“If he really loved me, he would know how I’m feeling… If she really loved me, she would know what I’m thinking…”
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard these comments over the years from individuals and couples in counselling sessions. I really understand this way of thinking. When I was a teen-ager, I used to read historical romances which I only later realized gave me a skewed perspective on relationships: damsels in distress being abducted/raped/held against their will and ultimately falling in love with their persecutor. What kind of messages were I, and other impressionable teens, coming away with? That cruelty/hatred is the other side of love? That love triumphs over all? That true love means the other person knows exactly how you feel and what you are thinking? It took me a while to realize that this was a myth and not helpful in my own relationships!
Many people believe their partner doesn’t really love them if they don’t know what they are thinking or feeling. Sometimes all it takes is for me to de-bunk this myth in counselling and people are able to let go of their belief quite readily. Sometimes it takes time for people to process this new information.
Why should your partner know how you are feeling or what you are thinking all of the time? This expectation puts a lot of stress on a relationship and often creates misunderstandings and arguments. Do you really know how your partner feels about everything? What your partner thinks about everything? Does this mean you don’t really love them?
People often feel that it isn’t romantic if you have to let your partner know how you are feeling or what you are thinking. I have them consider the idea of doing what is best for the relationship. For example, if you need to remind yourself to buy flowers by having an alert in your phone every week, is it any less romantic because you needed the reminder? The act of buying the flowers for your partner isn’t diminished because it wasn’t spontaneous.
I am all for honesty and transparency in a relationship. I believe this is essential to building and maintaining a healthy relationship. But I also believe that it is important to be mindful of the outcome you are seeking.
What is of most importance is that you are actively investing in your relationship by making a gesture that lets your partner know you care about them. Does it matter that it wasn’t spontaneous? Does it matter that your partner doesn’t know you needed a reminder?
I also talk with clients about the idea of training your partner to respond in ways that work for you. For example, a common scenario is one in which the woman is upset and crying and her partner, trying to be supportive, tells her ‘don’t cry, it’ll be okay.’ She may get upset that he doesn’t understand her feelings and feel that if he really loved her, he would know why she is upset. Or she may get upset that he is telling her not to cry. If she could let him know that when she is upset like this, what works best for her is for him to simply sit with her and stroke her back – whatever works for her – he can respond in a way that better meets her needs. Should he have known this without being told? Does this mean he doesn’t love her because he didn’t know how to respond in a way that works for her?
Mature and emotionally healthy relationships don’t just happen. They require work. This might also challenge your ideas that if you were meant for each other and really loved each other, the relationship would flow easily. This is another myth. Building and maintaining a healthy relationship requires thought, consideration, respect, input, actions, coaching and experimenting with new and different ways of handling each other and the challenges you each face, both individually and together.
And of course there will be times when you do in fact know exactly what your partner is thinking or exactly how he or she is feeling. What a bonus! Don’t rest on your laurels though – remember that just because your partner may not seem tuned in to what’s going on for you, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t love you. A willingness to listen to what is in fact going on for your partner and a willingness to be coached on how to best respond and meet your partner’s needs is a wonderful expression of your love for each other.