I understand true love. The intense feelings you can have for another. That whole, complete kind of love. But, I also understand healthy love and the two can look very different.
Emotions vs. Behaviors
There is a big difference between emotions and behaviors. Emotions are what we feel on the inside, while behaviors are our actions. You can be completely head-over-heels in love with a person who treats you bad. It is possible to love a person who abuses you, or knocks you down, or keeps you from forming meaningful friendships.
You can be in a relationship where you and your significant other both love each other very much but insecurities from one or both of you lead you to act in ways that are unhealthy. Things like being jealous, over-protective, or controlling. There are many cases where we enable each other to continue unhealthy behaviors like drugs and alcohol. The list can go on and on.
The bottom line is even if you are in love, you need to be in a healthy relationship. Both parties need to be with people who treat them with respect and allow them to live a meaningful, fulfilling, happy life. Healthy relationships involve communication, give and take, compromise. They are about supporting one another through good times and bad. They are about arguing and learning from those arguments. They are about growth. Often times unhealthy relationships are not able to grow. They can be toxic.
Even the truest of love is not worth it if it is unhealthy. We have to take care of ourselves. This one life is short and we deserve to live our happiest life with a person who understands that means to us. In many cases, counseling can help a couple who might not be behaving the healthiest to develop a new normal. A licensed counselor can provide guidance, tools, and accountability.
You have probably been there at some point or another. Maybe it was a guy you met at a bar, a co-worker or a longtime friend. They asked you to go on a date, you agreed. Next thing you know you are in a relationship that just doesn’t feel right. Why do we do this? Why do we end up in the wrong relationships?
A lot of it has to do with timing. It involves all the other things that are happening in your life at that time. Maybe you are feeling sad/down and not very self-confident and part of you thinks that maybe this relationship will lift you up, but in the end, it makes you feel worse. Maybe you are career-focused, on the up-and-up, and the right guy enters your life but you blow him off. You think you don’t have time for anything else at the moment.
If you are single for a long time you might be at the point where you think any relationship is better than none. Or, maybe you are getting ready to move out of town or go on a long trip and you find yourself smitten. Whatever the circumstances, the reason we end up in relationships is a lot more involved than just our hearts. And, much of the time we don’t see the whole story until later. We get that “aha” moment as we sit down and analyze all the little details.
The best advice I can give for those that frequently get into wrong relationships is to learn from them. Try to identify those factors that are leading you to make these choices. Talking to a counselor may also help to point out some reasons you are having trouble seeing on your own.
There is this underlying fear that many people struggle with surrounding emotions of anger, being mad, or disappointed with another. The belief is that if we are mad at our significant other, then we are not ok. If we are mad, there is no love present. In fact, that is not the case at all. Emotions and love can coexist together.
Not perfect all the time
In many cases, the more love we have for another the more these emotions affect us. We are not as likely to feel intense feelings of anger if we don’t also have intense feelings the other way. In relationships full of love, there is going to also be anger at some point or another. It is when we stop caring that things are more likely to not be ok. When we stop caring it can mean we also don’t want to try anymore. Whereas if we are angry, then we want things to be fixed. We want to come to a resolution.
People that have this fear of making others angry have a desire to always please each other, to make other people happy. We become deathly afraid of getting people mad. But how healthy is that? Ask yourself what that really means for you? Are you hiding your emotions? Are you ignoring your feelings? Are you pushing your needs to the side for others? While it is important in any relationship to have a desire to please the other, it is important that you recognize things are not always going to be perfect all the time. There will be arguments, there will be things he/she does that anger you because you are different people. That does not mean you don’t love or care for each other in very big ways.
There are many reasons for divorce to occur leading to a vast array of emotions. But why would bitter feelings occur if you and your partner agree that your marriage isn’t working? If you don’t have any hard or angry feelings toward your partner then why would you feel so upset at the situation? Why can’t you just end the marriage and move on?
It is because when you walked down that aisle you had an expectation of what marriage would be. You thought you would spend your life with this person and be happy and in love through the process. Now that reality is setting in and this expectation has been shattered, you are grieving. You have lost your marriage and now you have to grieve that loss.
It is truly human nature to feel this way, according to a Psychology Today article that looks at a study done on chimpanzees. When all of their basic needs are met— safety, love, survival, esteem, and actualization— they act much differently than if they are missing one of those five. When you go through a divorce you are bound to feel bitter, angry, scared, and just plain jerkish because you are not having all your needs met. You suddenly have to worry about all these things you didn’t have to concern yourself with before. When we feel safe, secure, and loved we are able to rationalize things better.
