Rebuilding Love

Bill Abbate

How often have you heard, “it’s not what you say; it’s what you do that matters.” Since what you do always affects someone else, how are you doing in your most important relationships?

Words and actions

Do you judge others by what they say, do, or both? Like many of us, you may recall when your parents said, “do as I say, not as I do.” We knew something was wrong when they said that, even early on. It is something you would only tell a child, as you would lose the respect of anyone older by saying such a thing.

For centuries it has been said, “actions speak louder than words.” There is a great deal of truth in that old saying. What we do is more meaningful than our words. The question is, how often has what we said outpaced our actions?

Why is it important to do what we say? Because the outcome of our words and actions always involves someone else.

Trust is at the foundation of every interaction you will ever have. The best way to earn someone’s trust is by following through on what you say; otherwise, how could they trust you to do anything?

The bottom line is before someone can earn our trust, their actions must match their words. As we mature, we become keenly aware of this until we fall in love for the first time. This is when that someone special comes into our life.

By falling “madly” in love, even when we know something is off, we overlook it and make excuses. Our common sense becomes overridden by hormones. Who hasn’t experienced that?

Words and actions matter

In any relationship, whether you are a leader, spouse, colleague, or friend, it is what you do that matters most. What you say is extremely important, regardless of what you do, but at the end of the day, what you do shows others who you are and what you think of them.

“I never listen to what a person says. I look at what a person does because what they do tells me who they really are.” Patty Houser (1974-present)

Most adults quickly pick up on actions that do not match someone’s words. By adulthood, we have seen and experienced it far too often. What is the first thing that happens when someone’s words and actions do not align? We lose trust in them and those with whom they associate.

“Do not be wise in words — be wise in deeds.” Marcus Aurelius (121–180 A.D.)


Trust is essential for any good relationship. After all, who wants to be around people they don’t or can’t trust?

Let’s go back to that first love. The saying “love is blind” came into being for a reason! When we first fall in love, trust abounds. As stated, we “love” them so much we overlook their faults and make excuses for them.

If you have been married for more than a few years, you remember that time of unbridled lust; oops, I meant trust. There was nothing you would not do to be with them. You were fully committed and ready to commit to them for life.

Nothing could get in the way of your love. Nothing but time that is. Over time other things come into your lives as your head descends from the clouds, and you see clearly again. At this time, what you say and do becomes extremely important. As the relationship matures, previously overlooked things face reality, and trust becomes far more important.

Erosion of trust

Think about how you treat your spouse. Do you continue to give them the rapt attention you did early on? If not, why not? What changed? Did they change? Did you change?

Depending on your self-awareness, you may have no clue who changed. You may still say you love them, but do your actions match your words? For most of us married for more than a few years, there is a strong likelihood they do not, and we haven’t noticed the change. Or if we have, we do nothing about it. But you can bet they have noticed!

“A lot of people are all talk, what they say and what they do are two different things. As the saying goes, talk is cheap. Without actions behind the talk, it is all useless.” Catherine Pulsifer (1957-present)

Has the other person changed too? Most likely. This is where we can use the lesson “you can’t change other people, but you can change yourself.” When you change, there is a strong chance they will as well. When you don’t change, there is a strong chance they won’t either. Let’s be real; all change in your world begins in you, not “out there” or in someone else.

This relationship erosion happens because your actions no longer match your words. You can say “I love you” until the cows come home, but it becomes meaningless unless you show it. This lack of action is one of the main reasons relationships change and why so many fall apart.

“Words will hold some water, but actions carry buckets full.” Christine Szymanski (1973-present)

What can you do?

It is simple to see what is needed to improve any relationship significantly. Yet, it is difficult for most people to do the work because it requires changing yourself. Why is this? Because you must admit you are wrong. You must admit you have become complacent and ignored them. This will hit your ego hard, and who enjoys that?

It is also difficult to improve a relationship because it requires changing your behavior. Behavioral change can be difficult, especially as you age. What can you do to change your behavior? You certainly need a good reason.

When the reason becomes strong enough, you can do it if you work at it. Change will be difficult if the motivation behind the need to change is too weak. Most of us can use some help with finding our motivation to change.

A coach or therapist can be helpful, and so can a friend. The coach or therapist can help you uncover why you should change, while a friend can hold you accountable. The coach, therapist, or friend can help make it real. As you begin to accept reality, you will start changing.

The larger the change required, the more important it is to build accountability. The stronger the accountability, the greater the likelihood of lasting change.

The key is to make regular steps in the direction you want to change, regardless of how small they are. Consistency is a must.

How can you do it?

When you have someone to help you, whether a coach, therapist or friend, determine as many steps forward as possible and begin to work on them. For example, say you want to reclaim some of the closeness you and your spouse had early on. Reflect on what it was like, including the feelings and emotions of that time. Identify as much of what you said and did back then as possible. Discuss It with them and lay out some steps to go back in that direction.

A tip that will help you accelerate the entire process is to begin appreciating your spouse with your words and, more importantly, your actions. You will find the more you appreciate them, the more they will reciprocate.

Why not find at least one thing you appreciate about your spouse daily and tell them how you feel? Show them how much you appreciate them, even if it is only a hug. You do hug your spouse, don’t you?

The cumulative effect of appreciating something each day over a month will astound you. It’s like rolling a snowball down a hill. As it rolls, it gets larger and larger and goes faster and faster. I can assure you your hill is plenty big, maybe even a mountain! A tiny hill is only for those who were never serious.

As you continue to work on your relationship, you will regain the trust you once had. Little in life is as comforting as having someone close to you whom you can trust completely and intimately. And who better than your spouse should you be able to trust in this way?

Final thoughts

While much of this article has focused on a spouse, you can use these techniques to improve any relationship. Sure, you won’t have the intimacy you would with a spouse, but if you can find a strong enough reason to value the relationship, whether with someone you know or in an organization you are leading, you can improve it.

The most important thing is to be consistent in who you are. To do what you say. To build trust. To have someone that can help you be accountable for changing your behaviors.

I recommend you start and end with appreciation. Yes, even if you are running a large organization, your appreciation will become evident as long as it is genuine and your words and actions align. Give it a try. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so why not conduct your own experiment and watch it work firsthand?

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA

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