Jenai Goss
Feb 5 · 15 min read

Where to start? While there are a few good things on this list, overall it is more a list of “how to confirm your own anxieties that someone doesn’t love you and judge them by your own personal preferences of how love should be shown” than it is a good standard on how to know someone loves or cares for you.

“They dare to speak up (in a loving way) and tell you when you are wrong, potentially hurting yourself, or others.”

In general, yes. Someone who cares is going to speak up when you could be harming yourself or others. However, some personalities are more forthcoming with this than others, and people draw the line of ‘harm’ in different places. One person might think his significant other eating too many sweets is harmful — most of us would find it a bit micromanaging, not loving, if there was an intervention for that. Others might not speak up unless the harm is majorly obvious, such as drug addiction, and might be silent on more subtly dangerous things like gossip, bitterness, or hording. Where this line is drawn has a lot more to do with their personality, observation, and respect for the autonomy of other people than it does on how much/little they love.

“They show a genuine interest in the things for which you are most interested, excited, and passionate about.”

Meh. Doesn’t mean someone doesn’t love you if they aren’t genuinely interested in your interests. In fact, a healthy love/relationship generally will include both shared interests and “separate” interests, and put no obligation on the other to drum up enthusiasm for things they are not interested in.

Now, in a healthy relationship, whether romance or friendship, both partners will be *supportive* of the others interests. This would be things like understanding the other needs time to pursue their interests, not talking down about their interests or dismissing them as stupid, and being willing to talk about them now and then even if they *aren’t* feeling enthusiastic about it.

“They prioritize spending time with you regularly.”

For a marriage, yes. For a friendship, it’s a bit harder to gauge, since someone prioritizing work or family or balancing their time with all their interests and friends doesn’t actually mean they care less about you. And some friends can go years without seeing each other without caring less. And for dating, there needs to be a balance. If they are spending a ton of time with you at the expense of responsibilities or their own personal growth or letting family/friendships fall by the wayside completely to make time for you, it can be a sign of a toxic relationship where they are expecting you to fulfill *all* their social and bonding needs, which isn’t a healthy love. It’s more obsession/dependency.

“They listen, with focused presence and interest, when you speak.”

Listening skills are great, and everyone should cultivate them. They are not the greatest gauge of ‘love’ however, especially if one is basing the judgement of how well they are listening on your own perception of their ‘focused presence and interest.” There are many different personality types, and people express interest in different ways. One person might give sustained eye contact. Another might ask questions. Another might use verbal cues to prod you to continue. Still another might offer solutions to any problems you mention. Those are all ways of showing listening and caring. And one of the biggest mistakes people can make is thinking that someone not expressing listening in a certain way, e.g. not making much eye contact, means they are not listening or don’t care. Also, some personality types do not do well listening when their is too much going on in the environment — e.g. radio, noise, crowds, they have an important task they were working on you interrupted, etc. — and so, again, it would be a mistake to take their lack of ‘focused presence’ as meaning a lack of love.

I had to actually study and learn most social skills, as I am an INTP and did not naturally do a lot of eye contact as a youth nor understand what people “wanted” from conversations. I’ve since learned to use the right verbal cues and how to force myself to do eye contact. But it was *very* frustrating being judged growing up as “not listening” or “not caring” because I didn’t meet a different personality type’s expectations.

And speaking of expectations, I’m going to add some things to your list here:

  • Love is clear and verbal about crucial expectations, and does *not* hold people to account for unvoiced expectations.

If it is extremely important to you that you get flowers or a birthday card, for example, say so. If you don’t say so, it doesn’t mean the other person is unloving when you don’t get flowers or a card. Even general social customs do not mean everyone is naturally on the same page, expectation wise.

I’ve been married almost five years. I’ve gotten flowers exactly 0 times. I was clear with my husband before we married that, while I might not mind flowers as a surprise, I did not expect them and overall found the idea of constantly spending money on something that will wilt rather silly. However, there are women for whom flowers are VERY important. For them, they need to voice that expectation and not expect their husband to intuitively ‘know’ they will want flowers every minor holiday. Also, sometimes even that expectation needs tempered — if the family has budget issues, for example, and so lack of flowers would still not infer “lack of love.”

