We all experience occasional relationship problems, whether they are with our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, significant others, or friends. And most of the time, we are able to resolve those problems, because deep down, we know our loved ones truly love us.
But sometimes we really don’t know that – or if – they love us, because we’re insecure about their love for us. When our spouses, who chose to marry us, for instance, don’t act lovingly toward us; when our mothers, who birthed us, but maybe suffered from postpartum depression or were raped and never told us, don’t act lovingly toward us, how can we not rush to judgment and assume they may not really love us? We can’t – and don’t want to – consider that our moms might have been too afraid to love us due to impossible-to-believe circumstances that led to our births – or even to our conceptions. And as far as the partner with whom we chose to spend the rest of our lives is concerned, some of us wonder – did we marry a psychopath?
Many of us have dads who neglected us, siblings who assumed the role of being our harshest critics, and children who grew up to take an unfamiliar path – not the one we guided them toward. They refused to follow our directions, because they chose their own paths – and we think, how dare them! Why don’t they love us?
Or do they?
The road we travel is long and comes with so many twists and turns, we sometimes can’t help but get lost, and we can’t help but decide that others are lost, too, because they didn’t choose the right path – our path. Not every life is mapped with signposts to help us along our way. The road to a healthy relationship is filled with all kinds of hurdles and missteps. And if we don’t watch where we’re going, we may find ourselves in a ditch.
One of the problems some of us encounter when it comes to our own relationships is that our perceptions of the people to whom we relate is actually distorted; we think people don’t love us, because they don’t fit our image of what a loving parent, spouse, etc. should look like. We sometimes refuse to recognize that just because somebody is angry with us, for example, their anger doesn’t mean they hate us. The less mature among us take every bump on the relationship road as a sign – or as an excuse – to end the relationship, especially when it becomes too difficult to handle, rather than look at our problems as opportunities to grow the relationship and progress ourselves and our loved ones spiritually.
We need to face our challenges and overcome our obstacles if we want our relationships to succeed. We need to recognize that just because loved ones are angry with us today doesn’t mean they will throw us out of their lives forever tomorrow. Most situations are transitory, and most problems can be resolved if both partners participate in resolving the issues.
Some situations require us to understand the meaning behind the actions of others. A mother loses her self-control, for instance, when she sees her teenage daughter dressed inappropriately. The daughter sees the outrage as a blow to her individuality. She has no clue that the clothes she wears entice predators and invite unwelcome advances. The teenage brain isn’t yet equipped with the ability to recognize that someone who lavishes the teenager with attention is actually a predator pretending to be a teenager – or an actual teenager with a hidden agenda.
Vulnerable teenagers don’t want to believe that the “young” boy or girl who acts adoringly attentive and loving toward him or her online is actually a 60-year-old pervert working an intricate dance of seduction designed to entice girls or boys away from the safety of their homes into his house of horrors. So the mother comes off as being hateful, when in fact, she is concerned for the welfare of her child. But teenagers often don’t understand the consequences of their actions – until it’s too late.
Some relationship problems require more loving effort on our part than we’re equipped to handle – raising defiant teenagers, for instance. I highly recommend reading Discussing Teenage Defiance by James Dobson, Ph.D. The article offers some helpful advice for dealing with defiant teens.
Another example of an all-too-common relationship problem is abuse in its many forms, whether physical, emotional, or sexual. When a husband or wife comes home every night and berates and humiliates his or her spouse, those actions are not the actions of a loving soulmate. People who love each other act lovingly toward each other. Actions speak volumes. The same holds true for parents. If we love our children, they need to know through our actions and through the way we look at them that we love them, and NOT in a sexual way.
Too many children live in fear these days – in their own homes. (Living with an abusive parent or alcoholic can be terrifying for adults, so imagine how living with one can destroy a child.) Children can’t escape the constant trauma unless someone saves them from the abuse. No child should have to live in fear. If you are a parent who is providing a home for a child who lives in constant fear, whether due to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, the relationship you form with that child will be damaged, possibly beyond repair, and your child will grow up distrusting you and everyone else.
Some parents can’t move their children away from the situation, because they’re too afraid themselves to leave the abuse. In those situations, parents need to reach out for help from organizations that offer help, because staying with abuse and subjecting your children to abuse is also abuse, and if you love your child, you’ll force yourself to move out of your “comfort” zone – your child’s private hell – into a safe environment. If you are a parent of a child who is being abused by your spouse, you are not showing love to your child if you force him or her every day to experience ongoing terror.
