Many couples tell me how much they love their partner. They sit on a couch in my office with their mate next to them and they profess their love. I listen to them convince me. Then the other person adds their voice, “I love him too.” They are very sure of themselves as if there is nothing more truthful in the world.
I hear these pronouncements often, and then I listen to how these two people actually treat each other when they are not professing their love, and it’s not very nice.
“He called me a @#$%”. “She said I was (something belittling here)”. Usually when I hear these tirades I can feel the bitterness and anger from each person. It’s so thick you can actually feel it inside the therapy room. I try and wade through the discontent to understand what they mean when they tell me that they love each other.
I think people believe that if they are with a person long enough, their shared history makes it love. I think some couples convince themselves they are in love and are loved by their partner just because they have been a part of each other’s lives longer than any other relationship.
I don’t disbelieve that couples who act like this really love each other; it’s just that I don’t think they feel very happy in the relationship treating their partner the way they do and feeling the same treatment in return. People who are happy in their relationships generally don’t belittle or rage at each other. It’s my experience that if people harbor resentment and anger toward their mates then that’s usually how they will communicate with them, with words full of anger and resentment. On occasion when couples are not angry at each other they can sometimes find closeness and soft, loving words, like, “You know I love you”. When they hear those words they are lulled into the idea that they are loved, and all will be right with the world.
It’s just a band-aid though, until the next time there’s a big blow up. Then these couples go right back to the fighting words first, not the soft, loving ones. Couples who live in this kind of cycle go through extremes with each other; intense hate and intense love.
Isn’t that love they ask me? Sure I say, it’s some kind of love, but my question to each person is, are you happy? Are you happy in your life? Are you happy with your mate? Do you feel good? Do you believe your relationship is good? Do you feel supported? Do you feel appreciated? Are you treated with kindness? How do you treat your partner? Do you support him or her? Are you treating him or her with kindness?
The answers to these questions will tell me a lot more about whether there is love than the words “Of course I love him” or “She knows I love her.”
Anyone can say the words “I love you”. We all know that isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to help us feel nurtured and whole in our life. What’s needed is deep consideration for the other person and an unshakable faith in knowing that making your partner happy will be the best effort you can ever make.
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