In addition to having your expectations shattered, you are also in for a whole slew of changes and let’s be frank — us humans don’t like change very much. Divorce also brings up many feelings of being powerless and out-of-control, you might not know how things are going to play out, what will tomorrow be like? And, there is a need to fight for what you love and believe—a sense of entitlement. Even if you still deeply care for your soon-to-be ex-spouse, you remember how long it took to pick out that couch downstairs and you want it back. You also worked really hard to save up for that house and now you don’t want to sell it. You want to hang on to the things that are important to you.
Divorce is one of the most stressful things a person can ever endure. It is a mountain of obstacles to face and it takes time and energy to get to the other side. If you are feeling overwhelmed, bitter, stressed, angry, know this is normal. Seek help from a licensed therapist who can help you to take care of yourself.
So, here you are. You have done something that has hurt another. You feel horrible. You just want to fix things. Make everything all better. What should you say? What can you say?
First of all, talk. Talk to the person. Communication is key. You can’t run away from your mistakes. Tell them you are sorry. Be genuine. Don’t back up your “I’m sorry” with an excuse. You hurt someone. Take ownership. Ask them how they feel? Ask them what you can say to make things better. Listen to what they have to say. Look them in the eyes. Make sure you are in a quiet, uninterrupted space. Ask them, explain to them how you can/will, change your actions in the future. This will help to open the door to how things might be repaired, if they are able.
So often we apologize and then immediately jump into defending ourselves. We are trying to justify our actions and make ourselves feel better, but what is that saying to the other person? By justifying our actions we are saying we had a right to hurt this person. Of course, you want to protect yourself, but you still hurt another and you should take ownership of that mistake. Acknowledge you were wrong. No one is perfect. We all do things we wish we could take back. Look at how you have wronged another and grow. Learn. Really, truly apologize.
Depending on how you hurt this person, and who the person is, repairing this relationship might be easy or impossible. But, regardless, of the end game. The best thing you can do to show another that they are valued and didn’t deserve what you did to them is to buck up and admit you were not right. End the excuses.
To all those ‘givers’ out there, this post is for you. First of all, I think it is great that you are considerate of your partner and you want to make him/her happy. But, it is not always a good thing when we give too much. Now, I am not saying that you should just receive in a relationship, that is not good either. There needs to be a balance.
It helps if you ask yourself — why are you so giving? What are you nervous about when you don’t give?
Giving is great, but it is possible to give too much. When you are always giving, or being the ‘do-er,’ in the relationship, it can come across to your partner that you are ‘in charge.’ Relationships aren’t expected to always be 50-50, but one person can’t always be the giver and the other the receiver. When you give too much three things can happen:
- Your partner feels like they don’t have an equal role in the relationship and leaves — they don’t feel like they are on the same level, like one partner is ‘higher’ on the scale than the other.
- Your partner becomes passive. They just go with the flow and don’t interject and don’t try to even the playing field because they know they can’t get to your level. They give up, which isn’t healthy for anyone.
3. The partner takes advantage of your good will. They think oh well he/she is going to keep on giving, then I am going to keep on taking.
Regardless, in the end, most excessive givers/do-ers feel resentful because they feel like there is nothing they can do to help their relationship be successful. They go by the idea that “no matter what they do” they can’t help their relationship.
The bottom line is the scales can’t always be in favor of one partner over the other. While it will rarely be equal, they need to fluctuate. Both partners need to feel like they are the do-ers sometimes. Both need to give at times and receive at others.
How do you find balance in your relationships?
There is a difference between accepting and just “tolerating” your partner. Relationships are hard. You are each your own person, you have your own personalities, your own similarities and differences.
Love and Kindness
When you accept your partner you are wholeheartedly loving and receiving him/her. Acceptance comes from love and kindness. It comes from the heart. When you accept someone you have tolerance built-in. You are accepting your partner as they are and tolerating their imperfections because you love them and appreciate them. If you agreed 100 percent with everything your partner did it wouldn’t really be much of a relationship. No one is perfect. Everyone does things we don’t like/agree with but when you really love someone you learn how to tolerate those things. At least when they aren’t detrimental to the relationship as a whole.
On its own tolerance doesn’t come from love or kindness. It is not stopping the other person’s behavior. It comes from external motivation — whether it be to not get into trouble or receive judgment. Tolerating another person often has resentment. It does not come from the heart. It does not come from a genuine concern or care for the other person. It comes from personal fear or gain. If you just “tolerate” your partner or their behavior you don’t really care about the backbone of the relationship, which is acceptance.
