Lesson 4 of 7  - optimize your relationships

Resolve Love Problems
with your Mate

Discover the real problems

by Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Experts Council

colorbar.gif (1095 bytes)

The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/relate/mates/love.htm

Updated  02-06-2015

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open  an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.

      This is one of a series of articles in self-improvement Lesson 4 - optimize your relationships. This subseries focuses on improving primary relationships.

“I love you not so much for who you are
 as for how I feel when I am with you.”

- Mary Carolyn Davies

      This article explores options if a spouse doesn't feel loved well enough by their mate. It offers...

  • a perspective on love

  • a "love inventory"

  • summaries of probable surface and primary "love" problems, and...

  • options to reduce or resolve the latter.

      The article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 4 , Parts 1 and 2

  • four requisites for a mutually-satisfying relationship ,

  • this perspective on interpersonal bonding,

  • Options for improving your self-respect and self-love

  Learn something about yourself with this anonymous 1-question poll.  

      Let's set the stage with some...

  Perspective on "Love"

      Psychologically-healthy kids and adults need to feel. give, and get "love." Millions of words have been created about this primal need, which comes in several forms: love between mates; friends; family members; people and animals; and believers and their Higher Power, A prize that many seek across their years is non-egotistical self-love. Have you found that prize yet? Do you agree that "you can't love another until you love yourself"?

      This brief YouTube video offers perspective on Self love:

      Unconditional love is spontaneous, irrational, and organic. It cannot be demanded, bought, forced, or bargained for. Love is deeper than liking, and far more than desire. Kids and adults who lack enough love - or who associate love with pain - usually battle private numbness, depression, emptiness, loneliness, and perhaps despair.

      Unaware people lacking wholistic health often confuse needing with "loving." Paradoxically, kids and adults who have never felt genuinely loved  can only guess at what it feels like. Do you know anyone like that?

      One measure of love is the degree to which you're willing to give of yourself and sacrifice prized things for the welfare of a beloved other person without resentment. Sacrifices made because of duty, loyalty, shame, guilt, addiction, social pressure, and/or fear signify inherited psychological wounds and neediness, not love.

      A common stressor in many (all?) cultures is the inherited expectation ("rule") that certain people must love each other, regardless of their personalities, behaviors, and their relationship. If they don't love, society judges them as "bad." To avoid this shaming label, people pretend to love the other person/s, and say "I love you" without really feeling it. Thus usually promotes confusion, doubts, distrust, guilt, and resentments.

      Not feeling genuine love for the other person - e.g. for an abusive, neglectful mother, father, sibling, or relative - can cause chronic shame, guilt, self-doubt, and confusion. Have you ever felt these?

      A reality that may cause personal, marital, or family stress is that love may not be reciprocal. One person may feel it mire intensely than their partner. Similarly, love may not be "distributed" equally in a family - a child may feel their parent/s or relatives love another child "more."

      Another reality is that the quality and degree of a person's may increase or decrease over time. This is so because personalities inevitably evolve (personal growth"), priorities and values change, and social and earthly environments inexorably shift. Peopled can discover their partner really isn't the person they first seemed to be because of deception and distortions. Over time, what mates labeled as courtship love may be recognized as neediness, desire, pity, and illusions.

      Part of the mystery and paradox about this primal need and emotion is that we can truly love someone and also dislike or "hate" some of their traits, attitudes, and/or behaviors. Have you experienced this vexing duality? It comes from having personality subselves who have different needs and values, and who each see the world uniquely.

      Pause and notice what your subselves are thinking and feeling. Now increase your awareness by getting undistracted, and taking this...

  "Love Inventory"

      Rate each of these items 1 (I totally agree) to 5 (I totally disagree). Option: after focusing on you, re-do this status check and use the second blank to guess how your partner or someone else would answer. Then ask her or him to take this inventory and compare results.

1)  I am worthy of being loved now without any qualification. ___   ___

2)  I know from life experience what being truly loved feels like. ___   ___ 

3)  I have felt loved well enough, recently. ___   ___

4)  My recent actions demonstrate that I love myself as deeply as anyone else now. ___   ___

5)  I deserve to be loved now because of who I am, vs. what I do. ___   ___

6)  I am fully capable now of _ feeling and _ expressing real love for another person. ___   ___

7)  I'm clear on the difference between liking a person and loving them.  ___   ___

8)  My feeling loved can only come from another living thing ___   ___.

