What is Love?

Around Valentines Day, the word “love” gets thrown around constantly. It’s on balloons, cards, candy and flowers. While there is so much focus on the romantic and commercial idea of love, it’s helpful to look at what love actually means. The Roxbury Guys from SNL spent countless nights pondering the question, and, no doubt, many of us have as well. My experience as a counselor working with couples and families has given me some good examples of things that are and aren’t love. These are examples from romantic relationships as well as friendly and family ones. Identifying what does and doesn’t represent love will not only help us avoid some of the pitfalls, but also teach us better ways to love well.

Not Love

  • Giving in to Every Demand – This can be a tough one. It might look like love to give someone what he or she always wants, but eventually, you’ll look more like a doormat than a person. You have the right to be assertive and vocalize your requests, too.
  • Buying Gifts – I’ve worked with many families who are very well off and find it easy to give into the temptation of giving gifts instead of time. When you miss your dinner date because you instead had to work late, and you bring home flowers thinking that it portrays how much you love her, that is not love. Instead of spending your time and energy doing things, planning fun activities, or experiencing life with your family or significant other, you instead give a material gift that requires you spend money, that is not love. Don’t confuse your presence with something you can buy.
  • Sex – That’s right. Sex. You may have sex with someone you love, but just because sex happens does not mean love exists. If you’re trying to show you love someone only through sex, it’s time to get more creative.
  • Romantic Gestures – Just doing something romantic does not equate to love. Often we expect something in return for this and it can lead to resentment when we don’t receive it. Just because you are romantic does not mean you love the person, regardless of what romantic comedies tell us.
  • Flattery – Telling someone what you think they want to hear may tickle their ears, but they will start to sniff out the flattery eventually. It also comes with the added bonus of having to experience actions/words/foods you don’t enjoy because you’re not honest about your true feelings. Along Came Polly comes to mind. Ben Stiller’s character, who suffers from IBS which is set off when he eats ethnic food, continues to go with Polly to her favorite Indian restaurant and is quite miserable afterwards, hiding it though, going along with whatever she wants because “he loves her taste” in restaurants…Don’t be that person.



  • Dedication – Love has everything to do with commitment and perseverance.  If you love someone, be willing to stick with him or her through mistakes and tough times. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, “just another shade of brown.”
  • Setting Boundaries – In contrast to being a doormat, setting boundaries with others reminds them we have self-worth. It is also a great example for them to have their own boundaries, which helps keep both individuals healthy. And to be able to better name your limits, tune into your feelings – when you feel discomfort or resentment, that is a sign that you need to set boundaries. “If you put your dirty clothes in the hamper by 9:00 Saturday morning, I’ll be happy to wash them for you.” Setting clear expectations is a display of love as you are vocalizing your needs and hearing theirs too.
  • Doing What’s Best for Them – Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for someone is let them experience life without absorbing the blow for them. It’s hard for us to learn perseverance without struggle. Be there for them, but don’t necessarily do for them.  “I love you and I’m not willing to call in sick for you when you’ve been drinking.”
  • Speak Truth (Out of Love)  – Tougher than it sounds. That doesn’t mean you should always say what you are thinking. Before speaking truth, ask yourself if you are doing it to help the other person or to hurt them. Sometimes saying something honestly will hurt in the short term, but help in the long term.  Before you speak, THINK. Is it True, is it Helpful, is it Inspiring, is it Necessary, is it Kind?Love is certainly more complicated than these few examples, but in this season of lovey-dovey everything, let’s keep a little perspective on what true love looks like. Love is not easy. Love is not bought. Love can’t be earned by getting run over. Love seeks the best for others, and for us. Love displays itself through healthy and well-rounded relationships.But you might still want to make sure you buy those flowers!

    Written by Michael Sweeney, LPC. If you or a loved ones is seeking therapy for your family or marital concerns, please contact us at Innovation360.