In situations where I see a partner is just “tolerating” his/her partner’s actions, I encourage them to talk about it. To try to work towards acceptance. To minimize resentment, which can overtime build and ultimately destroy a relationship.
Letter from concerned client: I just started dating a guy that my friend used to date. They went on a couple dates and it didn’t go anywhere. Even though they had nothing serious, I am still afraid my friend will be mad when she finds out. What do I do? How do I approach this with her?
Mabel: I understand how this could be a daunting and scary conversation as you are worried it could damage your friendship. The best way to approach this situation is to tell her as soon as possible. If she were to find out thorough the grapevine she would think you were trying to hide it from her and it would be more hurtful. It is best if you open up to her. Have the conversation. Show her you value her friendship. It will make both of you feel better to talk it out, get it off your chest and give her a chance to tell you how she feels about it. Have the conversation face-to-face to make it as genuine and heart-felt as possible. Avoid doing it over the phone, and definitely do not do it through text message. Those ways of communicating won’t come off as meaningful to her. Approach the conversation as “I want to let you know because I value our friendship and didn’t want you to find out from anyone else.” Let her know that you do care about her feelings. She will likely appreciate your honesty, and if it does bother her she will be able to let you know. Having an open floor for conversation will ease tensions across the board and will help to avoid any damage to your friendship.
The other day my five-year-old daughter confided in me that she thinks another girl is pretty— and not just pretty but “so pretty she wants to put a ring on it” pretty. Now at the age of five, I know that developmentally she doesn’t necessarily have a true concept of romantic love and attraction. But, it got me thinking.
My daughter has never been a big fan of being “girlie.” She insists on wearing “non-girl” clothes and her favorite shirt is a tuxedo t-shirt. She is her own person, and as her mother, I have no desire to try to change those parts of her. She deserves to be uplifted and encouraged to be her true self. Whoever she grows up to be, I am prepared to love her no matter what.
Parents love unconditionally
That doesn’t change the fact that I am still going to be a parent to her. She still has to “suffer” through my firm, authoritative parenting and embarrassing mom-jokes (she will think they are funny too, someday). But, selfish love is not part of it. She will be loved in the way she needs, not in the way I want. I am her mother. I did not bring her into this world to make it all about me. I will accept her exactly as she is. I will love her unconditionally, with my whole heart and make sure she knows it.
That is the meat of parenting—unconditional love. It is that thing that helps us to forgive quickly when mistakes are made. We want our kids to grow to be good, respectable, kind, caring adults who are contributing members of society, but we also want them to be comfortable in their own skin. We want our kids to know that no matter how hard life gets (as I am sure there will be many a bump in the road), and whatever comes there way, they can always count on our love. We brought them into this world to nurture and encourage them, while also teaching them how to be good people. While we may not always agree with some of the choices they make, we will still love them always, forever, with no strings attached.
What do you think? How should parents love their children?
I have a client who recently moved to the East Coast. She lives in a very loud, busy, and overstimulating area. As with anyone moving to a new place, she was going through a period of adjustment and forming new friendships, trying to find her place.
In reaction to her fear of being lonely, she surrounded herself with people, any people. During a mindless event with one of these groups of people—who she didn’t really jive with—she opened her eyes, looked around, excused herself and walked away. She had a revelation of sorts—she didn’t need these people to fill in her blanks, to make her feel less alone. She realized she was sacrificing herself having to pretend she was something she wasn’t. She was sacrificing her authenticity, and at what cost?
You don’t need to sacrifice yourself
It is ok to walk away. It is the genuine connections in our lives, the people we feel comfortable being ourselves with that add to our happiness, our wellbeing as people. Sacrificing who you are just to be surrounded with people will only leave you feeling more alone. Don’t be afraid to walk away and find those people that lift you up, that expand your horizons, without sacrificing who you are. You don’t need to be dependent on other people for your happiness. You are in control of your own happiness. You need to dig deep inside and surround yourself with the things you love. Embrace your hobbies, take time to do the things that make you feel alive inside.
Find the people that share your values and will appreciate you for you. If you are a person who appreciates art, take an art class; if you like to exercise, join a gym or running group; if you like computers or video games, join a club; if you like to read, join a book club; if you like music, go to concerts. In time, you will find the people that see you and love you for who you really are. Don’t sacrifice yourself because you are afraid of the future, or afraid of how it feels to be by yourself. Love yourself, and do what you love. The rest will follow.