The title of this article is a question I’d like every discontented lover to consider. I’m sure that your immediate answer would be, “Of course, I want to be loved.” Yet, I cannot begin to count the number of people I’ve seen in therapy, who entered my office complaining that their partners weren’t loving, communicative, caring or nurturing, and later learned that they elicited and/or reinforced the same negative behavior they bemoaned.
Most of them, initially, described their spouses as cold, selfish and insensitive; someone who “doesn’t know what I like, care for or need.” I know that they honestly felt that way, but I wonder how accurate an opinion it was.
Think about it. If your partner doesn’t care, why does he or she stay? If they aren’t involved, why are they so hurt, upset and angry over you not being the loving individual they want you to be? Is it possible that the degree of anger, upset or distance your spouse displays toward you is really an indication, not of their disregard for you, but of the hurt they feel, the care they desire and the disappointment they harbor, because of their belief that you don’t care for them.
What is ironic is that they aren’t aware that their reactions to their own negative perceptions contributes to their feeling unloved and rejected by you. Nor do they realize that their own retaliatory anger or resentment pushes you away, instead of pulling you toward them. The consequence is that both of you wind up feeling the same way; i.e., that your partner doesn’t care.
The unfortunate sadness is that a majority of marriages or long-term relationships end up becoming institutions in which two people feel hurt, unhappy and helpless to change the situation they’re in. Consequently, they stay together in a dysfunctional union, where they either act like two ships colliding in the middle of the night and causing damage to both of them, or behave as though they are two ships passing in the night not seeing each other and nonresponsive to one another.
I would be hard put to tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “We’re pretty good partners. We have kids, a nice home, and we work together fairly efficiently. We also vacation together pretty well. On a daily basis, it’s like living with a sister or brother. We share no romantic feelings, have no sex life, and have very little to say to one another. When we do say something, it’s usually critical, angry or depreciatory in nature.”
When I question these individuals further, they generally state, “In the past, I’ve tried to initiate a date night, to reach out sexually, to plan dinners together or to initiate family times with the kids. But, how many times do you have to beat your head against a brick wall before you realize that you’re going to be rejected? It just isn’t worth the hurt.”
My heart goes out to these individuals, because they wouldn’t be hurting or acting the way they do if they didn’t care, or if what the other person did, didn’t matter to them. But, more often than not, they fail to realize the part they play in this scenario, or to share their feelings with each other.
Instead, they wind up arguing over one of five areas (kids, money, sex, in-laws or religion), whichever arena they unconsciously designate as their battle ground. When, or if, you ask them, “What is the major problem in your marriage?” their response is, “We have very different ideas about raising kids; he’s more involved with his mother and family than he is with me; or I can’t afford her; she thinks money grows on trees.”
But, none of those are the problem. They’re the facts. In most instances there is some truth to these facts, but the real problem is why they negatively interpret or excessively react to these facts. The truth is, it’s where they’re coming from, emotionally, that causes them to feel the way they do, or contributes to their wanting to leave or get involved with someone else.
What you can learn from them is that facts only determine your battle grounds, i.e., the arena in which you argue. The problem is that you and everyone else need to be valued, admired, loved, nurtured and cared for emotionally.
Interestingly, that need significantly increases the more you feel insecure, inadequate or a failure. On those occasions, you feel even less deserving of the love you require and, consequently, you find it even more difficult than normal to openly ask for what you desperately want. It’s then, that you even more acutely perceive the differences you have in one or several of those five areas as indicative of the fact that you and your spouse or partner are incompatible. As a result, you act negatively and/or reject them, which only confirms each of your fears – that you aren’t wanted or cared for. In effect, your defense against feeling vulnerable and accepting the fact that you desperately need, and want to be loved, results in hurting, instead of helping you. As a result, you both continue to play the victim and perpetuate a self-destructive relationship you find distasteful and painful. The payoff, or what it affords you, is that you don’t have to risk being weak, open or hurt.
Emotionally, it boils down to “it’s better to not love than risk caring and be rejected.” The attitude you assume is either, “You can’t fire me; I quit!” or, “If you have to ask for what you want, it isn’t worth having.” To which, I’ve said hundreds of times, “Another way to look at it is if something is truly worth having, it’s worth asking for.”
In essence, what I’m trying to say is that everyone wants love. Sadly, too many never really get it, because you, similar to most others, are emotionally dysfunctional. You never learned as a child that you genuinely deserved love or that you don’t have to continually earn it throughout your life.
In my next article I’ll expand on that thought and provide some suggestions regarding how to learn that you do deserve it now.