Story provided by Peggy L. Ferguson, Ph.D.
One of the most common complaints that I hear from partners in couple’s counseling is that they do not feel “important”, “loved”, “respected”, or “appreciated”. Other similar adjectives used include “honored”, “valued”, and “cherished”. The message being communicated is that the partner does not feel the level of positive regard from their partner that they want or need to feel. This is a serious message, one not to be taken lightly or to be dismissed casually. It is often tempting to dismiss or to try to “correct” your partner’s feelings or perceptions when you know that you love your partner deeply and are very committed to the relationship. When you are the on the receiving end of “I don’t feel loved”, you may be feeling love for your spouse, but just not showing it in a way that they can “hear it” and transform it into ‘feeling loved”. It may be time to pay attention to your interactions to see what kinds of messages you are sending to your spouse about how you feel about them. If you determine that your behavior toward your spouse does not match your feelings, try to incorporate some of the following changes into your relationship.
- Let go of the need to be right. When you are more concerned about your marital harmony and less concerned about your ego, things start to shift. When you are trying so hard to make your point of view or frame of reference understood by the other party, you can easily become frustrated and resort to dirty fight tactics, which guarantee that you will not be heard or understood. Browbeating your spouse into submission or the compulsion to make him/her see things your way, will just drive you further apart.
- Accept your spouse for who they are. Despite any resistance that you may have to identify and own your own flaws or imperfections, at least admit them to yourself. No one is perfect. Not even you. Everyone wants to be accepted for who they are—warts and all. Give up trying to change your spouse. Learn to negotiate for change in the relationship (i.e., how you do things), but don’t try to fashion your spouse into someone else. It is disrespectful and you don’t want them to do that to you.
- Take responsibility for your own deficits and work to change your own behavior—regardless of whether your partner seems to be doing the same.
- Work together to accomplish your long term goals and your day to day tasks. The very differences that you found attractive in the beginning can serve as a source of distress and conflict now, but they don’t have to. Problem solve at the intersection where those differences meet. Remember to use those differences to compliment each other and the “team” that you are.
- Identify when the most productive parts of the day are for each of you. Shoot for a complementary fit, rather than always being engaged in the same task at the same time. Use your differences instead of fighting about them.
- Identify your individual strengths, talents, and deficits and work with what IS, rather than some vague notion of what “should be”.
- Figure out ways to work together to compensate for individual deficits, rather than blaming or scorekeeping.
- Work on meeting your spouse’s needs. Identify where your needs are alike and where they differ. Acknowledge and accept “different” as “different”, not as “wrong”, or “selfish”, or some other displeasing trait.
- Watch for counterproductive, circular patterns that can be created as individual partners try to pursue closeness or emotional distance. Eliminate your part in that pattern.
- Grant your partner the personal time, space, or other commodity that they need to recharge, to de-stress, and to be happy.
- Give compliments freely. Complain rarely and only to problem solve about specific problems or behaviors.
- Make time for just to the two of you, without kids, tv/computer/phone screens, work, or other distractions.
- Pay attention to each other and honor your spouse’s love languages.
- Learn to listen by not planning your next comment while your spouse is speaking.
- Collect gratitudes by the boatload and let go of grievances. Learn to forgive. Don’t take everything personally. Remember that you are not the center of the universe. However, treating your spouse like s/he IS the center of the universe probably would not hurt.
- Give up blaming. The blamer becomes the perennial victim and the person receiving the blame feels like they can never win. Take personal responsibility for your own feelings, behavior, decisions, and reactions.
- Check your assumptions and judgements. Believing something strongly does not make it so. The explanations that you give for partner behavior may have no basis in reality. Check out the theories that you are writing and give them a chance to affirm them or to (explain).
- Let go of old worn out games. Give up old dirty fight tactics like “the silent treatment”, attack and run, “you can’t make me!” and other ploys to protect self while trying to communicate about some relationship issue.
- Work on regaining your shared language. Tell the stories about the early days, the jokes you may even have repeated for years (e.g. private jokes). Examples of that shared language are when the two of you laugh about something the rest of the group “does not get”, or one of you says something like, “meet me in that place that we went to that time” and other one knows what place they are talking about.
There are all manner of things that can help your spouse feel loved again. In doing some of the things on this list, you just might feel a little more loved yourself.