comes to navigating relationships more peacefully. So, here are 7 helpful science-based ideas to answer our questions about love:
1. Can I trust the feelings of “I just know” ?
As much as it pains me to say so, “I just know” is not an indicator of what you actually know, or an accurate reflection of how things actually are. According to a neuroscientist Dr. Robert Burton, the feeling of knowing is an uncontrollable feeling that can flush over us without any corresponding facts or supporting evidence for actually knowing anything. If you have a “Know it all” person in your life (or if you are a “know it all” person yourself), Burton’s book “On Being Certain” is required reading. Don’t trust that “I just know” feeling, and instead, look for evidence.
2. Do people change in a relationship?
While people’s personality tends to be fairly stable (translation: no, people don’t really change in relationships), it’s not to say that people always make predictable choices. Here are some ideas of what people can and can’t change about themselves in a relationship, based on what Psychology tells us about personality.
3. Should I have high expectations or low expectations for a romantic relationship?
Well, it depends on whether you’re aiming for happiness or for success. (Read how expectations correlate with success and happiness.)
4. Is it possible to take an objective look at our relationships, without appealing to an outsider’s opinion, in order to gain clarity and perspective?
Goethe famously said: “We see only what we know.” A mind has numerous limitations to assessing itself, ranging from genetic predispositions to cultural biases, according to Robert Burton. Timothy Wilson in his book “Strangers to Ourselves” suggests that we need to combine introspection with observing the way others react to us. Since we can’t fully understand ourselves “from the inside of our heads”, it makes sense to ask for input from an outside. Pick your adviser wisely, though.
5. Is it important to be realistic about my partner?
It may seem counter-intuitive, but idealizing your partner seems to prevent the decline of marital satisfaction. So, go ahead, put your pink glasses on.
6. What can I do to allow myself to fall in love?
In my [completely unscientific] opinion, love grows as we become each other’s story keepers. And here’s a great, fun article about specific questions that you can ask to facilitate story-telling and story-keeping, and to ultimately fall in love.
7. Is there really the key to having a happy marriage?
Here’s one: “If your partner is helping you become a better person, you become happier and more satisfied in the relationship.” And another good science-based advice: enjoy each other! On a less happy note, if you’re going through a difficult break-up, here’s some consolation from science: maybe, medications can help.
May you always feel loved!