9)  I can clearly discern between feeling needed or desired and feeling loved now. ___   ___

10)  I can clearly tell the difference now between genuine love and _ pity, _ dutiful concern (obligation), and _ dependence. ___   ___

11)  Giving or receiving love always involves some pain. ___   ___

12)  Each of my earliest primary caregivers genuinely loved themselves. ___   ___

13)  I got enough genuine (vs. dutiful) love as a young child. ___   ___

14)  I can recognize the difference between love and respect

15)  You can’t really love another person unless you feel genuine self-love. ___   ___

16)  The opposite of self-love is shame. ___   ___

17)  I can care about another person without loving them. ___   ___

18)  Love must be spontaneous, vs. expected, requested, or demanded. ___   ___

19)  Adults can choose to change their abilities to (a) feel, (b) express, and (c) receive love if they really want to. ___   ___

20)  I can love someone without respecting or liking them. ___   ___

21)  I'm clear how loving a person differs from loving what they do. ___   ___

22)  Romantic love is temporary, and differs from mature adult love. ___   ___

23)  Mates married before God must love each other, no matter what. ___   ___

24)  Normal adults can love and hate a person or themselves at the same time. ___   ___

25)  My mate and I are each able to form healthy bonds with each other and other selected people. ___   ___

26)  I can describe the difference between healthy love and codependence (relationship addiction).  ___  ___

27)  I look forward to discussing this inventory with my partner now. ___   ___

28)  I feel some mix of calm, centered, energized, light, focused, resilient, up, grounded, relaxed, alert, aware, serene, purposeful, and clear, so my true Self probably filled out this inventory. (If not, a well-meaning false self may have distorted your answers).

      Have you ever taken a “love inventory” like this before? What are you thinking and feeling?

      Now explore what you and your mate believe about “love and marriage.” Your beliefs shape whether your love expectations of yourself and each other are attainable or not.  Compare your beliefs to these...

colorbutton.gif Premises about Love and Marriage

      In what follows, "marriage" means "commitment to a primary partner.": That may or may not be sanctified by a license and religious or civil ceremony.     

      Sociologist Andrew Cherlin writes that in Western cultures, marrying for love vs. for economic, practical, and political reasons, just became fashionable in the 19th century. Yet that's the media-hyped reality most people take for granted as we begin the 21st century.

      This suggests that your parents, you, your mate, and any ex mates were conditioned to expect your spouse to fill your primal needs to give and get enough love and to feel lovable. The tragic U.S. divorce epidemic testifies how millions of average couples find these needs hard to fill.

      My experience as a therapist is that many adults have survived early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse ("trauma"). and have inherited significant psychological wounds. Many don’t (want to) know that, or what their wounds mean, and/or how to reduce them. Sometimes these wounds combine to block kids' and adults' abilities to care about and love other people, and/or to accept love from others.

      Wounds and unawareness raise the odds that romance-dazed, needy men and women will choose the wrong people to commit to, for the wrong reasons, at the wrong time. Several Lesson-4 worksheets can help you decide if you and/or a partner made any of these unwise courtship decisions.

      The ideas below invite you to clarify (a) what you believe about marital love, and (b) what you need from whom. Your and your partner's love-related beliefs, needs, expectations, and fears determine your current love satisfactions. See how you feel about each of these opinions:

      1)  Marital love is a mix of things: respect + admiration + acceptance + empathy + companionship + trust + interest +, a communion of souls + (usually) sexual-sensual desire. A related dynamic is  needing to feel consistently special ("primary") to your "significant other.".

      Various people can fill combinations of these needs for you. Ideally, your commitment ceremony celebrated you mates each deciding that your partner filled most of these needs better than anyone you knew up to then.

      2)  Love grows or fades over time as you mates age, the world and your priorities change, and each of your marital needs are filled well enough or not. Major factors are whether you each are...