  • Love avoids false and unrealistic expectations

It’s unfortunate how many people date and marry with unrealistic expectations. This could be things like “we will never disagree on anything,” “my spouse will always be in the mood for fun when I am,” “we’ll be able to have fun after we marry like when we were dating, even when life responsibilities pile up,” “my spouse will share all my interests with me,” “my partner will frequently buy me gifts,” or even “the hormones we feel now will stay at a constant rate.”

The side effect of false expectations, of course, is that the other person will always disappoint you when he/she fails to meet them.

  • Love does not hold others to a higher standard than we hold ourselves

This seems like common sense, but unfortunately it rarely happens in relationships. We want the other person to be perfectly sensitive, attentive, and faithful. We want them to keep up their appearances, always have time for us, and never beg off spending time if they have a headache or something comes up. Conversely, we have a tendency to give ourselves a pass if we say something rude (they’ll understand, it was just a bad day!) get snappy, gush over a celebrity, stare at a hot person walking by, really want to finish the book we are reading rather than have a cup of tea together, don’t want to do anything because we feel sick, or cancel plans. Life happens, and everyone makes mistakes sometimes and has genuine needs that interrupt plans at others. But if we are more apt to excuse ourselves while condemning the other, even for legitimate needs, then there is an imbalance and we are not being loving.

The converse of this would be that someone who is constantly judging you for stuff they often do, or not cutting you any slack, is not being loving.

“They are willing to let go, if you both have tried as hard as you can to make things work, and things are no longer working. Letting go can also be an act of love, because it releases both parties so they can move on, heal, and find someone who is a healthier, better match at that point. Emotionally mature, healthy adults let go when a relationship, friendship, or other connection is no longer working.”

This is generally a misunderstanding of the real problem, and the letting go is not so much “healthy” as it is an escape and a chance for the same problem to happen again with someone else. Bitterness, unresolved conflict, false expectations, festering hurt, finally realizing the person has fundamentally different core ethics, etc. are more likely to be at the bottom of things ‘not working.’ And the number one reason things tend to “no longer work” is because the relationship was based on hormones vs. friendship and care and mutual goals/expectations to begin with. A marriage is only as strong as the underlying friendship. Unfortunately, many relationships dive right into the temporary honeymoon phase (a 1–2 year hormonal high) before they’ve ever been friends, then feel things are “no longer working” when those hormones stop.

Problems like this are best stopped before they even start. If one establishes core goals before they even enter a romantic relationship, for example, then the whole “oops I’m totally infatuated with you now, but our long term plans and our ethics just don’t mesh” won’t get a chance to happen.

Now, there definitely are times to set boundaries or stop seeing someone. But if this is the case, it’s highly unlikely either person actually “loves” each other vs. feels infatuated or ‘in love.’ Love isn’t something we fall into. It’s a ongoing choice to care for another person and their needs and to be the best person and support we can be for them. If one or both people are so far off from that care that they have to stop seeing each other for emotional or physical safety, then one or both people is not actually loving the other.

“They make an effort to get to know and get along with the people you love most. Even if they don’t fully jive with or love these people themselves, they do it as an act of love towards you.”

Agree with this one, though it is not a requirement that they get along and know everyone you hang with beyond some core family members and friends. It’s one reason that relationships where one partner tries to hog the other and keep them from family or friends, are such big red flags.

“They are curious about you. Their inquiries are not just obligatory. They are truly interested in getting to know who you are. The things you think about, what scares you, your life dreams, current life experiences, and feelings, etc.”

Yes, but this can be displayed in very different ways. E.g. some people might want deep conversations about hopes and dreams every few days. Others might be content to slowly get to know someone over a lifetime. So it is very difficult to judge someone else’s curiosity by how often they ask questions. But it is good for both people to listen if the other brings something up, and to check in with each other on a semi-regular basis, at least, about how they are doing.

“They remember and acknowledge the significant happenings in your life. Birthday, new job, a major medical issue, a breakup, etc.”

This again has a bit more to do with personality. Some personality types gravitate towards remembering and reminiscing on life events. Other personality types are more interested in the here and now and what you are into. Still others are more interested in the abstract — what you think about the world, or life, or your goals, etc. and see more concrete life details as lesser small talk.