Other less traumatizing events contribute to children never feeling safe in their homes, too. I never felt that my dad loved me, for example. My mom used to say that he loved me, “in his own way.” I learned to hate those words, because I never understood what she meant. He daily criticized, humiliated, and degraded me. I learned to hate myself and I eventually accepted that I was stupid, ugly, and unlovable. It took me decades to overcome my insecurities.
Then just recently, after my father died, a dear friend talked to me about her mother, with whom she had had a strained relationship. From her I learned how to view my relationship with my dad differently.
When he was a young man, my dad had saved a lot of money, so much money in fact, that his mother and father took his money and drove the entire family from Illinois to California to live. They never paid him back and for the rest of his life my father resented his parents for stealing his money. While my sisters and I were growing up, my father became rather stingy with his money, refusing to buy even underwear for us, because he didn’t think they were necessary since nobody saw them under our clothes anyway (my mother insisted though).
His (what we all perceived to be) stinginess changed when my sisters and I became adults. My father would often throw money our way and it never occurred to me that, because of his relationship with money and because he always resented his parents for stealing his money and using it to take care of themselves and my dad’s four siblings, money was my dad’s way of showing affection to us.
So does the possibility exist that the person who you feel doesn’t love you actually does, but doesn’t know how to show it the way you need it to be shown? We always assume that the people who love us know what we need to feel loved by them, but you’d be surprised by how many people have no clue how to express their love for us.
Over the many years I have lived, I have learned that we all have a responsibility to tell our loved ones in concrete terms what we need from them so they will know how to love us. Sometimes a show of affection, such as holding hands or hugging is all we need to feel loved. Some of us need to hear the words, “I love you.” But if we never tell our loved ones what we need from them because we feel, “they should know,” we’ll never receive the affection we want from them.
Then, of course, the materialistic among us (the superficial ones) need things to know they’re appreciated. If your loved one says he or she needs material objects to prove you love your partner, get out of the relationship now, before s/he cleans out your bank account with demands for material “affection.” That kind of “love” won’t last. If she or he is your child, start now to teach your child the true nature of “value.”
Forgetting the materialistic “lover,” let’s say we tell our loved ones what we need from them and they ignore our requests. Do we assume they don’t care? Maybe. Maybe not. Some people have a hard time saying, “I love you.” Some people aren’t comfortable with hugs. And yet, some people really don’t know how to love.
If you are always the one putting forth effort to maintain the relationship and you’re getting tired of the lack of reciprocity, you more likely have a master/slave relationship than you do a familial one. Maybe the time has come for you to take an inventory of what you have given to the relationship and compare what you have given to what you have received from the relationship. Because if the people you love don’t respond at all to your requests and if they don’t even try to make an effort to act lovingly toward you, maybe it’s time to excise them from your life.
And yet, because we look at things from our own perspectives, we don’t always see things as they are. We see things only from our own point of view. Taking ourselves out of the situation and placing ourselves in other’s shoes is not always possible, but we really need to examine our situation objectively to get a better perspective.
Let’s say a smoker husband lives with an asthmatic wife. Though she suffers tremendously and though they spend a huge amount of money on medications and hospital visits, he refuses to give up smoking in their home. She gives birth to their baby who also develops asthma. Surely the father will give up smoking in the home for the sake of his own baby’s health, the mom thinks. But he doesn’t.
Does that mean he doesn’t love his baby? I don’t think jumping to that conclusion is fair. But I do think that the man is selfish and stupid because he is jeopardizing the health of both his wife and his baby. He probably thinks, “This is my house and I can do whatever I want to do in MY house.”
He sees his wife’s “demands” as a power ploy, because he’s too invested in himself to consider how his actions might impact another human being, even if that being is his own offspring. What matters to him is HIM and him alone. Everyone must bow to his wishes. In his mind, they don’t show him the respect he demands, and to him, everything is about respect – respect for him. Egocentric, selfish, and immature individuals place the needs and wishes of others beneath their own wishes, even when their own wishes jeopardize the health and sanity of others. We don’t want to believe that our parents or our spouses are so focused on their own needs and wants that they could care less about our needs and wants.
How can we be sure if they love us?
If you wonder about whether or not you should exert any more effort into your relationship, especially when you feel drained and exhausted from working so hard to maintain it, ask yourself this one question – do you feel loved? If you honestly feel loved, you can resolve any relationship issue. If you don’t feel loved, ask yourself why you are maintaining the relationship.
