Commentary: The word for Valentine's Day is 'cherish'

"Cherish me as much as I cherish you," The Association, 1966

We've got a sure-fire way to make every day feel like Valentine's Day.

Here's the good word: cherish. Yes, men and women everywhere want above all else (after basic needs are satisfied) to feel cherished by their lovers or partners.

College sweethearts want it, those in new relationships want it and even those having affairs want it. Couples in long-term marriages crave it, just as much as newlyweds do (if not more).

To cherish is to hold dear and feel love for, to nurture and cling fondly to the beloved. It suggests treating someone or something as a valuable object of affection. To cherish your partner means to support her with your words and actions, and to protect and aid her, making her feel secure. It means to hold her dear, to encourage and foster her growth.

If you can consistently demonstrate to your partner in word and deed that you cherish him, nothing (not even expensive material possessions) will matter as much to him and you will have won his heart. We believe this to be one of the preciously few gems of truth in romantic relationships. It may be more powerful than the need for new stimulation, sexual experimentation, common beliefs, lifestyle compatibility and all the other important aspects that make for a good relationship.

When partners cherish each other, they treat each other with tenderness. They adore each other, paying attention to their partner's thoughts, interests, beliefs and, most of all, deepest feelings. When you cherish, you respect what he is feeling, even if you don't feel the same. Cherishing implies honoring him and showing that respect in your everyday behavior. As you show him you can be vulnerable enough to do this, he then sees it's safe to open up to you and be vulnerable as well.

Cherishing is an aspect of love that means you delight in your partner's uniqueness.

Each feels this specialness and is free to respond by opening his or her heart more.

Now, here's the first catch: Cherishing is not something you can fake — at least not for very long. Your partner can sense if you aren't being authentic.

Here's the second catch: You won't be able to truly cherish each other unless both of you feel safe to open your hearts to deeper levels of vulnerability. Cherishing doesn't happen on the emotional surface, like infatuation does. It needs time to mature. Its emotional roots need to be nurtured until they are solidly planted.

One challenging part of this is that to allow yourself to cherish her, you have to be willing to give up your fear of losing control to her. Your wanting to please her can lead to your doing things for her that may make you feel subservient to her needs and desires.

You may mistake this for weakness. Also, the power of cherishing means you may be subject to getting "lost" in her if you don't maintain adequate ego boundaries. While some of our most profound experiences have to do with the merging of ego boundaries, this merging is also one of the more potentially ego threatening experiences for many.

Cherishing her doesn't mean never arguing. It doesn't mean passively saying "yes" when you need to say "no." Nor does it mean she is always going to look deliciously attractive to you or that you will not be subject to all the typical relationship stresses, challenges, disappointments and sorrows.

But it does mean that whatever the challenges you face as a couple, you'll always be just one glance, one heartfelt moment away from tuning in to how much you adore each other. And when she feels adoration radiating from your heart and reflected in your eyes, your smile and your words, it will be easy for her to return it to you.

STEVEN AND DEBORAH HENDLIN are clinical psychologists in private practice in Newport Beach. You can read more of their work at http://www.Hendlin.net.

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