We have all either thought or said this at some point: “you wouldn’t act like this if you loved me.”
I have to tell you something: this belief is probably causing unnecessary pain and suffering.
There is this prevailing thought that people act one certain way when they love someone. They talk in a loving and calm voice, they are patient, they say positive things, they are thoughtful, responsive and generous. They would not raise their voice, act in a disrespectful manner, fail to communicate or cause you to feel an ounce of pain.
It’s just not true.
Let’s put it into perspective.
When you were a child, did you ever scream at your parent? Even scream that you hated them? Did that mean you actually didn’t love them?
Similarly, how about your child? Have they screamed at you? Does that mean they don’t love you?
So, can we agree that how people act doesn’t always indicate how much they love you?
I’m talking specifically about relationships where you and this person are both significant in each other’s life. You are family, you are long time friends, you are partners… those kinds of relationships.
People love based on the template of love they were shown.
Yes, how someone loved them definitely influences how they love you. If someone that loved them was insensitive to them, chances are that some degree of insensitivity will be an ingredient in the way they interact with you.
We take it very personally, how people love us, but it isn’t too personal at all.
It has to do with the structures embedded in them over time about how being close or intimate looks and feels. And, it has to do how a person has learned to navigate the emotions that have come up with closeness (sweetness, joy, contentment, fear, disappointment, rejection, abandonment, intruded on, hurt).
Think about it:
If you had a critical or overbearing parent, did you sometimes lie because that cut down on lectures, sharp jabs or criticism? You might have learned to lie about things here and there to protect yourself. Then you lie to your partner and they find out. Does that reflect how much you love them? It doesn’t. This reflects how you cope with having a fear of being intruded on or a fear of criticism.
This doesn’t mean you have to put up with a hurtful way someone is loving you.
Ultimately, you might need to establish some boundaries around what your loved one is doing. That would actually support them in being able to change some of those patterns. If you communicate a boundary like “it’s not OK to lie”, you also have to be committed to making it safe for your loved one to tell the truth. Can you create non-judgmental and calm space?
[We won’t get into this on this post, but it is important to consider that your behavior can contribute to the dynamic that is going on. So, it is important to reflect on your part, of course.]
You might decide that the way your person loves is not OK with you in too many ways and it is time for distance or separation. And, that can be a healing or empowering choice for you.
Regardless of the situation, know that the behaviors and patterns in the ways in which someone loves is not a 100% reflection of you.
It is true that you are engaged in the dynamics. You may be doing things to trigger the patterns being played out. For these reasons, seeing a therapist is a great way to explore any part that you play in repeated dynamics, if you feel called.
But, the way someone is loving you is not because you are not good enough or that you do not deserve to be loved.
It is helpful to remember we have all acted in ways towards loved ones that do not reflect how much we love them.