by David Braucher, LCSW, PhD
When we insist that our partners show their love the way we want them to, we might be avoiding having a truly intimate relationship. We may be having a hard time appreciating how our partner expresses their love and surrendering to the love they do offer.
We can feel deprived when our partners fail to demonstrate their love the way we want them to. Maybe they don’t remember our anniversary or bring us flowers or cook us our favorite meal or say nice things just for the heck of it. Would it be so hard for them to just do the things we want?
Maybe it would be hard for them, though I’m not saying they shouldn’t try. But if we are complaining about what we are not getting without appreciating what we do receive, we are rejecting a very intimate part of them. And we don’t want to reject them! We love them. We love that they love us. We just want them to express their love differently — the way we want it.
How a person loves might be the most intimate expression of who they are; when this is not embraced, it can feel like a profound rejection.
Our Fantasies About Love
We grow up with fantasies of what it will be like to find our life-partner. These ideas or fantasies about love are often based on our experiences with love growing up in our families and culture.
Starting in infancy, we develop within the minute-to-minute interactions with our families. How we are loved by our caretakers lays the foundation for our sense of ourselves in relation to others — how we feel loved. As we grow up, we watch how our parents love each other; this provides us with our first model of an intimate, romantic love. Later still, we are saturated with cultural representations of love: love songs, TV shows, movies, and the like.
When the reality of our relationship doesn’t match our fantasies, we can become disappointed. We might assume that we are with the wrong person. Or we might doubt whether they love us at all — after all, if they really loved us wouldn’t they ________________ (fill in the blank)? There is always an element of fantasy in romantic relationships. Romance engages us at the core of our being, reaching all the way back to infancy, so it is going to awaken some pretty irrational stuff.
But if we want true intimacy, it won’t be found with someone who fulfills our fantasies or fits into our ideas of an “ideal” partner. True intimacy requires recognition of a separate other person with their own thoughts, feelings, desires — and ways of demonstrating love.
Pam and Jake
Consider this scenario: Pam complains that Jake doesn’t show her love. Jake bridles at this remark, enumerating all the ways he shows his love. He tells of all the times he has dropped what he was doing to run to Pam’s aid, even when he knew that Pam was just being a hypochondriac. Pam agrees that she can always count on him, but insists that he never tells her how amazing she is and how he admires her.
Pam always imagined finding a man who would find her beautiful and intelligent. As a young girl, she imagined being showered with the kind and thoughtful words she heard from her parents, but this time from a charming man. Her family demonstrated their love with words.
Pam finds herself with a man who is not a big talker — he prefers to demonstrate his love through actions. When questioned, Pam readily agrees that she is loved by Jake, but she still feels this niggling absence that makes her question whether Jake is the right guy for her.
Intimacy and the Surrender to Love
Surrendering to how a partner loves us means that we value their viewpoint — we honor the legitimacy of how they intend their actions or words to be received. Anyone can send us flowers or give us a compliment without loving us. In love, it is the intention behind the act that matters.
When we sympathize with our partner’s perspective, finding it to be as valid as our own, we expand our sense of what is acceptable — we are changed. The more we learn about our partner and value how they see things, the more we take them in and the greater our sense of intimacy. Surrendering to how our partner loves does not diminish us; we don’t abandon our own perspective. Love is additive — we experience growth by expanding our sense of what it means to be loved.
David Braucher, L.C.S.W., Ph.D., is a psychotherapy supervisor and member of the faculty of The William Alanson White Institute’s Psychoanalytic and Intensive Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Programs. He is the author of the Life Smarts blog on PsychologyToday.com.