Which is to say, someone not mentioning a birthday or an ex or constantly bringing up a past medical issue doesn’t mean they don’t love you. [I used a walker for five years and had seizures and pain. My husband rarely ever brings it up. I appreciate that. Drove me nuts when I was disabled and half the people I talked to would want to talk about my health, which was a pretty uninteresting topic to me, because they felt that was how to show they cared.

“They are reliable, trustworthy, and kind toward you.”

Yes! Agree with this one whole-heartedly.

“They have the courage to tell you when they think what you’re doing is not ok.”

Already covered this above. True, but everyone has a different line where they feel they need to speak up, so we have to be a bit careful in judging the extent of their love on where they draw that line.

“You see it in the way they look at you.”

Sort of true, but very subjective. Some people do not express emotions well, so others don’t “see” love even when they feel it. And some people are expressive, but others mistake infatuation or lust for care. Still others can even manipulate.

Better, go with psychology here. People in a romantic relationship will usually telegraph ‘tells’ to each other multiple times a day signaling that they want connection. This could be a look which begs an answering stare, reaching to touch hands, initiating a hug, jostling, telling an inside joke, calling a pet name, etc. The other partner can then respond (establishing care and intimacy) or reject the overture. Most rejection is unintentional, which is fine since you only need about 4 connections/responded overtures a day for a healthy relationship. But if that minimum is not met on a regular basis, and the other person just isn’t responding when you reach out for connection, then that will develop distance, even hurt, and can make one feel unloved. If this is happening, it’s good to talk to the other person and find out if something is going on.

“They are open to feedback from you, even when it’s hard to hear, and then they attempt to change, grow, and tailor their actions going forward.”

While ideally everyone would take our advice and grow from it, the reality is we can’t control other people. If they take our advice, great. If they don’t — it doesn’t mean they do not love us. It could mean several things: a) they don’t have a personality that easily takes correction b) they do not view our feedback as an accurate representation of reality or their own struggles or c) they took the feedback but don’t especially feel it warrants structured life change.

“They have the courage to challenge you, when and where you need it most.”

That’s an insanely great benefit if our partner can do that. It’s wonderful when the strengths and weaknesses of a couple augment each other. But sometimes people marry similar personalities, or someone who prioritizes harmony over iron-sharpening-iron. So their lack of challenging you does not necessarily mean lack of love.

“They go out of their way for you. To let you know that you matter to them, to spend time with you, to make a gesture in an attempt to uplift you when things are tough, etc.”

Yes, but we have to be careful judging this from our own expectations vs. how *they* see going out of their way. They might prefer to do something constructive to help with one of your problems, like help you pack or give you a ride, than to bolster your spirits with a gift.

“They are not just around to hang out when it’s convenient. They also bend themselves sometimes in order to make it happen to hang with you too.”

Yes, but it’s a balance. If they blow off other commitments, obligations, or promises to spend time with you instead, they might blow you off down the road.

“They care about when you are hurting, physically or emotionally. This upsets and pains them, and you know it based on their reaction and sense of empathy toward you.”

“Their reaction and sense of empathy towards you” is extremely subjective and an unhelpful way to determine someone’s love. This is because there are at least 4 different types of empathy, and many different ways people can show empathy, and different levels at which different personalities will feel or express empathy.

It’s entirely possible for someone to care and not physically show it, or even mention it unless it is brought up. And it’s entirely possible for someone to overtly express what seems like empathy and it to be fake.

“They are excited to spend time with you.”

Nice to have, but not a gauge of love. [One of my roommates used to tease me when I was courting because she, being an ENFP personality, was far more visibly excited to see my boyfriend than I was, and my mom’s dog was more visibly excited to see me than he was.]

Excitement is essentially heightened adrenaline. Someone can be pleased to see someone else, especially someone they care about, and not have that adrenaline rushing through, or even if they do, not visibly express it.

“They are forgiving since both of you will mess up at times. And love requires forgiveness.”

Yes! :)

“They are willing to make adjustments for you.”

Also yes. Although, not to the extreme if the adjustments interfere with other commitments, are too crazy/domineering (e.g. never mention the name of another girl in front of me!) or may not be good for you.

“They take action to solve problems when they do arise between the two of you. Not passive, half-hearted, lame action, but overt, motivated ones.”