Loving parents, siblings, spouses, and friends are supposed to bring out the best in us. They are supposed to encourage us to use our talents and intellect to our best advantage. They are supposed to celebrate our victories with us and comfort us during our failures. They’re not supposed to judge or criticize us. Though we may not be aware of what we need from them, the best relationships challenge us to be our best selves. They don’t allow us to take the lazy way out of working toward becoming the awesome people we were meant to be.
Oftentimes, giving up on important relationships means giving up something of ourselves. Sometimes we need to put forth more effort, especially when those relationships are important to us. We don’t want to regret decisions we make today, because they will negatively impact us in the future, and we might have a hard time forgiving ourselves if we don't at least try to mend a broken relationship.
So take a look at your significant relationships. Do you need proof that someone loves you? I once asked my ex-husband if he loved me enough to give up beer. He glared at me and hours later brought home a case of it. I had my answer (hence, the “ex” status).
Well, let me tell you a little secret I learned that day – if you have to ask for proof, you don’t feel secure in your relationship. And if you don’t feel secure in your relationship, you either have some personal issues that need attention, or you have valid reasons for feeling insecure. Men and women who accuse their spouses of cheating on them, for instance, are usually later discovered to be cheating themselves and therefore accuse their spouses of what they are guilty of doing. If you feel you need proof that your spouse loves you, he or she probably doesn’t, or you need to figure out why you feel so insecure.
Relationships require effort to maintain, but those efforts should be made with every intention of improving the relationship; they shouldn’t leave you feeling exhausted every time you expend the effort. If you’re giving, giving, giving, until you have nothing left to give and if your partner or loved one expects you to keep giving, giving, giving, without appreciating you or acting lovingly toward you, maybe the time has come to let go of the relationship.
I’m not saying you need to “get” something every time you “give” something, because maybe all you need are feelings of joy, triumph, exuberance, and a heart filled with love when you’re with your loved one. If those are your feelings, you’re relating well, but if all you feel is depression, anxiety, guilt, or anger, you either need to change the way you relate or stop relating completely.
Sometimes you’re just with the wrong person. I knew a couple once who brought out the absolute worst in each other. They fought constantly and everyone around them wondered why they were still together. Then the guy (who was a friend of my ex’s) met somebody new, and his behavior changed dramatically, so much, in fact, that he acted like a different person. The new woman in his life brought out the best in him and he suddenly became friendlier and happier. They later married, had a couple of children, who are now grown, and they are still happily together.
Before you decide to sever ties with people who matter to you, step outside of yourself and look at your situation from the other person’s point of view. So many of us hold such hatred in our hearts because of a perceived wrong, and we hang on to the anger and hatred. It eats away at us from the inside out and we experience all kinds of physical problems and emotional distress because of it. We become distrustful and bitter.
What we need in those kinds of situations is to learn one of the most important aspects of any successful relationship – how to forgive, because by not forgiving, we persecute ourselves. None of us is so perfect, we can’t forgive imperfections in another. “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” (Lewis B. Smedes)
Sometimes we don’t want to appear vulnerable and we think that by offering our forgiveness, others will take advantage of us. “We think that forgiveness is weakness, but it's absolutely not; it takes a very strong person to forgive.” (T. D. Jakes)
Forgiving also requires fortitude. “It's not an easy journey, to get to a place where you forgive people. But it is such a powerful place, because it frees you.” (Tyler Perry)
And at some point, we need to realize that only when we are capable of forgiving are we truly capable of loving another human being. We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. “He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
We all deserve to be loved and we all deserve to be loved the way we want to be loved. Ask yourself if you are doing everything possible to help your loved ones feel loved. Are you doing something every day that lets your loved ones know how loved they are? If you are, you are contributing positively to your relationship. If you’re not contributing to the success of your relationship, start now to repair the damage. Love has no time limit and is always awaiting recognition.
If you’re experiencing relationship problems, learn how to solve them with the people who are part of the problem. If they love you, they’ll want to work on the relationship too. If they don’t care, leave them (unless they’re your children). And remember, you’ll know if your relationship is good if being in it makes you – and the person who is relating to you – feel good about yourself and each other. And if you feel hurt by a relationship that is not working out, learn to forgive the other person and allow both of you to heal from the pain.
Working on relationships with people who matter to you builds character. You’ll both benefit from the time and effort you put into strengthening the bond you had with each other.
“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another.” (Thomas Merton)