by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
When a person says, “I really love him or her... I want this relationship to work out” what does that mean? In therapy, I often ask clients to do the Ideal Relationship exercise, where they describe and visualize what their ideal relationship looks like, independent of what might actually be going on in reality right now.
The first thing I have noticed is that attachment is often mistaken for love.
I may be deeply attached and inter-dependent with a certain person. This can be something sublime or deeply stressful and crazy-making, or somewhere in between. Nothing else in this life has the power of relationship to cause us to reach such heights of ecstasy and despair.
Because I am to a certain extent by necessity, dependent on this person for my happiness (we share children, property and businesses), it matters very much to me how this person behaves, what they think, who they talk to, how they spend their time and money.
If I am coming from a place of not-enough-ness, I may find myself going overboard wondering what he or she is doing, trying to control my partner’s behaviors, telling them how things should be done, demanding explanations. Even such personal things as what he is eating, or how much she wants to talk to her mother. So that I can feel better somehow.
If I am overly concerned about the appropriateness of my partner’s behaviors and attitudes, likes and dislikes, eventually he or she is going to get tired. It is too much to be responsible for another person’s happiness after a while. It makes a person feel so un-free when they feel monitored or judged. And isn’t that one of our core desires, freedom?
So, each person’s job is to know:
a. You are worthy, you are good enough, just as you are!
b. It's vital to practice acceptance toward yourself and others - you don’t have to require yourself or another person to behave a certain way so that you can feel good.
c. It's okay to focus on your individual happiness, what draws your attention, what inspires you… wherever your talents lie. Have faith in yourself, and move in the direction of things that inspire you. Move away from worrying about what someone else may be thinking, doing, saying, wanting you to do, or feeling about what you are doing. You are the only one in charge of your life and it's right that you should be free to think about things, and do things that make you feel positive.
d. That it's not helpful to explain or defend yourself - better to learn to tell the truth about how you feel, what you like and don’t like, what you want more of.
Focusing this way helps alleviate mood disorders, and helps you get more of what you want. It also makes you more attractive to your partner. Be sure to always focus on what you like and love about your partner, and try to basically ignore things that bug you. This is how relationships go the distance.
Time and attention may be the most valuable aspects of an ideal relationship.
If a person has time and attention for the things that are going on in my life, I feel valuable, I feel loved. Then I am so happy, I feel good, my love hormones are pumping, I want to please in return… a positive feedback loop is happening. I tell my friends my partner is fabulous. I’m not vulnerable to affairs.
On the other hand, If my partner doesn‘t want to listen to my concerns, or sends messages that he or she is not that interested in what I have to say, or outright criticizes me for my feelings, opinions or behaviors, I feel disrespected, unsupported, alone, and probably angry and stuck too.
It’s very easy to give your loved ones your undivided attention every day. Even just for fifteen minutes, give them your undivided attention with no agenda of your own. Just go with the flow of what’s going on with them. One of the best ways to show a person love is to give them your time and undivided attention for a brief while. This is not to make you exhausted with too much giving.
If attachment, freedom and attention are present in a relationship, it is natural that affection will be present too. What is more beautiful than that? That a person hugs and kisses you because they are motivated to. That they try to please and help you because they are motivated. Not because you have demanded or had a contract, or been passive aggressive or dragged them to therapy because you're not getting enough affection. If someone feels they are not getting enough affection, they should refer to the above. It is most often due to a lack of attention, acceptance and appreciation.
Practice working with these ideas and call me if you need more help!
1600 Rosecrans Avenue
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266