All couples start out beautifully. Each person loves the other and there is a belief that the amazing union will last forever. But as we all know in a year or two things start to change.
It’s not that we stop loving our mate, it’s just that since our heart is so open, we get hurt when there is a misunderstanding. Sometimes these disagreements can separate us and keep us from connecting. This is pretty common too.
But when there is a mate who feels they have to leave the relationship in order to feel good about themselves well that is another situation entirely.
Many of us in this world are fixers. When someone has a problem, we just imagine all the ways the problem can be solved. This is really the way some of us are wired. Nothing wrong with this. The world needs fixers.
But when we are in a relationship and we see what our partner could do better and we use our fixing skills to help them, well it might not go so well.
Many of us seek love from another person. That kind of explains why we couple. We look for the right kind of mate so we can feel good about ourselves. This is very human. But the more I learn about myself and other people, the more I understand that when we are fully ourselves, and only ourselves, that is when we can feel love.
Let me explain. When we find our partners we feel complete in some way, as if we have been missing something and after finding them we now feel whole. But if we always need to feel this feeling with our person, when we don’t feel it, we might start to feel less than—like we lost something important.
“How much love is enough?” I was thinking about love recently and this question popped into my mind as I pondered. I wondered about this, because I see so much hunger for love every time I meet a new couple in counseling.
A couple will come in and they will tell me their issues of what is usually wrong with their partner. They often have very great details of how much their mate has hurt them. I will listen to these stories and I am always left with the same feeling. They are all hungry for more love from the other.
As someone who is interested in what causes behavior, I am convinced that the madder you are, the more wounded you have been. It’s hard to think of an angry person as in pain though. Most of us want to get away from someone who is angry. We feel their fierceness and we just want to back away and not have anything to do with them.
I tried to calm him down. I did so three times. The fourth time I just let him rage, and that’s exactly what he did. He raged and raged and raged. And when he was done he got up and left the room. I continued with the wife and soon after the session ended. I felt a lot of emotion in the session and a lot of it was mine. I felt helpless to help him. I felt very sad for his inability to find a way to be understood by his wife. I felt him trapped inside himself and having no way to express himself except with a big booming voice that no one could tolerate.
I hear couples talk a lot about connection. In fact, feeling disconnected is probably one of the biggest difficulties couples face. Often one of the partners will say something like, “I just don’t feel connected to him.” But it could be a man saying this too. Feeling connected is something we all feel inside our body, and it is different for every one of us.
Some of us live inside our feelings and literally feel everything that happens to us. That’s me. I am a right-brain-dominant person, which means that I experience the world through my feelings. Imagine how frustrated I felt when I coupled with a person who is left-brain-dominant. That means he interacts with the world through his thinking mind. He thinks first. I feel first. We are different.
This is a funny question, but I think it’s a feeling that a lot of us can relate to. I know if I look deep down when I am worried or unsure of something, I can probably identify the root of this feeling and it has to do usually with me and that something is often, “I am not enough.”
I don’t say this out loud, but I feel it inside myself. I feel less than and that might explain why I worry sometimes. This is very common. A lot of us wonder if we are enough. And the “enoughs” can come in all kinds of variety, “Am I smart enough? Am I attractive enough? Am I successful enough?”
As a counselor I often intervene with couples when they start to argue about who said what and who remembers what because that conversation can sometimes turn into a fight. I usually go into some sort of education to help them understand that they each have different brains, life experiences and ways of processing how information is received and stored.
This conversation helps reduce some of the tension and then we can continue our work in the session. But recently I fell victim to feeling so violated because my husband did not remember something I had told him three times!
We all get wounded by the people we love. This is part of being human. The hard part though, when we are in a relationship, is putting the pain between you and your partner.
And we do this almost instinctively. We get our feelings hurt and boom the wall comes up or we tell them incredibly strongly how much they hurt us.
This pattern is pervasive with couples. I see it in my therapy practice. I live it in my own life. When I am hurt I am unable to ask for what I need. My instincts are to fight. I don’t raise my fists or anything, but my insides look for someone to blame. I usually become angry on the inside after I feel hurt and I express it, sometimes loudly.
We all know what it feels like to feel love. We are also keenly aware of what is feels like when we don’t feel it. So if we know what it feels like, can we describe what it looks like? This is such a difficult question, and it’s so hard for many couples to really describe what love is. So let’s give it a go.
As I think about this, I wonder if it might be easier to describe what it is NOT. I was talking to a client recently and she was telling me how she loves her man very much. When he asks for something she goes out of her way to give it to him. For the client, this is an action of love.
Another client was telling me about a vacation where her husband was trying to make his two daughters happy by buying them everything they wanted. And they were still not happy. So I think it’s OK to look at what love isn’t in these two examples.
Doing things for your mate with the expectation that they will be happy is not love.