“Good communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity.”
~ Nat Turner
If you’re in a relationship and feel disappointed about how your significant other displays his love, here are three important questions to ask yourself:
1. Does he know how you want to be loved?
There are two prevalent misconceptions that routinely lead to disillusionment about the way our partners express their love.
The first fallacy is “he ought to know what I want.”
Unless you come with a manual or have told your partner directly (on multiple occasions, ideally), he probably doesn’t know what makes you feel loved. We mistakenly assume that through osmosis and observation, our partners acquire knowledge of our needs.
Instead, they typically assume we like to be loved in the same ways they do, and unfortunately, their attempts to show love don’t always register.
The second erroneous belief is “it’s pretty obvious what I need.”
Just because you rave about what an amazing listener your mother is and make a point to show great interest in all that your husband has to say, does not mean he will infer that good listening is what matters most to you.
Likewise, your cooking to make others happy is not a clear way of communicating that you feel loved when your boyfriend cooks for you.
The third problematic belief is “if I have to tell him how to love me, the gesture doesn’t count.”
If someone gives you what you want, it’s because they care about making you happy.
Your preferred way of feeling loved is unique to you and must be conveyed directly. Until you have been clear and specific about what you want, you haven’t given your partner a fair chance of being who you need him to be.
2. Is he choosing not to meet your needs, or is he incapable of it?
This is an important distinction. Someone who is aware of what makes you feel loved, but doesn’t give it to you, is deliberately withholding.
Reasons for this include ambivalence about the relationship or not caring enough. Whatever the explanation, it’s probably not a good one.
On the other hand, your partner might be incapable of displaying love in certain ways.
For example, if open expressions of love were mocked or rebuffed in his family, it might cause him tremendous discomfort to candidly share his feelings for you. If this is the case, determine whether you can accept his limitation and take in his love in other ways.
3. If this is the relationship, is it enough?
So, you’re feeling disenchanted, but there must be reasons you’re still here. Clarify what is working in your partnership and consider whether it outweighs the disappointment.
- Is the love you derive from the positives sufficient?
- On a typical day, does your relationship elevate your self-worth and happiness or cause self-doubt and melancholy?
Every relationship has its weaknesses.
If your partner doesn’t display love in the ways you want, consider whether the love you do receive is enough.
On the whole, your relationship should give you a self-esteem boost, inspire you to grow, and provide a sense of safety and belonging.
If it falls short, perhaps it’s time to explore your alternatives.
Maggie Vaughan, MFT, PhD – www.everyoneneedstherapy.com
“Why doesn’t he love me the way I want to be loved?”
When I hear this from a therapy client, my first line of questioning is always centered around the individual’s specific love language.
Nicole, a thirty-year-old professional, voiced this complaint about her long-term boyfriend.
I asked her, “When you feel loved by him, what’s going on?”
“Huh?” she asked.
“What does he do that tells you he loves you?”
“Hmmm,” she paused, thinking. “I guess when he puts his arm around me or holds my hand when we’re walking down the street. But he doesn’t do it very often—that’s the problem.”
“And do you show him you love him by being affectionate?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” she said. “I’m very affectionate toward him.”
I explained to Nicole that each of us has a favorite love language we ‘speak’ when we want to show love to our partners.
Affection, or physical touch, is only one of the love languages.
Some of the others are words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time (spent together) and receiving gifts. “And,” I added, “not everyone’s love language is the same.”
I continued, “Your primary love language is, most likely, physical touch but maybe his is something else. What do you think it might be?”
She thought for a moment and said, “He loves to do things with me—go on hikes, cook dinner together, simple things like that. And he tells me he’s always the happiest when we spend time together.”
She added, “He seems to get sad when my life gets busy and I can’t spend much time with him.”
“So, his primary love language might be quality time,” I said. “And he’s expressing his love by wanting to spend a lot of time with you.”
I waited for a moment to let it sink in. “It’s not that he doesn’t love you, Nicole, it’s just he’s not speaking your primary love language.”
Armed with this insight, Nicole left our session with a new perspective.
She resolved to pay more attention to the way her partner does show his love and focus less on her disappointment.
If you feel your partner doesn’t love you in the way you want to be loved, it’s possible you are speaking two different love languages and something is getting lost in the translation.
A helpful resource is Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages – The Secret to Love That Lasts.
Susan Tschudi, MA, LMFT – www.therapybysusan.com
If you are feeling as though your partner is not loving you the way you want to be loved, there are three steps I suggest you should take.
- First, you need to get a clear picture of what you feel is lacking in the relationship.
- Second, you need to get clear on what you are hoping you can get more of.
- Lastly, express both of those notions to your partner with kindness.
You may need to think a little bit about what it exactly is you are wanting more or less of in the relationship because your partner cannot read your mind.
We cannot assume that your partner knows how you want to be loved because this looks different for everyone.
Also, the way you want to receive and express love can be very different from the way your significant other wants to receive and express love.
It should also be a continual and evolving conversation with each other because we may want to be loved in different ways at different times in our lives.
The key element in trying to resolve this conflict is in the way you communicate about it.
If you come off as critical or judgmental, your partner is going to become automatically defensive and not be able to listen to what you are saying.
You will both become so distracted by anger and escalating emotions that the whole point of the conversation will be dismissed.
You always want to approach a possibly conflictual conversation by using “I feel” statements instead of “you are doing this wrong” statements.
For example, you may get some success if you approached your partner and said “I feel sad when you don’t greet me when I come home. I would love for you to put down your phone and tell me about your day so we can connect a little bit.”
Approach the topic with gentle kindness, hear them out and be specific about what you are hoping will change.
If time passes and you don’t see the changes you were hoping for, don’t hesitate to bring it up again, but bring it up without criticism, judgement or contempt.
It may also be possible that your partner may not be able or willing to give you what you are asking for.
That is when you decide how important the topic is to you and you consider the “deal breakers” in the relationship.
Ask yourself if you are able to continue being happy and content in the relationship overall even if your partner cannot give you exactly what you are hoping for.
Justine Carino, LMHC – www.carinocounseling.com
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