  • usually guided by your wise true Self, and...

  • you each are aware of your primary needs, and...

  • you two have most of these requisites, and...

  • you want to make the time, and have the skills, to communicate effectively together about your needs.

Lesson 1 and Lesson 2 here provide practical options for helping each other empower your Selves (capital "S"), strengthen your awareness, and negotiate filling your respective needs.

      Premise 3) Romantic love drew you to each other during courtship. If you each married the right persons, for the right reasons, at the right time, this marvelous feeling mellows into a deeper mature love. Longing to keep or regenerate the unique thrill and sparkle of fresh romantic love usually yields disappointment and frustration. If you mates cherish the memory of your courtship romance and work to evolve a deeper love together, you may be content.

      4) There are four love “domains” in your primary relationship:

  • me loving me,

  • you loving you, and

  • each of us loving the other. The fourth domain is...

  • a communion with and reverence for a nurturing Higher Power. Though this domain affects your serenity and relationship, it’s beyond our scope here.

Personal and shared discomforts can occur in at least the first three of these four domains.

      More premises about marital love...

      5) Your (a) need for adult love and (b) your ability to feel lovable and loved are greatly shaped by your first several years of life. You can’t change what you experienced then, but you can understand and heal from it if you weren't loved well enough..

      Do you feel that healthy infants are born with the ability to love themselves and other entities equally? Needing, feeling, and expressing love for other living things is a normal human response that grows automatically if the environment is wholistically nurturing.

      6)  You and your mate are each somewhere on a line between “very well loved as a young child,” and “very unloved as a young child.” Your subjective opinion of where you fall on this line may be accurate or not. If you weren’t loved well enough, you’ve probably “forgotten,” denied, repressed, or numbed that reality to reduce past and present pain.

      Your dominant personality subselves may (idealistically) expect your mate to provide your inner kids with the love they never got. If you were loved well enough, your inner subselves are probably longing for and expecting your mate to provide the same selfless adoration, care, and willing sacrifice. Either way, these needs are primal, not rational or responsive to logical discussion, hints, threats, requests, or demands.

      Premise 7)  Like trust, respect, empathy, and forgiveness, love can only be given spontaneously. Therefore manipulating, requesting, pleading, or demanding that you or your mate love yourselves or each other more is a self-defeating ” Be spontaneous!" paradox.

      8)  Your adult experience of love and your expectations about it are limited by your life experience so far. If you’ve experienced little altruistic (selfless) love from other people, your perception of what “love” is and feels like is less than if you have been able to experience genuine love.

      So adults emotionally neglected as young kids can believe that pity, sexual desire, companionship, needing, and/or controlling (“I know what’s best for you, so do what I say.”) are “love.” These reality distortions will always cause inner-family and marital discord.

      9)  Few adults think about who they’re relying on to fill their blend of current love-needs: their Higher Power, themselves, their mate, their children, kin, friends, co-workers, mentors, one or more therapists or coaches, and/or animals. You and your mate can each control only one of these love-sources: yourself.

       Pause, breathe, and reflect on these premises about marital love. If you or your partner disagree with any of them, what do you believe? Your beliefs will shape your shared needs and expectations about exchanging love with each other. 

       Now let's shift from these abstract ideas to some common...

colorbutton.gif Surface “Love” Problems

      Premise: "Problems" are unfilled needs (discomforts), which can be superficial ("surface") or primary. Surface relationship problems are symptoms of underlying primary needs. See if you’re hoping to fill one or more of these surface needs:

I need to feel more loved by my mate more often.

My partner says or implies that s/he needs to feel more loved by me, and I need to know what to do about that.

I’ve fallen out of love with my mate, and need to decide what to do about that.

My partner says s/he doesn’t love me as much or at all, or s/he says s/he does, but her/his acctio0ns say otherwise. I need to clarify my feelings, needs, and options.

One of us desires and/or loves another person, and feels torn, guilty, ashamed, and scared. Variation: one of us has had, or is having, a romantic/sexual affair. I need to know what to do.