This is on both partners, since almost every problem is rooted in both of them. It’s not up to the other person entirely to “take motivated actions” as if it is completely up to them to be the first to apologize or speak up about it or set a time to talk. Also, half the time in relationships one person doesn’t even realize there is a problem, so it isn’t required of them to take action for something they don’t know is wrong.

In general, it’s going to be far more useful in a relationship to think, “are my needs being met? Am I holding on to hurt? Are their any actions I can take to make my needs known or resolve X issue?” vs. passive aggressively judging how much the other person loves you based on perceptions of how motivated they are in solving a problem.

“They do not hold grudges.”

Nice to have, and people shouldn’t hold grudges in general. But holding a grudge, even if it happens, doesn’t mean someone doesn’t love you. Some people just have a hard time letting go of hurt. I used to struggle with grudge holding when I was younger — it didn’t mean I didn’t care about the people I was upset with, it just meant there was a hurt that was never fully resolved and I didn’t know how to process that. It was, however, stupid to let things fester or give up the head-space for such a useless thing, so I don’t hold grudges anymore. But if I found out my husband held a grudge against me for some random thing, I wouldn’t leap to the conclusion “he doesn’t love me” over it.

“They respect your “no.””

True. Respecting boundaries is huge in relationships. Although, there again can be an extreme. (E.g. imagine a husband who quits his job without consulting his wife and says, “no, I don’t want to work there,” or a spouse who refuses to help with the household chores on an ongoing basis.) There may indeed be types of ‘No’ that are inappropriate in a relationship if a regular thing.

“They come when the chips are down and when you are truly in need. They are there, emotionally or physically. Ideally both.”

True. One of the things that really impressed me about my current husband, before we ever started courting, was that he could be counted on in a dilemma and was quick to volunteer when friends had needs. One day my brother and roommate went missing, and for whatever reason we ended up on the phone and I told them they hadn’t returned from their hike. He actually drove to their last known location to check up on things, and I have no doubt he would have actually joined a search party had it been needed. (Fortunately it wasn’t, they just got a bit lost and their phones died.)

It’s best not to automatically treat this as romantic love, however, since it can be care in general. My roommate at the time thought he had a crush on her since he came to her rescue. ;) And he helped many people pack and move and was quick to volunteer at church events.

“They celebrate you. On your birthday, wedding day, on the day of your child’s birth, when you finally walk again after physical therapy, at graduation, and on the other significant occasions of your life. They get psyched for you and make this known.”

Lol, I’ve never gotten a card from my husband, he never patted me on the back for making it through brutal physical therapy and being able to walk again (though he was happy as my health improved and showed care in his own way, such as taking walks with me and giving me a shoulder to lean on if needed) and doesn’t particularly show much emotion when I meet a personal goal or accomplish something. (He did cry at our wedding, though.) “He doesn’t love me” has never crossed my mind for his ‘failure’ to act psyched or give me a card or congratulate me.

I let him show love in his own way, and don’t demand he show love in specific ways I demand. Creating false expectations of surface actions a partner has to do to “prove” love isn’t being loving towards them.

“When you spend time together, it isn’t always what they want to do. They are flexible, open, and make a point to partake in and try things you enjoy and want to do as well.”

A healthy relationship will have shared interests, separate interests, and general companionship where you both do things you might not love but just because you want to be together. [Like the time my husband and I joined my sister at a swing dance, even though dancing is not our thing.] But partner’s shouldn’t force each other into doing things they are not interested in or make them uncomfortable, either. I don’t make my husband share all my interests. We do talk about interests a bit — he might nod and politely say, “that’s nice” if I show him a dress I made, and I might ask him what gun parts he is considering buying next, but I didn’t make or even ask him to come to my sewing group. And I might go to a gun show with him and the kids once or twice a year, but generally I let him go by himself. We have recreational companionship — board games, time with the kids, silly Youtube videos we watch and talk about, geeking out together over theology, etc. — but neither of us would be so controlling as to demand the other partake in all our interests or frequently do things they do not enjoy simply to make us “happy” — because temporary happiness at someone else’s expense is not love, nor is it real companionship.

“They laugh and play with you.”

True. True of love in general, really, whether kids or spouse or friends. Though not all laughter shows love, and not all love displays itself in laughter, love and care will lead to people experiencing life and finding joy in it together.

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