Receiving love requires as much of us as giving love does. Perhaps it’s even more anxiety producing because, when we initiate loving words and actions, we’re in the driver’s seat.
When our mate initiates, we’re not in control. That can make us feel off-balance. We can feel vulnerable. If we don’t respond, we’re rejecting. If we do respond, what will be required next?
Anxiety and vulnerability go hand in hand.
Here we are at the beginning of February. In many couple’s worlds, February 14, whether it is a creation of Hallmark or not, is the most important day of the month. Romantics are dreaming up surprises for their lovers. It’s as if on February 14 we either succeed or fail. Can you feel the pressure mounting?
As marriage and family therapists, we think there are two extremely important questions that each lover must ask themself.
What do I initiate that makes my partner feel loved?
How do I push my partner’s love away?
These are equally important questions.
It is extremely common in couple’s counseling to run into people who will only be affectionate or will only be sensual and sexual, if they are the initiator. When their mate surprises them, they are either unwilling or unable to participate. Sometimes there are deep psychological roots that underlie their reluctance. More often the truth is that they feel vulnerable at the moment they are approached by their mate. Their anxiety increases. So what do they do next? Often they ignore or block their mate’s advances in some way.
As marriage and family therapists we have observed four common choices partners make to disconnect from their spouse.
1. We block by not being present.
We’re not in the moment. Perhaps we’re rehearsing something hurtful that happened between us that hasn’t been resolved. We’re trapped in the past.
Perhaps we’re thinking of the future. What is the next task we need to accomplish? Who needs to be driven where, by whom, and at what time? Our agenda has a higher priority than this interaction.
Perhaps we’re in fantasyland. We find ourselves wishing that our life or our partner were different. The land of “if only” can be tempting.
Perhaps, we’re preoccupied by our own or someone else’s pain. Regardless, the reality is that we’re not in the moment. We’re not available.
2. We pretend that everything is fine when, in reality, we are upset!
It’s all too easy to push love away by pretending. We deny the reality that we are hurt and push it underground. Perhaps we fear that our spouse might be offended and/or get even more upset if we bring it up, so we zip our lip. Now there is an invisible wall between us.
Our mate may feel the tension or they may have no idea whatsoever that we’re unhappy. By not asking for what we need, we guarantee that we’ll never receive it. What isn’t verbalized can rule our love life.
3. When our mate affirms us in some way, instead of receiving the compliment, we either invalidate what they say or we question their motives.
What happens when one of you tells the other that they are attractive? Do you pause, enjoy it, and thank your spouse? Do you relish it? Or do you discount it in some way? “You must need new glasses.” “Oh, it’s nothing.” “I’ve got to lose weight.”
We had a client who came home one day after work. Her condo was sparkling. Her husband, who had had the day off, had cleaned their home. He had chosen to love her in this way. Do you know what happened next? Instead of thanking him, she got angry because she assumed he was trying to give her a message that she was a lousy housekeeper. Need we say more?
Over the years, we have watched in disbelief, when a mate who has done something out of the ordinary to demonstrate their love is accused by their spouse of trying to hide an affair. Sometimes mates who reach out to hug their spouse are accused of “just wanting sex.”
Partners can be endlessly creative in the stories they tell themselves when they want to distance from their mate.
4. We assume we know everything there is to know about our spouse.
We lose our curiosity. We either stop being interested in who our mate is in that particular moment or we cling to an antiquated picture of who we perceive our spouse to be. George Bernard Shaw put it well…
“The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.”
This February, let’s not only initiate acts of love, let’s make certain that we’re not blocking the lover who is standing in our home and sleeping in our bed. Let’s make sure that we’re not pushing love away.
Until the next Conscious Lover’s Blog…