Why Actions Speak Louder Than Words When It Comes to Love

Boundaries in Marriage

George sat in my (Dr. Cloud's) office, despondent. His wife, Janet, whom he loved deeply, had just moved out because he had lost another job. A very talented person, George seemed to have everything he needed for success. But he had lost several good jobs because of his irresponsibility and inability to follow through. Bosses loved the talent but hated the performance. And after several family disruptions because of his failures, Janet had had enough.

"I love her so much," George said to me. "Doesn't she see that?"

"I believe that you love her," I said. "But in reality, I don't think that she sees your love. All she sees is the effect your behavior has had on her and the children, and she asks herself, 'How can he love us and treat us this way?' You cannot just say you love someone and not deliver. Love without the fruits of love is really not love in the end. She feels very unloved because of what you have put her through."

If George was to have a chance of winning Janet back, it would not come through one more empty promise. He needed to develop boundaries to gain the self-control that would make him a responsible person. Janet was only going to believe in action, not just talk about love.

George had never been required to deliver the fruits of love when growing up. His parents were fine, hardworking people. But having gone through the Depression and a lifetime of hard work, they did not want George to have to struggle as they had. As a result, they indulged him and required very little work from him. When they did give him chores and responsibilities and he did not deliver, they would not discipline him, thinking that they wanted him to have "positive self-esteem" rather than the "guilt" with which they grew up. Consequently, he did not see any negative effect on his loved ones when he did not perform.

But marriage was different. He was now in a relationship in which the one he loved also had requirements for him, and things were falling apart. For George to become a truly loving person, one whose love actually made a difference in the lives of others, he was going to have to become a responsible person. In the end, love is as love does.

Moreover, loving people respect the boundaries of others. Have you ever been in a relationship with a person who could not hear the word no? How did you feel? Typically one feels controlled, manipulated, and resentful instead of respected and loved. A controlling person steps over the line and tries to possess the other. This does not feel very loving, no matter how much the offender says he cares.

Loving people are able to control their impulses. Many alcoholics, for example, have great love for their families. Their drinking greatly troubles them, and they feel horrendous guilt. But still they drink, and although, like George, they love, the effects of their lack of ability to say no to alcohol ends up destroying the relationships they care about. Many other impulse problems—such as sexual acting out, overspending, food or drug abuse, and rage attacks—end up destroying love as well. A lack of boundaries keeps these behaviors going.

A loving person recognizes that the world does not revolve around him or her. They consider the consequences of their behavior on people around them before they act. In psychological terms, they are not "egocentric"—thinking that they are all that matters and that people around them exist only to meet their demands and needs.

George's irresponsibility was costing him his marriage and had cost him financial losses, chaos, a lack of stability, and unrealized dreams. But what is this thing we call responsibility? Many things come to mind, such as duty or obligations, reliability and dependability, or just "getting the job done."

Responsibility is actually broader than this. We think of responsibility in terms of ownership. To take ownership of your life is ultimately to take control. Ownership is to truly possess your life and to know that you are accountable for your life—to God and others. When you take ownership, you realize that all aspects of your life are truly yours and only yours, and that no one is going to live your life for you.

People who are accountable see life as something that has been entrusted to them, and they know that they and they only will be responsible for what they do with it. To take ownership of these is to be a truly responsible person, the kind of person with whom everyone wants to have a relationship. A responsible person says, "My feelings are my problem," or "My attitude is my problem." In addition, the truly responsible adult realizes, "I made me do it, and I am responsible." With that, there is hope for self-control to develop.


Taken from Boundaries in Marriage by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Learn more about this helpful book.

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  • Sue on

    Well said!

  • The Boundaries Books Team on

    Yes, there can be exceptions.

  • Deana on

    I definitely believe love is an action verb and more than words. However there are some of us that have medical and biological deficiencies that affect our ability to control impulses. The man in this article could very likely have ADHD, and so his ability to demonstrate his love is crippled by a medical condition that needs addressed. I love these boundary articles, but I disagree that “people who love control their impulses.” People who have medical conditions (ADHD, addictions, asbergers, autism & more) can truly love yet legitimately have difficulty controlling their impulses. I do believe though that they have a responsibility to their loved ones to seek treatment to gain better control. So many people though are suffering unknowingly and undiagnosed.

  • Tanya on

    These articles help me so much. I have your first Boundaries book, but I love the articles about all different kinds of relationships. I share them with friends that are working on themselves like I am. I even like the ones relating to children, which I do not have, but it illuminates areas I need to work on and they help me know how to interact with young people.
    I was abused as a child and am recently divorced from an alcoholic that professed great love for me. It took me 2 1/2 years and some tough talks with loved ones and seeking God to understand that love is not just a word but an action. And that I am responsible for me. It truly has helped me in the healing from these great challenges and all the decisions I made as a result of them.
    I used to be very angry, manipulative, controlling, easily hurt and offended, rarely said no and was repeatedly drawn to men and women with similar victim or victimizing characteristics.
    It has been 5 years of intense seeking after the Lord Jesus and the Truth which constantly lines up with these types of books/information. Danny Silk and Kris Vallatton also have some wonderful material and blogs to becoming powerful, free people.
    Everything we do in Christ takes faith and inviting the Holy Spirit into the areas we are willing to work on. There were also aspects of deliverance from evil that I came into agreement with at different times throughout my life that I have had to pray through. It is tough. And I am still in process, but I like that I feel I am finally becoming responsible for my actions and emotions! I am forty five and feel younger and freeer than I ever have! Jesus truly did come to set the captives free- but we are participants.
    Please keep these articles coming! We’re paying attention!

  • Judy Sonny on

    Ever since I bought your books I have seen myself growing and also understood different behaviours.
    Reading this article as a single person I’m learning a lot,
    I will definitely get myself this copy

    Thank you so much for your insights that you always share with us.

    Knowledge is power

    I am looking forward to read your artiles.


    Judy from S.A

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