I would bet that for every couple that falls in love each day there are at least two couples who leave each other in deep and hurtful ways. Just this week, I was caring for one of my teenage daughter’s oldest friends whose boyfriend, who had been her friend since elementary school, broke up with her in a text that read“I just don’t have that warm love feeling anymore.”This experience followed one earlier in the week as I listened to a longtime business friend who had recently managed an incredible feat of agility, courage and perseverance to save his business from an investor group gone bad, speak in a hopeless and uninspired tone about losing the feelings required to do the work to revive his 33-year marriage.
Intimate relationships begin early with this confusion that their truth is based on a feeling, and somehow as we grow up and age, we never quite get beyond the idea that our feelings are not a reliable barometer for the value and work demanded in relating. Too many Hollywood films set us up to confuse our falling in love bio- chemistry with the intention to love. Even many long term relationships slide down the slippery slope of feeling un-loved by a partner, which too easily can evolve into a self fulfilling prophecy focusing on the relationship’s weakness, rather than the more balanced view of how it has also grown.
What is that “loving feeling” that we expect our relationships to fill us with? We know that the best bio-chemical response that our bodies generate in life is in the early glow of feeling loved. Our self doubts evaporate and life starts to work in ways that make things easy. As these feelings evolve and begin to include the wider experience of reality that people have both loveable and annoying traits side by side, our feelings of being loved have to also evolve. The truth is that we feel most loved when we are loving. In fact, it is impossible to not feel love in you when you are feeling loving towards someone else. Too often, we wait to feel loved by the other, and withhold our own capacity to love for the moment when we can safely reciprocate. This is fertile soil for stories of failing relationships to grow in.
In the case of my young teenage friend, I know that rejection in the awkward early teen years too often grows into harmful patterns of weakened self esteem. Not being loved equals not being loveable and then we subconsciously use our lives to prove our ill gotten beliefs. When it comes to our intimate connections throughout our life, we all, usually invisible to ourselves, choose the partners and relationships, which prove us right- both about what we believe about love and even more deeply how we see ourselves.
I reminded my business friend that if he were to apply even half of the energy and motivation he did to saving his marriage as he did to his business, he would find the time to ask and listen to the feelings that his wife had given up trying to share. I urged him to fight for his marriage with the same courage he brought to his business. In the end, this is the turnaround that would most console him and bring him meaning as he ages, with or without his business. For my young friend, crying in a dark room after midnight, I held her close and made her repeat after me- “I am deeply loveable.” Telling a true story is everything.