True Love Never Runs Smooth, but why Would You Want It To?

How to turn hurts and misunderstandings into ways that make your relationship stronger.

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Photo credit: iStockphoto

By Steve Garrett

When something goes wrong in a relationship — there is pain. One person upset for some reason, that causes pain, and pain leads to anger and/or disappointment. A result of that process is a kind of ‘shutting down’. A chasm has opened up between you and your partner.

This is when bridge-building skills are needed.

While it might seem a paradox, feeling hurt or misunderstood can actually bring you closer to your partner when you accept their hurt reactions. Their reaction probably has roots in something significant for them. Acknowledge this. You can encourage them to reflect on this (while you also reflect on what you brought to the situation.) Ask them to share their feelings from a place of real caring, a place without ‘judging’ or trying to problem-solve everything that comes up for your partner. This won’t easy to do if the feelings of your partner involve deeply buried painful experiences, but it’s worth your effort.

The result can be identifying and beginning to move on from some distorted ideas and fears. Maybe your partner has fear about themselves and/or fear about intimacy — these are often rooted in childhood experiences and memories.

When your partner shares painful feelings, you get a chance to learn something you didn’t know about him or her. You can also develop a better sense of whether you have been thoughtless or insensitive. If neither of you is blaming the other, the instinctive need to be defensive doesn’t have to kick in. You will both understand more about each other, and be able to accept and love each other. The chasm gets a bit narrower.

A hurtful episode becomes a chance to grow closer rather than more distant; to grow more trusting rather than more guarded. When both partners are willing to take responsibility for reflecting on their own and each other’s feelings, you can turn the pain into growth. In my experience, if you frame a ‘misunderstanding’ in a positive way, rather than something to be afraid of, there really can be a gain from the pain.

A place where real love can take root and grow.

What is at the core of this overused and definitely much-misunderstood word?

Love is a big subject (possibly the biggest) and difficult to define. Lacking a good definition for love, I have learned some of what love is not:

  • You don’t need your partner’s approval and/or admiration to be able to feel ’OK’ about yourself. Similarly, you don’t need to get angry or depressed if for some reason that approval seems to be missing.
  • You don’t need to hold back from letting your partner know ‘the real you’ because you are afraid they’ll not accept who you are and will reject and/or leave you.
  • You don’t need insecurity, jealousy, fear, or envy.

All of these feelings creep in for most of us. They are mainly what the hidden little boy version of ourselves tends to feel and can be dependent on the amount of love or acceptance the hidden little boy received when we were young. The past will determine the extent to which we still cry out for attention. When we’re crying out to be acknowledged, sensitive mutual listening and understanding become important… and forgiveness… and laughter.

Where does the cycle of hurt start?

How can both people in a relationship learn enough, and understand enough, about their own and each other’s sensitivities so they are not unintentionally hurtful and overreacting when they are hurt?

Where does the “responsibility” for this lie? That line can be easy to find if each partner is understanding and forgiving of themselves and each other. They will become close instead of distant; happy instead of hurt, and trusting instead of doubtful after sharing their feelings.

For me, the fastest way to dispel a feeling of hurt is for my lover to tell me something like: “I think I understand how you feel, and why you feel that way”. Or, “I don’t understand how you feel, or why you feel that way, but you must have a reason… so please try and explain it to me”

Sensible reasons for hurt feelings don’t always exist., Sometimes I can be upset by something which evokes painful memories from my past, or things that don’t make sense to anyone other than myself and someone who loves me and is able to understand me.

People who have a mutual understanding and acceptance of their partner share their feelings as they are, without feeling ‘ashamed’ of whether they are ‘sensible’ or not. Shameless sharing is a short step to laughing together at how foolish our hurt feelings can be and moving on from them lovingly.

P.S…

“I Love You”

“I Love You” is a term often used in all kinds of situations — sometimes without the speaker or the receiver being sure exactly what is meant. “I Love You” can also be used to manipulate or capture another person by feeding their need to be loved. I’ve been reflecting on what I mean when I say “I ‘love’ you” to someone… what would I like them to mean when they say it to me.

I’ve concluded I can meaningfully say I love someone when I appreciate and understand their needs and feelings, and when their feelings — even though they may be different — are as real and as important as my own. In order to give or receive love, each person needs to understand, accept, love, and value themselves.

I’ve realized that while I can be strongly attracted to someone as soon as I meet them, it takes time (probably at least six months) to know if I do, or can, love them. The time is even longer to know if the love is mutual and built on a solid foundation of self-knowledge and sensitivity. Even though we feel intoxicated and excited to declare love to another person, I’m now very wary of saying, or hearing “I Love You” before enough time has elapsed for the words to be meaningful.

Tempting as it is, saying the “L” word too soon in a relationship can be an exercise in wishful thinking which may create warm fuzzy feelings, but it will dilute the power of love and make life harder for each partner. We’d be better to only bring the “L” word out when the time is right, so love can work its full magic.

This story was previously published on The Good Men Project.

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