Lastenia Francis, LMFT
Love is an extreme source of connections with others. When love goes right it leads to peace and tranquility and supports a healthy level of self-esteem and self-acceptance. However, when love goes wrong, there is some level of disconnect that has developed over time that can lead to an unhealthy self-esteem and lack of self-acceptance. Love is difficult. It requires a lot of self-reflection and self-work first before truly being able to work at the couple level.
In order to talk about love, I want to first talk about you. You cannot be the best you in a relationship if you know nothing about you and how to maintain your happiness outside as well as inside a relationship. Think about it, how can you ask someone to love you if you don’t know how you would like to be loved? We may even start by understanding what makes you valuable because if you don’t know this answer, how can you make sure that others are treating you with value? Do you love yourself? How do you perceive yourself? How do you experience love? Love is a you thing just as much as it is a we thing. What does your culture or religion say about love? Have you ever heard the saying “hurt people, hurt people”? I want to know whether you are in a good place as an individual first, so that what you have to offer the other person is something healthy rather than destructive. Even if you are currently in a relationship, if you can commit to getting to a better place with yourself, then the real work for the couple can begin.
Even before I get to the you in love, understanding how you were loved by your parents acts as a good marker for the origins of how you want to receive love. It can also provide insight in what you deem as adaptive and maladaptive emotions (Brubacher, 2006). Attachment theory explains that we start to develop our self-esteem and our views of others first with our parents (Prior & Glaser, 2006). If we are more securely attached to our parents as a child, we are more likely to develop a positive self-esteem as well as connect with others in a healthy way when compared to the other three attachment styles (Prior & Glaser, 2006). Think about it, it is difficult to realize how another person loves you if you are fearful that you are undeserving of love.
After understanding your history and current patterns of attachment, we can then relate that to others. How do you communicate your needs? What are the things that you do or others do that help make you feel safe? What are you willing to sacrifice for others? Brubacher (2006) explains that in order to facilitate change, the therapist needs to be a understand holistically the client’s communication patterns, active presence including their bodies, feelings, expectations and self-esteem. Love is an ever-changing concept that requires constant reevaluation from ourselves and our partners due to the changes we exhibit over time. If you have a communication style that isn’t heard by your partner, then we need to explore how we can interrupt the pattern to have both partners involved in the conversation. If you feel unsafe when your partner yells but never vocalize this then we need to begin to understand how to interrupt that sequence to facilitate change. If you had a negative experience that affects how you think about communicating, then we need to understand your relationship to that experience to affect change in the relationship.
Love is work. It is just as much work on yourself as it is in the relationship. Having two insecurely attached people be in a relationship can be a very unhealthy dynamic if not addressed earlier in the relationship (Prior & Glaser, 2006). This is not to say that the two securely attached individuals will always have a successful relationship. Regardless, as you are changing, so does your relationship to others change. Also, if you do not have a healthy self-esteem it can be difficult to give and receive love from others due to fear of rejection and pain. It can also lead to self-sabotage. Nonetheless, if you are open let’s start with getting you to love you. Everything else can come afterwards.
Brubacher, L. (2006). Integrating emotion-focused therapy with the satir mode. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 32(2), 141-53. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy1.ncu.edu/10.1111/j.1752-0606.2006.tb01596.x
Prior, V., & Glaser, D. (2006). Understanding attachment and attachment disorders: Theory, evidence, and practice. London: Jessica Kingsley.