I was just in line at Chick-Fil-A in the mall and was waiting for my Diet Dr. Pepper and a sandwich before my next meeting. It was the lunch rush with long lines full of parents trying to be patient with fussy, hungry children. I heard the servers behind the counter say “It’s my pleasure” to even the smallest request. I would love to know more about how they train these young adults because I believed them! I believed that it was their pleasure to serve me by the way that they made eye contact, smiled and had an eager tone of voice. They seemed to have a genuine desire to get it right.

Fascinating. So, how does that relate to relationships? Can you remember the beginning of your relationships – when it was so pleasurable to find just the right gift, cook a meal that was really appreciated, or give a back rub that really hits the spot? Regular gestures of love and appreciation are critical to keeping us connected and special to our partners, but we know when our partners are not giving with love. We feel resentful when we are not giving with love. If you and your partner have gotten off-track with your giving, challenge yourself to be the one to change the love climate in your home. Reset the pleasure thermostat. Give. Do it with your whole heart. Expect nothing in return. Just give. Feel the pleasure again of giving love. Don’t you like yourself more when you are being your best loving self? Here’s the real challenge. Do it when you really don’t feel like loving. Love is a verb. Just do it.

This is where I hear so many couples get caught in a downward cycle. I hear clients say “I know I should give the hug/smile/gift/time to my loved one, but I just don’t feel like it. I’ll give when I feel love.” I understand the pain behind that statement. The world looks and feels better when we feel loved and cherished by our partner. We started our relationships with the assurances and affections that made us certain that this person would love us the way we wanted to be loved forever. We sign on the marital dotted line with supreme confidence that we are chosen and loved. Life intervenes, and our differences are magnified. As the hurts are left uncleared, we feel more and more that everything would be different if our partner would just go back and act the way he/she did in the beginning. In our longing, we stop loving, and when we stop giving love to wait for the feeling to come back, we do the very thing that ensures that it never will.

I tell couples that the most mature way to respond to a partner’s complaint is to ask yourself “What part of that is true?”. Show caring when someone is concerned. Show your partner that this relationship matters. None of us expect perfect partners, but we do hope and long to feel that we matter, even in difficult times.

Had the young people at Chick-FIl-A rolled their eyes at my order or told me that I was being high-maintenance for ordering a sandwich with no pickles, I would not have wanted to go back. What if I had gone to the counter for my free refill and been told that I couldn’t have one despite the fact that I saw other folks getting their refills with a smile? That’s not the way to keep a customer feeling welcome. Love works like that, too. How does your partner feel when he or she is with you? Loved? Rejected? Appreciated? Undesirable? Respected? Like he or she is a pleasure (most of the time!)?