So many times we are in a relationship with someone we truly love and we don’t understand why it’s not working.
Popular culture has told us through songs, books and films/television that when we find the person we love, we live “happily ever after”. These false (and magical) beliefs about being in love can create frustration and suffering. But as a therapist (and having been married for 20 years), I have learned that love is not enough.
However, love is the reason to do the work.
Most of this work is internal. We have to be willing to own our thoughts, emotions, and happiness. Yes, even when we are in a relationship we are still responsible for our own happiness. One of those false beliefs about love is that the other person will make you happy. Often this belief is also embedded with the idea that because someone loves us, they instinctively know what we want and need.
These expectations inevitably lead to disappointment and unhappiness. As a partner in a relationship it is your responsibility to understand and communicate your wants and needs clearly. This means that you have to be aware of how you are feeling AND how you got there. Then you have to clearly and consistently communicate that to your partner.
Early in my marriage, I would get upset with my husband. He wouldn’t stop playing his video games to come downstairs to say hello and talk to me when I got home. I very clearly communicated that this upset me and he very clearly did not change his behavior. So I had to figure out why this behavior upset me so much. I realized that I believed that his behavior meant he didn’t love me. When I was able to communicate with him why I was upset, we were able to have a real discussion about how we showed our love.
First, I had to figure out how I was feeling and why. Then I had to communicate with my partner about how this behavior affected me. Together we addressed my expectation that if he loved me he would stop playing video games when I got home. Interestingly, once we had this conversation, I was no longer upset about this behavior. (And 20 years later he still doesn’t stop playing his video games when I come home, but it is OK because I know he loves me anyway.)
Now this could have turned out differently. After going through this process and talking to my husband, I may have continued to be hurt by his behavior. Then, I would’ve had to decide how important this behavior was to my happiness. If I needed to be in a relationship with someone who stopped what they were doing shortly after I came home in order for me to feel loved, then I probably needed to end the relationship where my husband was not able or willing to meet that need of mine.
So even though I love my husband and he loves me, his behavior made me feel unloved. He did not realize that was the effect of his behavior. He just knew I was upset. Once I realized why I was upset, I had to be willing to discuss it with him. This required me to take a risk and be vulnerable with him about my insecurities. And I had to be willing to accept that it was entirely possible that even though he loved me, he might not change his behavior.
This is why “love don’t fix nothing.” Just because we love each other does not mean that we act in loving ways towards our partner at all times. Love does not allow us magically to know what the other person wants or needs. We have to be willing to communicate our wants and needs in the relationship. We also have to be open to the reality that the person we love may not be able to meet those needs. If that is the case, we have to determine how important that individual want or need is to us.
Ultimately, if your partner is unable or unwilling to meet your clearly communicated needs, then you have to decide if this is the right relationship for you. Loving each other is not a guarantee of happiness. We are both responsible for our own happiness. Your happiness is your responsibility, whether you are in a relationship or not.