How to combat vulnerabilities and receive the love you want
It is very common for partners to reject the exact love that they want. So much so that you will be surprised. Now, you might read this and think, ‘no way! I wish my partner would just give me what I want!’ But working as a senior couples therapist for almost two decades, I can assure you that in most cases your partner gives you what you want and you either do not see it, or you simply reject and criticise it when it does happen – most likely due to your own vulnerabilities.
LEARNING THROUGH EXAMPLE
My long list of examples could fill a whole book, but I will mention the most frequent here. For example, the client who constantly complains that her partner is never available for her. In her experience he does not listen to her or is unavailable. Now, it’s not that I think that might not be the case, or that it is not her experience, but what I am curious to ask is, if now, at this moment (and several sessions beforehand), when she expressed her thoughts and feelings fully, did she feel heard by him? She says, ‘yes definitely’. So, I suggested, “tell him what you experience now that you interpret him as being present and listening”. After she shared her appreciation for him at that moment, I challenged her to think about his other behaviours that contradict her ‘perception’ of him as unavailable. After a moment of thought she said, “You are here now. You take time off work for a 2-hour session, and another hour commuting, to fit Kalanit’s schedule”.
Now, it might be the case that at home he is not as available as she longs for him to be. But my focus is coaching them to notice when each other operates from a different pattern of their own subconscious script and to explore their actions when this happens. That is, when he is available, for instance now in the session, how do they spend that time? If it just goes to the pain of how disappointing he is for her, how likely is it that he will keep trying?
If being available is too much outside his comfort zone, which relates to his past more than the current relationship, and this effort, faced with the pain of the criticism of a man’s most vulnerable place for not being good enough, why even try? This is most certainly not a unique experience. For instance, a partner who wants help with the supermarket shopping and then criticises the veg their partner choses. There is a joke that even if you are a CEO of hundreds of employees, at the supermarket you will send your partner a photo to ask which pasta to buy. You have no authority there!
Other examples are, the one who asks for help and support with home chores but criticises the partner’s standards, the one who craves touches and hugs, but freezes once the partner initiates it, the one who just wants the partner to say ‘I love you’ but once it is said they ignore it, or reject it, with the excuse ‘they just said it because I asked for it’. The subconscious vulnerabilities can mean that, in some cases, there is simply no way to please.
UNPACKING THE “WHY”
Why is it the case? We bring the baggage of our history to the relationship. In the early years we experienced the relationship with our parents as representing the world. Whatever characterised that relationship we concluded that it represented what love and relationship means. We also experienced some wounds, whether short and balanced (new brother, moving home, parents who care for ill parents and so on) or traumatic and intense ones, that created longing and expectations from our parents and with time from our partners.
This longing is like a blueprint for our vulnerabilities in close relationships and we tend to choose partners who are more likely to trigger and replicate that wound, or we project our vulnerability onto them. For example, if we grew up in a home where both parents were not available emotionally or physically, we will be more vulnerable for availability issues even when this is not the case (e.g., present partner). This is what the brain focuses on, looking for signs of unavailability that blind us from what is available. And then, when we experience the opposite, it creates some anxiety that we are unaware of, because that same longing ended up with pain and suffering in childhood.
Experiencing anything different will trigger the old brain alarm, so to protect oneself, it is better to reject and criticise new and different experiences but still be in a ‘control’ (or ‘victim’) mind-set rather than risk the pain of lost connection again. These hidden vulnerabilities leave us with a rather problematic defensive mechanism.
4 STEPS TO REPROGRAMMING YOUR BRAIN TO RECEIVE THE LOVE YOU WANT:
- Recognise and own your vulnerabilities. Understand that 80% of your relationship issues relate to you and not the relationship. This is difficult to admit but a very rewarding and productive change of mindset. Once you own your part, you understand that your partner is doing their best. You might be blind to patterns that contradict your childhood experiences, or you criticise or reject the behaviours that you want from your partner. In their words, you make it more difficult and challenging for your partner to give you what you want.
- Challenge yourself daily to look for opposite examples. For instance, with lack of availability ask yourself: where or how was my partner available for me or the family today? Notice any availability, even though it might not be the length or form you wished for. Then let your brain integrate this information by slowing down. Experience it with all your senses; how does it smell or taste? What does it look like? What do you experience on your skin and body? What do you hear? How do you feel? The more you slow down and connect with all your senses, the better it is for your brain to integrate and decode its pattern.
- Express appreciation. Express the appreciation on what is, ignoring any negative aspects of what is not yet. Use only positive words, because once you compare it to the past or use negative words, these are the parts of your partner’s brain that you activate. For instance, it will be something like “I really appreciate that although we are both stressed at work you sent me texts during the day to ask how I was doing. When I experience you like that, I feel cared for and loved”. Be as specific as possible. Look into their eyes, let your brain take it all in. This is what it looks and feels like when you receive what you want. Letting your partner know what it is exactly that you appreciate motivates them to continue on that route.
- Face situations where you do not receive what you long for with compassion for the child within you, and for your partner (and the child within them). It is a process of changing your brain patterns and patience is required. With this process, at least at the start, you are both going to fail. That’s OK. If it was easy, it would not be one of your vulnerabilities, and there would not be an issue. Keep practicing your muscles by flipping your awareness to what is and do steps 1-3. Compassion and acceptance is the key for growth and healing. Remind yourself that you are both doing your best right now and put the issue into perspective.
By following these steps consistently you will notice that you will start to receive the love you want.
Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari is a relationship expert, psychologist and therapist. Her 30 day online course ‘Ready for Love’ is specifically for couples who are looking to transform challenges into a meaningful and happy relationship.