Everybody wants and needs love, but if you didn’t grow up with healthy examples of it, you may not know how to nurture and sustain love. Even if you did, you may be puzzled as to why the one you love doesn’t love you back. Keep reading for insight into how it all works.

The Love Bank

To understand how to nurture and sustain love, you first need to grasp the concept of the Love Bank. I first heard about this from Dr. Willard Harley.

Everything we do is either making deposits or withdrawals from our partner’s love bank. When we do things that make him feel closer to us, more at ease, more happy, we create a deposit. When we do things that create distance, anger, inconvenience, sadness, doubt, and things like that, we create a withdrawal. Obviously we want more deposits than withdrawals to keep our love feelings high.

The trick is that the value of our actions is always fluctuating so we may not have an accurate accounting of our balance in the love bank. For example, when we are connected and close and I leave dirty dishes in the sink, that might cost me 1 point in your love bank. If we are not feeling particularly close, or I have done this ten times after you’ve told me how much you dislike it, it might cost me 10 points.

This works the same way with deposits. A gift of a bunch of flowers may be worth 25 points on Valentine’s Day or 0 if I was expecting something else. They may be worth 10 points if I am in a bad mood or 3 if I am in a good mood – or vice versa. It just depends on the situation.

One of the reasons why domestic violence partnerships are often so hard to break despite having huge withdrawals all at once is that they often begin with big deposits. That gives us a big dopamine hit that is addictive. We want it. We crave it. We think, “If we can just get back to that place, things will be okay,” but of course it either never comes or it’s followed by the big withdrawals too.

It’s natural for our love bank balance to fluctuate. If it remains low or in the red too long, it can be impossible to rebuild because we lose interest and trust in people who disappoint and hurt us. We stop believing that comfort and warmth is possible with them. So the easiest way to sustain love is to nurture it daily and do regular check ins to make sure that your impression of the love bank balance is also your partner’s impression.

Avoid the Big 4 Horsemen

Regardless of your own particular pet peeves and desires, we all have the same big four horsemen (as identified by John Gottman) that sabotage love. They are: contempt, criticism, stonewalling, and defensiveness. If any of these are present in your relationship, it has a high chance of being unhappy and ending.

Even a single incidence of this is enough to permanently empty your love bank. It can happen the first time or the twentieth time. So don’t take chances. Learn to express yourself in ways that don’t include these four things!

Knowing Your Partner’s Love Language

If you want to keep your partner’s love bank full, it helps to know his love language. Not all gestures have equal value. We learn what love looks like in childhood, so your version of loving gestures may not be the same as mine. Some of us get really full from loving words. Some of us really like gifts. Others appreciate it when our partner does things for us like taking care of the dog or washing the car. For others, cuddles, caresses, and touch make us feel really warm and good inside. Others really appreciate spending time together doing something that we both enjoy.

If I really like words, but you are giving me your time, because that is how you feel loved, you may feel like you’re making huge deposits in my love bank. Meanwhile I’m feeling neglected and your balance is in the single digits. And you’re left feeling really puzzled why I am so dissatisfied.

The receiver is in charge of the value of the deposit, not the giver. Sadly, intention doesn’t matter.

You Have to Have a Container

All this makes no difference if you don’t have a container. Your container is your bank account. The love has to have somewhere to go and accumulate. If there is no container, it can’t do that. If a person has negative self beliefs like “I don’t deserve love” or “I am not worthy of love”, he may not have the lens to see the loving gestures as loving gestures. He may not be able to grasp and hold on to the loving feelings that he receives. The love is like water that runs through his hands.

So, if you are not able to get into a healthy relationship or sustain one, this could be the reason why. This could be you if:

  • your primary caregiver was unpredictable. Sometimes s/he was attentive and other times neglectful
  • your primary caregiver didn’t notice or attend to your needs
  • love was accompanied by pain. For example, your caregiver or partner is warm, appreciative, and caring, but is also verbally abusive, critical, judgmental, or physically abusive
  • your caregiver or a partner used love to manipulate
  • you grew up in an environment with high drama
  • your caregiver was distant and cold

We learn how to love. If we don’t do that in a healthy way, we can’t be good lovers. If we don’t believe deep down that we are lovable, we won’t behave that way or accept it when people treat us that way. We will sabotage love because we have to be congruent with our self beliefs.

But don’t worry. These are attachment issues. They are learned and can be unlearned with help. Everyone can learn to love in a healthy way if they deal with the past hurt and learn healthier strategies.

I know this is a lot to wrap your head around. If you want to be a better lover, take one step at a time. If you have attachment issues, start there. No love can accumulate until you have a container. Once you have established that, then start working on the other pieces. Good luck!