Love Is a Verb, Not a Feeling

If the grass seems greener across the street, maybe they’re using better fertilizer.

As a child, I remember wanting some things that other people had. I wanted certain things to be in my family or in my relationships. And I remember being told that the grass just seemed greener on the other side. It really wasn’t.

Well now I’m an adult, and I know better. Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side. But I also know there’s a reason. The people across the street may have a better looking lawn or a stronger relationship because they’re using better fertilizer.

The challenge for you and me is to stop wasting our time, gazing at our neighbor’s lawn. We need to spend more time tending our own lawns and relationships.

Afterall, relationships are not static. They’re either getting better, or they’re getter worse. They don’t just sit there in limbo.

So if you’re not spending time on your relationships, they will deteriorate. Your feelings of love will go from being excited, to exhausted, to expired. Or as one cynic said, if you’re not careful, you’ll go through the three phases of marriage: lust, rust, and dust.

The same is true at work. If you stop building your team, it will start to disintegrate. If you take your customers for granted, they’ll begin to look elsewhere. You’re either investing in your work relationships or you’re divesting those relationships.

The problem is–relationships are a lot of work. I suspect that’s why so many relationships fail. Some people just don’t realize how much effort is required. As comedian Rodney Dangerfield says: “We sleep in different rooms. We eat apart. We take separate vacations. We do everything we can to keep our marriage together.”

Bob Ettinger puts it this way. He says, “Relationships are hard. It’s like a full-time job, and we should treat it like one.” But then he adds: “If your boyfriend or girlfriend wants to leave you, they should give you a two weeks’ notice. There should be a severance pay, and before they leave you, they should have to find you a temp.” Of course, Bob is being whimsical, but you get the point. You should take your relationships as seriously as your job, and you should work just as hard at it.

Other relationships fail because people don’t know how to work on their relationships. They don’t know what to do or what would work. I tell those people that they can get by on charm for about fifteen minutes. After that, they’d better know something — about relationships.

So what works? I could talk and teach on that topic for a long time, but let me offer a few tidbits from my program on “The Relationship Recipe: Rapport, Respect, and Recognition.”

First, ACKNOWLEDGE THE AWESOME SIGNIFICANCE OF RELATIONSHIPS. In other words, remind yourself that nothing is more important than your relationships, not your career, your money, or your possessions. In fact, if you had everything but relationships, you would soon question the value of life itself. The actor, Yul Brenner, said it well. He said: “You’re born alone. You die alone. And if you can accept that as total reality, any relationship you have along the way will never be taken for granted and will truly be a gift!”

Second, HONOR THE OTHER PERSON. Honor is a strange word in our culture, a word that’s not used very often and is frequently misunderstood. It simply means to place a high value on the other person, to decide that he or she is very, very valuable.

Nothing could be more critical. Dr. John Gottman, at the University of Washington, says, “No relationship skill works without honor.” In fact, through his research, he can now predict with about 100% accuracy that divorce will occur when spousal honor drops to too low of a level.

You’ve got to honor the people at home, and you’ve got to honor the people at work. But remember this. Honor is given to the other person. It is not earned!

Of course, it’s easier to honor some people than others. That’s life. But if you want a strong positive, working relationship with someone, you’ve got to give honor to that other person. And one way you do that is to compile a list of all the things you admire about the other person. The longer your list, the more powerful your honor will become.

Then, GIVE TO THE OTHER PERSON. Of course, that sounds simplistic and superficial. It’s not. In actuality, giving is at the heart of every successful relationship and every successful business. When people see you as a giver, they want to work with you.

In a broad sense, give self-esteem. Help the other person to feel better about himself. As John Powell says in his book, The Secret Of Staying In Love: “The essential gift of love is a sense of personal worth. My love must empower you to love yourself. We should judge our success in loving not by those who admire us for our accomplishments, but by the number of those who attribute their wholeness to our loving them, by the number of those who have seen their beauty in our eyes, heard their goodness acknowledged in the warmth of our voices.”

And give without expectation. If you give expecting something in return, you’re sure to be unhappy. If you say “Good morning” to someone, expecting him to respond in kind and he doesn’t, you’ll get all bummed out. You’ll probably be telling yourself, “I knew I shouldn’t have said ‘Good morning’.”

When you give, just make sure it’s because you want to give, not because you’re expecting something in return. As one of the foremost psychiatrists of all time, Alfred Adler said, “All human failure can be attributed to man’s inability to grasp that it is better to give than receive.”

Finally, SPEAK WORDS OF KINDNESS. Mother Teresa said, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” In other words, they keep on giving, and they keep on building your relationships.

Of course, your choice of words is very important. Just like fertilizer, the correct fertilizer will build your lawn, but the wrong fertilizer will poison it.

I once heard a minister say, “I have heard people confess to breaking every one of the Ten Commandments except the ninth, ‘Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.’ Yet this is the one we break most often, and it can cause irreparable damage.”

Someone asked Mohammed how he could make amends for falsely accusing a friend, for saying unkind words about the other person. Mohammed told him to put a goose feather on each doorstep in the village.

The next day Mohammed told the man to go and collect all the feathers. “It can’t be done,” cried the man. “The wind blew all night, and the feathers have scattered everywhere.”

“Exactly,” said Mohammed, “and so it is with the reckless words you spoke against your neighbor.” They can’t be taken back.

Action:  Select a relationship of yours that needs to be strengthened or needs to be fertilized. Then work on increasing your HONOR of the other person by writing a list of at least twenty things you admire about that person.  When the timing is right, SPEAK WORDS OF KINDNESS by telling that other person some of the things you listed.