This was first published on KSL.com
Most couples say the words "I love you" on a regular basis, but often they don't really mean it.
They might just say "I love you" out of habit or because they want to look like a loving spouse even if aren't acting like it. In the latter case, they are quick to find fault, be annoyed, or criticize the other. There is fighting and defensiveness on a regular basis, and the crux of the problem is usually that they don't feel safe and aren't sure that their partner truly loves them.
I challenge you to commit to loving your partner more fully by understanding what it really means when you say "I love you." Those three words are not a state that you are magically either "in" or "not in." They don't represent a feeling you have for someone; they represent a choice and a commitment. Loving another person is a choice you make over and over, every day.
It might be more powerful and keep us more accountable if instead of saying "I love you," we said: "I choose to actively love you." Then, we would be reminded that loving someone involves behavior way beyond having fond feelings for them. Love is something you do, not just something you feel. Feeling love toward someone is easy, actually loving them is hard work.
If you read this article or send it to your spouse, please do not make it about pointing out the areas where you think your partner is weak or lacking. Focus instead on where you can improve your own behavior and show up with real love for your partner.
Also, I am not suggesting that you must do all these things perfectly. That is not possible for any of us. However, this is a good standard to work toward, and any effort in this direction will improve your relationship.
When you say 'I love you,' it means …
I actively see you
As your partner, I see the parts of you few people get to see — both the good and the bad. No one else will know you at the level I do. You have flaws and faults, because we all do, but I choose to see the good, valuable, worthy and even amazing parts as who you are. I choose to see your intrinsic value and that it cannot change. I see the divine, true, loving parts of you and show you every day that I see you.
I choose to admire you
You don't have to be perfect to have my admiration. I choose, every day, to admire your efforts, your values, your work, your good qualities, and the way you show up and keep trying even when you're struggling. I choose to focus on the best qualities you have, not your faults, because that is what real love does.
I choose to accept you as you are
I choose to love who you really are, with your strengths, talents and habits that I admire, as well as your weaknesses, faults, mistakes and habits that drive me crazy. I accept that you don't think like me or behave like I do. You don't see the world the way I see it. You are wired differently than I am and value different things, but I accept you this way. I do not think you need to change to earn my love. You just need to be who you are.
I choose to be here for you
I choose to support you, cheer for you, listen to you and do whatever I can to make your life better and happier. I don't carry responsibility for your happiness (that is your job) but I will show up and be there to help wherever I can. I do things for you and am your biggest fan.
I choose to respect you
I respect and honor your right to be where you are in your classroom journey. I respect your right to think and feel the way you do, to experience and live the way you do. When you are upset (even if I don't get it) I honor and respect your right to have the feelings you have. I never purposefully talk down, insult or degrade you in any way. I speak kindly and never make you feel small, broken or messed up. If I get bothered with you, I talk to you in a respectful way (like I would to a peer or friend). I may not do this perfectly, but I am committed to the effort.
I choose to trust you
This means I give you the benefit of the doubt, let most of your mistakes go, and always assume the best of you. When you disregard me, I assume it was not intentional. I choose to trust that you love me. This is critical to making our relationship work. If I see unloving behavior in you, I assume it comes your fears about yourself. I talk to you about this from a place of love and compassion. I know that I only have two choices when trust is broken. I can choose distrust, which will doom the relationship and drive a wedge between us, or I can choose to trust you, which will give us a chance. I choose to trust you.
I choose to trust that if you don't love me anymore you will speak up and tell me that. I won't expect you to stay in this relationship if you no longer choose to love me. Until you say those words, I will trust that you do love me and mean what the words say.
I choose to listen to you
I may not always do this perfectly because I get caught up in my own agenda sometimes, but I choose to work at being a good listener and trying to truly understand you. I strive to give you my attention and care about what you think and feel. I know this is a critical part of a good relationship and I choose to be a partner that can set their ideas and opinions aside and listen. If you ever feel I am not listening, kindly ask me if I would be willing to listen and I will remember my commitment.
I am honest and authentic with you
I tell you the truth, even when it is hard. I am true to myself and allow you to really know the real me. If I make a mistake, I own it and get help if I need it. I do not hide things from you or lie about what I am doing. I am an open book and allow you to know the real me on every level.
I choose to forgive you
We both make mistakes and will, on occasion, hurt each other. I choose to forgive you and allow you to be an imperfect, struggling, scared, human in process, just like me. When you mistreat me, forget to think about me, or miss things, because you were focused on yourself, I choose to forgive you. I choose this in advance. We will mistreat and disregard each other; it's going to happen. When it does, I will talk about my feelings and then forgive you. I commit to letting the past go and always giving you the chance to do better.
I have written many articles on forgiving your spouse because it is so critical to the relationship. Click here to read some of them.
It's important to note here that you should never allow any kind of abuse. If abusive behavior is happening, that person doesn't love you. You don't emotionally or physically hurt someone you love. Seek some help and support immediately.
I am loyal to you
I don't need romantic attention from other people. You are my person. I think about how I can make you feel admired, respected, appreciated and wanted every single day. Showing you my loyalty is a priority in my life and I don't do things that would hurt or harm you.
I take responsibility for myself, for you
I won't make you responsible for my self-esteem or happiness. I don't blame you if I am unhappy with myself or life. Those are my responsibilities. I own the responsibility for my thoughts and actions. If I have issues or choose behaviors that hurt you, I will be responsible and seek help to fix them. I will not look for faults in you to justify my bad behavior.
You won't ever love your partner perfectly. You will both make mistakes and mistreat each other, but if you keep coming back to showing up in these ways and love each other at this level, you will create a pretty wonderful relationship.
You may want to read this article on a regular basis to keep your commitment to love fresh in your mind.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.