Just Say It — Learning to Express Love

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Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

“Love is action not just words,” is a common phrase I remember hearing growing up. And while there’s truth in that statement, just being nice to others is not all love can fully be.

Just take the Hallmark industry, for example. During the “love holiday” of Valentine’s, they sell over 144 million cards, expressing the words of love many people don’t know how to find on their own.

Of course, a handwritten note inside the card may make it even more personal, but there is still the absence of spoken words when it comes to expressing love.

Meeting my husband Adrián over six years ago made me realize how uncomfortable I really was in expressing my feelings…OUT…LOUD…

I’ve always been a writer, scribbling away in journals since elementary school, hoping that one day my written thoughts would impact others. But expressing them aloud, well, that…was a whole other challenge.

But watching my husband with his family, openly and freely and comfortably express their love and esteem for each other has been one of the best parts of joining their family.

Long, flowing, heart-felt sentences expressing the positives they see in each other and their well-wishes for the coming year are often expressed.

If there is a reason to be together, loving words are exchanged.

“You are the best mother I could have asked for, wise, loving, hard-working, and always supporting us. I wish you many blessings this coming year and that the year is full of health and love. You always have my love.”

“Oh my son, I am so blessed by having you in my life. I think of you everyday and pray that God always blesses you in your work and in your relationships. You are an example of hard work and intelligence. Thank you for always thinking of me and helping the family. You are a good son, brother, and husband. We are all grateful for you and your love for us.”

“My dear wife, you are a wonder to me. I enjoy spending each day with you. I hope this year that comes brings you much health and success in all you do. Your smile and laughter fill me with happiness. Each year I love you more. You are a wonderful wife and my best friend. I look forward to many more years of love together.”

And these words are not just expressed in private, but at the dinner table, in front of others, or while giving hugs before exchanging gifts.

And it’s not like my family doesn’t say “I love you” — they do, but that’s all they verbalize. Any other expressions of deep emotion, well, we stick to writing.

Emails, cards, letters, songs…it’s the way my immediate family has always best expressed personal sentiments.

So joining a family that effuses their love face-to-face, looking each other in the eyes, made me clam up. How could you dare to say all of those mushy things out loud???

At my first holiday with them, when they took turns sharing everything they enjoyed and loved about each other, I nervously prepared some words.

I don’t exactly remember what I said, but at best I know I muttered out a few short sentences. “I’m so happy to be part of this family and spend this time with you. You are all a blessing to me,” was about all I could muster, covering them all in one fell swoop, without the need to individualize it.

Now, almost four years later of sharing holidays, I’ve come to expect and even look forward to these love fests.

So this Valentine’s Day when my in-laws hugged me, I was ready with my sentiments.

I’ve also challenged myself — with my own family and friends — to express my feelings in spoken words more often. Unfortunately, over long distance phone calls and video chats, sometimes it’s easier to stick to simple topics. And how do you go about changing an expectation of what is spoken?

At the very least, I try to end every phone call with an “I love you,” because…it’s true. Even if I can’t muster up my full courage yet, I have realized that it’s not only pent-up negative emotions that can affect us, but also the bottled-up positive ones that we also need to let out.

So why don’t we?

Discomfort. Many people (myself included) don’t know how to receive such praise and compliments in unending succession, so if the receiver of our love doesn’t meet our eyes or seems to shift attention, we might shut down.

So, just as in all things, I think we need to start small. Maybe we can’t begin with a full minute of positivity, but a sentence of how much and why we appreciate those in our lives is a place to start.

“You’re a great friend because ______.”

“Your ________ is one of the things I most admire about you.”

“I’m always thankful that you _______.”

“You are one of the best _____ I know.”

My own challenge this year is to express in spoken words my true feelings for those I love.

Out loud. Unhindered.

Even if it can’t be in person, at least they will hear those feelings in my voice and see them in my eyes.

And here’s to hoping the discomfort will diminish with time.

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