It is essential that we act in ways that are loving toward our partner. That’s a given.
But, what happens when we try to be loving, and our efforts are rejected, or dismissed?
Do you ever find yourself thinking:
“It’s never enough. I try to do what he/she asks, and it’s never good enough.”
“I don’t feel appreciated. I make all this effort, and they don’t appreciate it.”
“I don’t know what he/she wants. They don’t tell me.”
If so, you are not alone. These statements are common and reflect one of the essential challenges of relationships: receiving the love that is offered to us.
One way to understand this comes from the basic principle of Imago: We project onto our partner our negative experiences from childhood. In short, in whatever ways we felt our needs were not met or were devalued as children, we will expect the same from our partner.
To paraphrase Thomas Lewis and his colleagues in their wonderful book called A General Theory of Love, “We see what we’ve always seen, hear anew what we’ve always heard, and think what we’ve always thought.” This is natural - it’s how we are wired! So even when our partner tries to change and tries to give us what we want, we often don’t see it, dismiss it, or minimize it, if we expect not to get it in the first place.
So how do we counteract this tendency so that we can experience the full joy of our relationship? Here are six principles that I find useful as guides to move in a more positive and loving direction:
When you think you “know” our partner, you put them in a box. And our negative expectations often become self-fulfilling prophecies. So consider the possibility that they are capable of acting differently than you imagine, and see what happens then.
Look for ways that they are succeeding, rather than failing in the relationship. As the saying goes, “energy follows attention,” and if you attend to what is negative, you will draw even more of the same. But if you attend to the positives, you are actually inviting more love to follow.
Practice Re-romanticizing your relationship.
Say, “I love you.” Give them a hug for no reason. Bring home a gift to let them know you’ve been thinking of them. Plan a weekly date-night, free of distractions. After the Romantic Love Stage is over, we need to be intentional in creating the love we desire.
Eliminate negativity, including all blame, shame, and criticism.
Remember, none of us like to be “put down,” and doing so with your partner will not get you the love you desire. One of the surest ways to block intimacy is by making your partner feel defensive and unloved.
Ask for what you want.
Keep it positive, and don’t demand. All you can do is request what you want, and give your partner a chance. But you have to tell them. You have to let them know what you want and need from them. Again, we often give up, expecting that we won’t get what we want even if we ask for it.
Own your stuff.
This is perhaps the most important of all. If you feel your partner is selfish, think of the ways that you might be selfish yourself. If you think they are too emotional, or too distant, see if there is some way that you are that way yourself, at times. (It may be your “shadow” side - the part of you that you don’t even recognize in yourself).
If you can accept that neither of you is perfect, you will open the door to giving and receiving more love and acceptance than you can imagine!
This last suggestion is actually at the core of the book called Receiving Love written by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt. We know the things that frustrate us most in our partner (and others) are the things we don’t like or allow in ourselves.
So learning to accept and love our partner’s shortcomings actually requires us to love and accept more of ourselves!