      If either of you partners is experiencing one or more of these surface problems now, the bad news is: you’re stressed! The good news is: you may reduce your stress in ways you’re not aware of. Start by considering these…

colorbutton.gif Primary "Love" Problems

    Each of the surface problems above is a symptom of one or more of these underlying problems...

    1)  One or both of you is psychologically wounded and is unaware of it, denies it or doesn’t know what that means or what to do about it. Such wounding may mean that one or both of you can't feel, experience, or give genuine unconditional love because of excessive shame + fears + distrust.

      One of many symptoms of significant wounding is denying that you have a marital problem, and focusing on a child, an ex mate, money, work, health, relatives, and/or something else. Another symptom is confusing love with pity, duty, need, excitement, power, flirting, rescuing, and/or lust (reality distortion).

      Options: adopt a long-range outlook and study Lesson 1 together. That will help you assess for significant wounds and reduce them over time. Pay special attention to these ideas on growing self-love and self respect; and on an inability to bond and love.

    Another possible root problem is...

    2)  either of you partners may have committed to the wrong people, for the wrong reasons, at the wrong time;  and needs to avoid admitting and accepting that. This YouTube video offers perspective on making three wise commitment choices: The video mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this web site. I've reduced that to seven.


      If either of you made wrong choices, you can adapt to and learn from that, but you can't "fix" it.


    3)  one or both of you may have lost respect for the other - in general and/or as a wo/man and/or a partner, It's hard to sustain love for someone you don't respect.

      Options: read, discuss, and apply the ideas in this article together when your true Self is guiding each of you,

      Another primary "love" problem may be that... 

    4)  either of you may be blocked in grieving some major losses (broken bonds). This can hinder solid bonding, and may dilute or numb feeling or expressing your love.

      Options: As you progress with Lesson 1 (wound reduction), study and discuss Lesson 3. It will educate you on bonds, losses, and healthy three-level grief, and show you how to assess for and finish incomplete grief, over time.

    Another possibility is that...

    5)  one or both of you really needs more primacy (specialness), acceptance, trust, empathy, honesty, sensual/sexual satisfactions, intimacy, excitement, and/or companionship - not more "love;" If so, psychological  wounds, unawareness, or something else has been blocking your recognizing, asserting, discussing, and satisfying these needs well enough.

      Options: see and discuss these articles on empathy, trust, sex, and intimacy for awareness and practical options.

    6)  If one of you wants to regain the thrill and excitement of courtship love, you're probably distorting reality. You can't willfully re-create the novelty of new love, any more than trying to regain the innocence and wonder of childhood.

      Similarly, seeking "more romance" in your relationship is unrealistic, because by definition, "romance" is a spontaneous relationship dynamic that can't be requested, demanded or "created."

      Unrealistic expectations is usually a sign of significant psychological wounding (reality distortion), and being governed by needy and/or naive Inner Children. Working on Lesson 1 together can help you form realistic expectations about yourself, your mate and your  relationship. 

    And if you're a stepfamily, perhaps

    7)  one or both of you put a child or an ex mate ahead of your mate and your relationship too often. The flip side of this is one of you (a stepparent) is too needy, insecure and distrustful, and your subselves are oversensitive to or distorting your partner’s need to nurture their child/ren.

      Option - adopt a long-range outlook and patiently study, discuss, and apply at least Lesson 7 in this web site. Studying lessons 1 thru 7 is far better in the long run - specially if you're parents..

+ + +

      Notice what’s not included as primary “love” problem: a child’s behavior or welfare, a parent-child relationship, a legal suit, money, sex, or an intrusive, needy, or domineering relative. Those can be major surface problems, but don’t cause love problems between mates!

colorbutton.gif Recap

      This Lesson-4 article offers perspectives and options if one or both of you mates have unfilled needs for love for or from your primary partner. The article covers:

  • a perspective on love

  • a "love inventory"

  • perspective on how self-love develops - or doesn't

  • summaries of typical mate's surface and primary "love" problems, and...

  • options for reducing or resolving the latter.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your wise, resident true Self, or ''someone else''?

This article was very helpful   somewhat helpful   not helpful   

Share/Bookmark  prior page  /  Lesson 4  print page


 site intro  /  course outline  /  site search  /  definitions  /  chat contact