A few years ago there was a recurring TV spot aimed at getting kids to be more active, “Verb: It’s what you do!” Many people I see in individual and couples treatment look at love as a noun. It’s something someone gives you—and usually the person isn’t giving you enough! But this post isn’t about grammar, because we all know that love can be a noun or a verb. Psychologically speaking, the child’s position is that love is a noun, something parents bestow or withhold. Many people grow into adulthood with that concept of love, only now it’s the partner who is bestowing or withholding love.
Rihanna’s song “The Only Girl in the World” expresses what many people want in a relationship: that your partner makes you feel you’re the only woman or man in the world. That’s clearly left over from childhood, from the days when you wanted to be the special child in your parents’ hearts, and the love they felt for your sibling(s) took away from your supply.
Love: It’s what you do!
If you’re functioning as an adult, you see love as a verb, as something you want to do, not something you need someone to give you. It may seem like a minor difference, but it makes a huge difference in life, the difference between momentary gratification and longterm satisfaction, between dependency and autonomy. Love as a verb also encompasses the idea that it’s more than a collection of words—“I love you”—it’s putting those words into action on a daily basis. This concept of love doesn’t make a great song lyric, but it sure makes a satisfying life! And if this concept of love is strange to you, treatment with a good therapist can help you find satisfaction in love, work, and play—Freud’s “holy trinity” of mental health.