Put your sweetheart first (no Paris ‘lovelocks’ required)

Photo: Pamela Whitmore

The Wall Street Journal is talking of love … ways of showing love.

One way is to write both your names, or your initials, on a padlock, lock it to a bridge over the Seine in Paris, and throw the key away. I saw this myself in Paris last summer – bridges festooned with thousands of locks – and found it mildly entertaining (but rather a waste of metal, if you’ll forgive the unromantic sentiment). As the story says:

Paris’s picturesque bridges over the Seine are heaving with padlocks, bike locks, handcuffs and other talismans of amour. Enamored visitors write their names on a lock, attach it to a bridge and throw the key into the river. Last fall, reality TV star Kourtney Kardashian, her boyfriend and their toddler son — followed by their camera crew — affixed “lovelocks” to the Pont des Arts, a pedestrian bridge with a wooden walkway that spills out of the Louvre.

But, many Parisians are asking: What’s love got to do with it?

The public displays of affection have unchained loathing among coldhearted locals. Some gripe that the locks are no better than graffiti, defacing the city’s landmarks. Rust and pollution are concerns, too. Think of the keys littered on the bottom of the Seine “with cars and cadavers,” says Sylvain Louradour, a baby sitter who lives near the Pont des Arts.

Another, more effective way to show love doesn’t require a trip to Europe or the sacrifice of a lock … it requires a trip into your sweetheart’s brain, though, and the sacrifice of your wants to put his or her needs first. According to “Small Acts, Big Love”:

Researchers call this “compassionate love” — recognizing a partner’s needs and concerns and putting them ahead of your own. “It’s not just making people feel good,” says Harry T. Reis, a University of Rochester professor of psychology. “It’s a way of communicating to the other person that you understand what they are all about and that you appreciate and care for them.”

Since 2009, Dr. Reis has been studying 175 newlywed couples from around the U.S., asking how they show their spouses compassion. His findings, not yet published, indicate that people who discover ways to regularly show their spouses this kind of love are happier in their marriages.

Small selfless acts between spouses aren’t just nice — they also are necessary, experts say. When acts of kindness and caregiving disappear, it is an indication the relationship needs help. And when you are compassionate to your partner, it increases your own happiness at least as much as the other person’s.

So how did I end up looking at locks on bridges in Paris last summer? My husband put my wants first. Heading off for two weeks of National Guard duty and arranging for grandparents to care for your son while your wife and daughters roam Europe – now that’s amour. Thanks again, sweetheart!