Joyce and I recently put out a link to a YouTube video of our son, John-Nuriel, singing Ben Platt’s beautiful song, “In Case You Don’t Live Forever.” He sings it with so much heart and soul. Here it is, but be prepared. It will likely move you to take some very important risks in your life. We highly recommend you watch the video before reading the rest of this article- see below.
The song addresses a vital issue in every relationship: Why do we hold back from telling our loved ones that we love them? Why do we procrastinate, waiting for the “right” time … later … when it may be too late?
But life goes by in a heartbeat and, before we know it, the ones we love are gone, and we may be left with the regret that we never spoke our deepest truth.
Sure, we may have demonstrated our love in our actions. We may have given beautiful gifts, done meaningful acts of service, or made lots of time for this person. I always think of Joyce’s dad, who built shelves in every place in our house that needed them. It was his way of saying, “I love you.” And yet Joyce sometimes longed for the actual words.
The words, “I love you,” are important. And even more important are the reasons why I love you. Here is something we wrote in To Really Love a Woman:
Sean often said the words “I love you” to Erin. He felt this adequately expressed his love for her. Erin, however, needed more. She needed to hear what it was that Sean loved about her. The words “I love you” were nice but too vague. They lacked specifics. They could be said without real conviction or feeling. They could be said automatically.
It turns out that Sean was uncomfortable expressing genuine appreciation. “I love you” was really a token gesture, a cop-out from vulnerably letting Erin know what he loved about her.
With a little guidance, Sean was able to tell Erin, with tears in his eyes, “I love how you feel everything so deeply. Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am to be married to you.”
Erin looked like a child on Christmas morning.
So, if you find yourself only saying “I love you” to your partner (or to anyone else), think details – what do you really love and appreciate about her (them). Remember, love is often in the details.
So, now for the big question. Why don’t we truly express our deepest love?
We may think, “Why do I need to use words? Don’t my actions speak louder than words? We may think, “They already know I love them.”
But here is the main reason: Many of us are afraid of vulnerability. To use words of love genuinely, like Sean did in the above example, exposes our naked feelings and makes our hearts more visible.
We may be afraid that our words won’t come out right. We won’t be eloquent enough. We’ll never be able to compete with the great poets. But I say, better to try to express our love and come across as a bumbling idiot, than to let fear keep us silent. Perhaps the most vulnerable moment of my life happened after Joyce and I got married during the winter break in my first year of medical school at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. After our honeymoon, we moved in to an apartment in Nashville. When it was finally time for me to start back to school, I was hit by a wall of fear. I was a white minority in a black medical school, and every day I felt the discrimination towards me, that I was taking up the space of a potential black student.
The morning I was to return to school, I clumsily revealed my fear of leaving Joyce, and the safety I felt with her, and how much I needed her. My words were anything but eloquent, but my heart was laid bare. It was at that moment that Joyce could see the true beauty of my soul. She received my awkward words, and my fear, as the purest love poem to her.
We may also be afraid that speaking our deepest feelings of love will make us look weak. This is the core of vulnerability, taking the risk to show our weakness. I learned as a small child never to show my weakness or my fear, or I could get beaten up. Well, most of us now as adults are not afraid of physical abuse, but we may still be afraid of ridicule, judgement, or not being understood.
One of my favorite scenes in the original Disney’s The Lion King was Simba’s father, Mufasa, in James Earl Jones’ deep voice, after rescuing young Simba from the hyenas.
Simba: Dad, you're not scared of anything.
Mufasa: I was today.
Simba: You were?
Mufasa: Yes. I thought I might lose you.
Many of us are afraid of appearing overly emotional. Like it’s too emotional to tell someone what they really mean to us. So instead, we’re not emotional enough. But this backfires. We play it safe by hiding our emotions, only to find that we’re protecting ourselves from love, hiding in the dark, not the light. The most beautiful words, without emotion, are just words. Our emotions are what makes our words of love most deeply felt.
We’re really waiting to feel stronger, or safer, and then we can speak our full love. But that time may never come. The time to show love is right now, when you don’t feel ready. The time to speak your deepest feelings of love is right now, when you may feel the most vulnerable. Trust me, no matter how awkward you are, you will never regret any attempt to truly speak your love.
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are passionate about conscious relationship and personal-spiritual growth. They are the authors of 9 books. Call 831-684-2299 for further information on counseling sessions by phone, on-line, or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.
Joyce & Barry's website: www.sharedheart.org