How to Feel Deeper Love for Your Husband (Without Him Doing Anything Special)
Updated: Mar 13
“Love is anterior to life, posterior to death, initial of creation, and the exponent of breath.” - Emily Dickinson
Well friends, Valentine’s Day is upon us. We tend to feel every emotion on this day except the deep, connected, passionate love we want to feel. But, like I always do, I believe there’s a better way.
Have you ever felt pressure to plan something special for your husband, or disappointed he didn’t plan something special for you? Or that you missed out on some exciting, romantic experience because he was working late again, so you settled for takeout and T.V. after the kids were in bed? I know I have, and it’s taken years to realize that I’d really rather keep it simple after all. I think we miss the point when we put all the emphasis on what we do on Valentine’s Day, not what we feel.
The truth is, you can feel deeper love for your husband today (and every day) without either of you doing anything special. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for romantic gestures (flowers and chocolate are two of my life-long passions). But it becomes a trap when we build our expectations of love around what another person does or says. In fact, I learned there’s a name for it: codependency.
Codependency and Interdependency
Our first Valentine’s Day, I spent hours planning a romantic evening together, with candles, sparkling cider, and our favorite music. Apparently, I couldn’t come up with anything more original than that, but I wasn’t going to leave it to Ben, either. With all of his wonderful qualities, he’s just not that kind of guy.
I guess I’m not that kind of girl either, because that was the last time I made that kind of effort. So for ten years, February 14th came and went, about the same as any other day. We were always busy with work or the kids, and I told myself I’d rather keep it simple anyway, which is true. But secretly, I wanted Ben to do something special for me—not just the little things, like taking care of the kids or the housework, which I took for granted. (I know better now.)
What I really wanted was to feel loved, admired and appreciated, especially on Valentine’s Day, but all year long, too. I had it completely backwards, though. I came to learn, I was indulging in some codependency, which is when one person holds another responsible for his or her wellbeing.
You’ve probably heard of codependency in terms of dysfunctional relationships, especially in marriages with addiction or abuse. It’s common for one or both partners to try to manipulate each other, either out of “love” or anger. This is classic codependency, but what I didn’t know is that the same tendencies can exist in any kind of relationship. It might be between friends, or a parent and child, whenever people try to use others to fill their void or validate their sense of self-worth. (As a side note: your sense of self-worth doesn’t have come from your kids, husband, friends, parents or anyone else. It’s innate.)
I think these tendencies are the same reason two people who were excited to commit their lives to each other end up struggling to communicate or slowly disconnecting. It’s human nature to place expectations on others, and it’s human nature to disappoint each other, too. But I think this begs the question: how do you know when you’re indulging in codependency, or just experiencing the typical tensions you find in every relationship? This article by Aimee Noel, a clinical social worker, helps answer that. She describes six signs of codependency, and they can go both ways, with either partner:
You use your partner to help you cope with life or feel whole.
You feel like you have to give up who you are to please your partner.
You don’t set boundaries or prioritize what’s important to you.
You have a hard time being open and honest with your partner.
You’re trying to control the relationship, rather than working together.
You’re afraid to lose the relationship or function without your partner.
In other words, when you depend on another person emotionally, that puts both of you in an unfair position. We’re typically not even aware we’re doing this, but we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment, because no one can be responsible for another person’s wellbeing. Only you can be responsible for yourself, and when you’re unable to cope with life or feel confident on your own, you might find yourself blaming, resenting or distancing yourself from your partner.
So what about healthy, thriving relationships? Aimee Noel says this:
"At the end of the day, the best relationships allow you to feel comfortable, secure, and free. When you and your partner each allow the other to shine brightly in your individuality and mutual respect for one another, you'll find your relationship will enrich and support the person you are rather than take away from it. And that is what love is truly all about."
There’s a name for this, too: interdependency. When each partner is strong and secure on his or her own, they’re able to come together to make their lives into something greater than either of them could alone. Stephen Covey describes it this way:
"Interdependence is a far more mature, more advanced concept. If I am physically interdependent, I am self-reliant and capable, but I also realize that you and I working together can accomplish far more than, even at my best, I could accomplish alone. If I am emotionally interdependent, I derive a great sense of worth within myself, but I also recognize the need for love, for giving, and for receiving love from others. If I am intellectually interdependent, I realize that I need the best thinking of other people to join with my own.”
I think the best thing about interdependency is that it only takes one person to decide to end the destructive cycle of codependency and change the dynamic of the relationship. That doesn’t mean your husband is going to change just because you do, but that’s not your aim anyway.
The secret is to realize that your work isn’t your husband or your marriage; it’s yourself. My marriage has become ten times stronger, and my love for Ben so much deeper, by working on myself—my mindset, confidence, and resilience—than years of trying to communicate my needs, frustrations and expectations. Every single aspect of our marriage, from money to intimacy, has changed for the better, without him having to change at all.
Of course, it hasn’t been easy to change the way I think and act. It’s an ongoing process, and I still fall back into old patterns and have to start all over again. And sometimes Ben doesn’t react the way I wish he would either, even when I’m trying my best. But I’m learning how to be happy and confident on my own, and that’s helping me become the kind of wife I want to be. It’s easier to be patient with Ben when I’m trying to be patient with myself, too.
If you want to become more interdependent, here are ten ways I’ve found helpful:
Make self development a habit. Look for ways to cultivate your mind, body and spirit. ( I love a bit of tint, a comfy sweater, a good book, and the occasional podcast to mix it up.)
Know your true worth and be confident in it. Get out of the habit of people-pleasing, comparing and criticizing. Remember your sense of self-worth doesn’t have to come from anyone else, but from within. Be patient with yourself and celebrate your God-given gifts by using them generously.
Get clear on your own values and priorities. Write them down, read them often and set goals you’re excited to work toward. Without judging, find out what your husband’s goals are, too. Think of ways you can support each other. (Journaling is a great tool for this, too!)
Take full responsibility for your own life and choices. Don’t play the victim or martyr. Your husband’s choices can affect you, but you have your choices, too. Think of it as a chance to learn and grow together.
Be willing to be wrong, admit mistakes, and accept blame without beating yourself up. Shame and guilt have little place in a loving relationship; let go.
Learn how to put your husband first without putting yourself down. Don’t think of either of you as inferior or superior to the other, but as equals.
Look for ways to work together rather than compare or compete against each other. Visualize you and your husband taking on life together, hand in hand, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.
Notice your thoughts and feelings toward your husband. Most of the time, these are just habits, and you can practice new thoughts and feelings whenever you choose to. For instance, I’ve noticed I have a habit of feeling frustrated with Ben whenever I’m feeling frustrated with myself. Simply being aware of this helps me avoid acting on it and adjust my thinking instead.
Let your husband be his own person. Let him make his own choices and mistakes, find his own answers, and learn in his own way. Believing in him and encouraging him to be his best is interdependency in action, not judging, nagging or controlling him.
Choose love. Love isn’t about making each other happy; it’s about being patient, having hope and showing kindness. In fact, I believe it’s the act of choosing patience, hope and kindness that truly makes us happy, especially when it’s hardest to do so.
At the end of the day, Ben and I are still very imperfect people, who frequently fall short of each other’s expectations. But it’s not as painful as it used to be, because I know the stronger I become, the stronger our marriage will be, too. And that’s worth more to me than any sort of Valentine’s Day surprise could ever be.
Here's to a Happy Valentine's Day, friends!
What do you think? Are you excited about Valentine's Day, or dreading it? What helps you be a stronger partner? I'd love to hear! Share your thoughts in the comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Hannah Mann