| Family Reflections |

It’s Not About Love

Try to see your spouse’s slights as a quirk instead of an attack




Being treated well and liked are important to most healthy human beings. In fact, we’re vigilant in our human interactions, watching the response of others to ensure that we’re receiving the proper respect and admiration.
“I hate getting together with my husband’s side of the family. I’m very different from his sisters; we don’t have much in common. Still, I try to be friendly and hang around with them in the kitchen or family room. But even if I’m standing right there, they’re busy with themselves and hardly talk to me. I often leave those events in a terrible state,” says Nechama.
We don’t just like to be liked, we actually need this kind of warm acceptance. Failing to get it hurts us at our core. We need to feel included in the group. Being rejected or just feeling rejected carries life-or-death implications to our primitive sections of the brain. For this reason, we all seek like-minded companions who see the world as we do. Children do this as instinctively as adults.

Being “Liked” at Home

We have the same need for affirmation within our family as we do within the larger world. And nowhere is this more important than in our most primal relationships:parent-child/husband-wife. Much of the conflict that occurs within marriage has to do with the micromanagement of “liking.”
“He never asks me how my day was. It’s like he doesn’t care.”
“She always interrupts me to answer a child’s question; it’s like the child is more important than I am.”
We’re interpreting the behaviors of our spouses as being for or against us. It doesn’t occur to the wife in the above example that her husband loves her dearly even if asking about her day isn’t part of his daily routine; he just never learned that particular ritual in his family of origin.
Similarly, it’s not clear to the husband in the example above that what he likes most about his wife — her excellent mothering skills — is based on an acute sensitivity to the needs of her kids, and she simply hasn’t learned to balance her moment-by-moment parenting attunement with the needs of the man she loves most in the world.
And when a spouse remains absorbed in his reading material when a wife is trying to communicate with him, it feels to her as if she’s insignificant to him. It doesn’t occur to her that her husband could love her while failing to have yet acquired the social skill of pausing and looking up when his wife begins to speak to him.
The fellow who doesn’t ask his wife about her day may, if the situation required it, risk his life for her. His human failing, like yours and mine, isn’t usually about lack of love; it’s about skill set, upbringing, gaps in social-emotional development, brain style, personality traits, and other things.
If so, why do we tend to take things so personally? Why is it so easy to make us feel unloved?

Reducing Relationship Vigilance

One of our own failings is often the culprit: insecurity. If we were more certain about our own lovability, we’d more easily see that our human soul mate is simply manifesting normal human shortcomings. Instead of proving lack of love, these shortcomings would simply point to areas that could do with improvement.
And if that improvement never came, we’d be able to see the flaw as a lovable quirk in our loved one: “He’s so cute! He gets so absorbed in whatever he does that if he’s reading something, I become temporarily invisible. I use that opportunity to tidy his desk right in front of him instead of taking it personally!”
In order to help ourselves get to this safe place without years of therapy (although that would surely help as well!) we can practice coming up with benevolent interpretations of our partner’s flaws. “It’s not that he doesn’t love me; it’s just that he forgets to do what I ask him because he’s forgetful. It isn’t about me at all.” “Even though it stings when he criticizes me, I know he doesn’t mean to hurt me. It’s just the way his whole family speaks. I’m the most important person in his life.”
Yes, you are. Remind yourself of this when he acts imperfectly.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 730)

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