Sally and Frank came to me with the complaint, “he/she doesn’t love me.” When I asked Sally what Frank could do to make her feel loved, she said, “He needs to tell me I’m beautiful.” Further exploration revealed that she needed to hear this once a day. Although we tested other adjectives like gorgeous, fantastic, pretty, cute, adorable, fabulous, wonderful, terrific… no other adjective gave her the feeling of being loved. Frank agreed to do this one simple thing. In contrast, Frank needed someone to pet his head (anywhere on his head) about once a week to feel loved. Sally agreed to do this. Within a week they were both feeling loved.
Each of us assumes that everyone else’s reality is the same as ours, so we interact with others from our own personal frame of reference. In Frank and Sally’s case, differences in their internal definitions of the word “love” resulted not only in feelings of neglect but caused several arguments. Sally and Frank were late for a party. Feeling stressed, Frank drove recklessly making Sally nervous. In order to calm him down, she said, “don’t’ worry about the party; you look really handsome tonight.” This, of course, did nothing for Frank. Recognizing that Sally was upset, Frank reached over and stroked her head… messing up Sally’s hair and leading to an argument.
Janet came complaining about Paul, “He doesn’t love me, he just keeps giving me all this jewelry.” Janet displayed 3 nested rings of alternating diamond/ruby, diamond/emerald, and diamond/sapphire. I jokingly offered to take them off her hands. When asked what Paul could do to make her feel loved, she replied, “he could tell me he loves me.” Further exploration revealed that she needed to hear this once a day. Paul agreed to do this. Two weeks later, they were in love. He later confided that he said it several times a day, particularly when she was acting crabby.
Not surprisingly, Janet was a therapist who made a living listening to other people. She preferred to process information auditorily. Paul was a chiropracter who made a living looking closely at people’s bodies. He preferred to process information visually. Understanding each other’s preferred way of functioning significantly improved the relationship.
In the field of Neuro-linguistic Programming a person’s internal definition of a concept is called a complex equivalent and is unique to each individual. What feels, looks, smells, sounds, and tastes like love is represented differently for everybody. Red roses and chocolate may not be it. In order to really understand and connect with your partner, you need to ask for their definition of important concepts and values in addition to love such as, security, success, happiness, family, home, etc. It may surprise you how easily you can accommodate someone and make him/her happy once you know exactly what he/she wants.
Joe and Cecilia have been married for 25 years and have a lovely, close, intimate relationship. Joe is British and Cecilia is American, so they had to translate cultural as well as individual differences. When Cecilia got excited about something, she gestured with her arms and spoke in a louder, higher pitched, more animated voice. Joe never seemed to get excited about anything. When Cecilia finally asked Joe to demonstrate excitement, he raised his eyebrows once. For their 4 month pregnancy checkup, Joe was invited to hear the baby’s first heartbeat. At the first pulsing sound, Cecilia burst into tears. Joe raised his eyebrows twice. Cecilia remarked to him afterwards that she recognized how extremely excited he was.
Lydia had been married for only a month when she realized she felt lonely even when her husband, Sam, was in the house. She finally figured out that she couldn’t reconnect with him (after being away at work all day) unless he physically touched her. Sam, on the other hand, only needed to see her to reconnect. A brief discussion resulted in a new ritual. As soon as they both came home, Sam and Lydia kissed, Sam patted Lydia’s behind, and both said, “how was your day?”
For a satisfying and lasting relationship, ask your partner what you need to do, say, or show him/her to make him/her feel loved and happy. You might be surprised at the answer and at how easy it is to accommodate him/her. You’ll definitely find it rewarding.
Copyright 2005 Judith A. Swack, Ph.D.
May 2005 Judith A. Swack and Associates, Inc. Newsletter