Such a broad and abstract topic as love, not surprisingly, is hard to define. And, of course, many writers, artists, musicians and psychologists have tried. Tons of theories exist and persist. (Here are four theories of love.) We spoke with two couples therapists to get their thoughts on this elusive subject.

“Being in love is an agreement — made consciously or unconsciously — to participate in the experience of personal growth and transformation,” according to Judy Ford, licensed clinical social worker and author of Every Day Love: The Delicate Art of Caring for Each Other. “When we are in love we are saying ‘yes’ to the process of becoming our best selves.”

Terri Orbuch, psychologist and author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, believes that true love includes both the arousal-producing, can’t-stop-thinking-about-you passionate love and the supportive and emotionally intimate companionate love. She underscored that both do “wax and wane,” and may need work. In fact, a decline in excitement is “a typical progression or development of a long-term relationship,” she said. (Here’s Orbuch’s advice on reigniting the passion in a relationship.)

6 Signs of Love

Orbuch shared six signs that indicate a couple is in love. She said that a couple might have some or all of these signs. (In other words, if your partner isn’t much of a sharer, it doesn’t mean he’s not in love with you.)

    1. Personal information. You reveal intimate information to your partner that you don’t tell others, and they do the same.

    2. Mutuality. “You think of yourself as a couple rather than two separate entities or people,” Orbuch said. In other words, you think in “we” terms, not “I.” If someone asks what you’re doing this weekend, you consider your partner in your plans, and respond with something like “We’re not sure yet.”

    3. Affection, caring and support. Do you both care if the other has a bad day? Do you automatically turn to your partner for support?

    4. Interdependence. “You’re interdependent with each other socially, emotionally and financially,” Orbuch said. So whatever you do will affect your partner, and vice versa. If you’re offered a new job in a different city, the decision you make affects your partner.

    5. Commitment. “You have a desire to have the relationship stay, endure and last,” Orbuch said.

    6. Trust. Both partners are honest and have each other’s best interests at heart, she said.

Discussing Love with Your Partner

People have different ways they express their love. One of the ways you can develop or cultivate love, Orbuch said, is by talking with your partner about it. For instance, an important talk may be your views on commitment. Do you see monogamy as part of commitment? Do they?

Also, do you think of other love signs similarly? For instance, your partner might solely share his private information with you, whereas you tell your close friends everything. This may be upsetting to him, but it doesn’t mean you love him any less. Or your partner has a medical scare but never comes to you. You think this means he doesn’t truly trust or love you. However, his notion of love might mean working this out on his own and then coming to you.

Cultivating Love Every Day

Cultivating love is a lot easier when things are going your way. As Ford said, “It is easy to be loving when the setting is romantic, when you’ve got extra jingle in your pocket, when you’re looking good and feeling fine, but when one of you is out of sorts, exhausted, overwhelmed, and distracted, behaving lovingly requires conscious effort.”

True love shows up in the tougher moments. “It’s in those moments of restlessness and upheaval that you find out who you are and what it truly means to love each and every day,” Ford said.

Below, Ford offers several techniques for cultivating love daily.

  • Do a self-inventory. Sometimes, love can bring out the worst in us, so the last thing we do is behave lovingly toward our partner. When that happens, “Reflect on the interaction between you and your sweetheart. Instead of reacting with a disapproving glance or attitude, reflect on how you might respond lovingly next time.”
  • Work on yourself — not your partner. According to Ford, “We fall in love with a person who has the qualities that we would like to develop in ourselves.” But instead of developing those traits in ourselves, we “try to develop the other person’s potential.” She suggested not only focusing on yourself but also memorizing this two-pronged principle: “My sweetheart is not me [and] I can enjoy the differences.”
  • View your relationship as a learning opportunity. “Approach your sweetheart as if you have everything to learn, as if you know nothing…. There is so much to learn about each other.”
  • Speak highly of your partner. “Never make a mean-spirited comment (even in jest) about your partner, your children, your friends—even if they aren’t around.”
  • Appreciate your partner every day. “It is easy to acknowledge a surprise grand gesture offered out of the blue, but much harder to appreciate ordinary behavior performed routinely in the midst of the daily grind. If you wait for your honey to do something special before showing appreciation, you’ll be missing a major opportunity to strengthen your connection and deepen your love,” Ford said.
* * *

Learn more about Judy Ford or Terri Obruch, and sign up for Terri’s newsletter here.