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Marriage Counseling: Before You Start, Know that You are Worthy of Love

How do you know that you are worthy of love?

Most of the high levels of resentment and anger that emerge in marriage counseling come ultimately from partners who don't feel sufficiently loved by each other. Many have learned on television and in magazines and self-help books that they are entitled to be loved, so there's no doubt in their minds that they are justified in their resentment and anger.

Here's the dilemma. Although partners can justify their resentment and anger based on their sense of entitlement, they cannot feel worthy of love while resentful or angry at a loved one. You simply cannot feel valuable while devaluing someone you value.

Entitlement vs. Worthiness
The distinction between feeling entitled to love and worthy of it is important for two reasons. Not only are you unlikely to get much love when resentful or angry but whatever love you do get will feel less than satisfying. Getting love you don't feel worthy of stirs guilt and inadequacy, due to your inability to return it, which you cannot do when resentful or angry.

It's not that resentful couples are looking for love in all the wrong places; they're looking for a sense of worthiness in the wrong place. Your partner can make you feel loved, but that's not enough if you don't feel lovable.

Okay, so if you can't tell from your partner's behavior, how can you know that you are worthy of love?

If I were to ask you to think of lovable people you've known, you would not likely think of a resentful or angry person. (Not that there's anything wrong with resentful or angry people; they are simply difficult to love, probably because they don't feel lovable.) Most people respond to the question of what makes a person lovable by citing qualities like kindness, consideration, concern for others, i.e., various aspects of compassion.

It's not rocket science. If you want to feel lovable, you have to be compassionate.

Traditional marriage counseling is not likely to show that you are worthy of love. It's best to know that before you start. Know that when you're resentful or angry, you're really hurt, anxious, or uncomfortable and that your partner is most likely hurt, anxious, or uncomfortable, too. Care about your partner's hurt, anxiety, and discomfort as much as your own. This genuine self-value, rooted in your deepest values, opens a window of success for marriage counseling and puts a floor on any negative outcome. At worst, you may emerge feeling disappointed and sad, maybe even accepting the failure of your relationship, but as long as you sustain compassion, you will feel worthy of love.