How Can I Love You?

My husband Joseph and I celebrated our thirteenth Valentine’s Day together this week. Out of nostalgia, I searched my computer for a picture from our first romantic holiday. Hand in hand, we had walked a small trail leading up to an outlook over the city. He had timed it perfectly, so the sun was setting over the skyline as we reached the top.

“Open the card first,” he told me, handing me a pink gift bag.

I opened the homemade card, his messy scribble calculating down to the second how long we had been dating up until sunset on February 14. (I know, I know, super sappy, but it made my Nicholas Spark-reading nineteen-year-old heart melt.) I then pulled out a homemade clock—painted and decorated with stained glass.

“This is so sweet!” I ran my hands along the edge, marveling at his thoughtfulness. We kissed as the sun set lower, and I rested my head on his shoulder. The city lit up like our young love, and I wondered, How could someone already know me so well?

Three years later we enjoyed our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple. We were on a shoestring newlywed budget, so I had mentioned a few weeks before that he didn’t have to get me anything extravagant or impractical (thinking of the giant pink bears filling the grocery store aisles). Still, I couldn’t wait to see what creative gift he would craft for his new wife.

On the evening of February 14, we sat on our couch dressed up and ready for a fancy dinner (for which we had scrimped and saved). He pulled out a long, thin package clumsily wrapped in old Christmas paper. I scrutinized the oddly shaped present but knew it must be something unique and romantic. I eagerly tore the wrapping paper off.

“An umbrella,” I whispered, trying to keep the emotion from my voice and the tears from my eyes.

“Yeah!” he responded proudly. “I know you hate getting wet when you have to walk to your office in the rain!”

He had gotten me a very expensive umbrella—for Valentine’s Day. I thanked him, tucking the umbrella in the closet before we walked out the door. How could he not know what I truly wanted?

For many years in our relationship, I expected Joseph to read my mind. He gave me several bouquets before I had the nerve to tell him I actually didn’t like flowers. When I felt hurt, I sat in stoic silence, hoping he could telepathically sense what was truly upsetting me. I planned perfect dates in my head, dropping hints like a game of Clue. Yet he never could reach the expectations I had built up in my head—the bar set high by the twilight date on a mountaintop when we were young in love.

After thirteen years together, though, I’ve learned my husband is not a mind reader. While he still (for the most part) is the best gift giver I know, that’s not how I know he loves me. It’s not his ability to intuit what I need before I do that makes me feel loved, it’s his willingness to ask me how he can love me better. When I asked him to bring me coffee during those early newborn days, he learned how to use my French press. When I shared my insecurities about a writing project, he encouraged me to move forward. When I’m overwhelmed with managing our household, he offers to take tasks off my plate. He’s not a mind reader, but he is a student—willing to learn how to serve me in ways that I feel loved.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned to Joseph, “For Valentine’s Day, I think I would like a box of nice chocolates from the chocolatier shop that just opened around the corner.” Years ago, I would have believed that having to tell him what I wanted for Valentine’s Day was a sign that he didn’t love me. At nineteen, I believed if he truly loved me, he would read my mind like the heroes in every romcom I watched. He would get the perfect gift, remember to make the dinner reservation, and speak in sappy sentiments. Yet while that love we experienced on our first Valentine’s Day was true, our love was not as deep as it is now.

In the past year, we’ve started having weekly marriage meetings on Sunday nights. Most of the time is spent coordinating schedules, checking our finances, and sharing our struggles in parenting. But before we wrap up and turn on Netflix, we ask each other a simple question, “How can I love you this week?”

He might ask me to be patient with his crazy work schedule. I might ask for a few hours away to refresh on Saturday morning. We both may share how we need more intentional time together throughout the week. In these few, vulnerable minutes, I feel his love for me. It’s not because he knows my needs before I can ask them (or even think them), but because he’s willing to ask every week, sometimes every day. He cares enough to inquire what’s on my schedule, how is my relationship with God, and what are my hopes and dreams. Those weekly marriage meetings bring us closer than any hand-crafted present ever could.

This year’s Valentine’s Day was filled with sick kids, dirty diapers, and toddler tantrums. There was no fancy date. He went to work; I kept the children alive. We sat down to a family dinner of heart shaped pasta and raspberry cheesecake. And after putting the kids to bed, we fell onto the couch exhausted—with minimal emotional and physical energy to spend together. Still, he kissed me and handed me a box of fancy chocolates.

“How did you know?” I teased. “This is just what I wanted!”

We laughed and snuggled up to watch our favorite show. I remember back to this night thirteen years ago—how infatuated I was with the boy who would count the minutes we spent together. I couldn’t imagine loving him any more at that moment. Yet at that stage of our relationship, I never would have told him what I needed or how I was truly feeling.

Instead of a little black dress and cute jacket, this year I wore black leggings and a sweatshirt. Yet my heart burst with more love than I could have even fathomed at nineteen. It’s not a love that’s based on sunsets, romantic gestures, and perfect moments. It’s a love that is steady and secure—one where I feel safe asking for help, sharing what I need, and him doing the same in return.

I take another bite of chocolate and rest my head on his shoulder like I did years before. I wonder anew, How could I ever love you even more?

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “Love After Babies”.

3 thoughts on “How Can I Love You?”

  1. This was just the sweetest. A good reminder that none of us are mind readers (I’ve made the same resentful assumptions). I love the idea of asking “How can I love you this week?”

  2. What a great lesson/reminder of how to communicate with and love our spouses! I love that: “How can I love you this week?” Also I also literally used the same word “steady” and the similar word “security” in my last section of my writing for this prompt. I enjoyed seeing how you connected all the different sections and laughed at the umbrella haha x)

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