Like a fingerprint, each one of us is unique and has preferred ways of being loved. When our partner fails to understand this by loving us ineffectively, a common reaction is to be hurt and express anger by either attacking or distancing. When both partners are involved in this kind of dance, the result is a downward spiral of disconnection and unhappiness. Such a dynamic describes a common but unfortunate pattern of relating, an ever-tightening knot of emotional gridlock. Most partners try hard to succeed at loving, but when using the wrong efforts, trying harder tightens the knot of gridlock instead of loosening it.
Loving the other only when it is believed that he or she deserves to be loved is part of the problem; partners who are hurt tend to withhold love. Most easy is to love the way that comes most naturally, rather than the partner's preferred way to receive it. The negative cycle which results can be difficult to repair. Anger is a poor teaching tool. Instead of teaching, undiluted anger hurts, intimidates and usually provokes a defensive "walls-up" reaction that destroys connection. Additionally it motivates a partner to resist change. Successful relating can only happen if a partner feels loved. Teaching your partner how to love you right instead of punishing him or her for failure is part of a successful recipe.
A widespread but incorrect assumption is that if our partner loves us, he or she will know how to love us. Greater confusion is added by the reality that many partners demonstrate effective loving in the early months of togetherness, a sweetness which sadly disappears along with the relationship's deepening. As partners grow more connected older emotional patterns surface. Partners face the task of "re-training" each other in the ways of loving, an effort which may easily take many years.
The tendency of partners is to take personally the other's failure to love properly by interpreting it as rejection. When both partners react to pain and disappointment the relationship becomes embroiled in a destructive and accelerating negative dance. The way out of this conundrum is for one, but preferably both partners to adopt a strong commitment to act loving towards the other while teaching the other how to deliver love in the right way. Love is always part of the answer to a relationship problem, though loving efforts may not offer immediate results. A commitment to be loving under all circumstances is simple, requires much strength, but offers an eroded relationship hope for a brighter future. Unconditional love is humanly impossible to achieve, but it is always a worthy endeavor.
Teach instead of being hurtful. It is more effective to inform your partner in a positive way that you wish to be treated differently than it is to be critical when he or she fails. The more specific you about what will feel more loving the better. Examples are: "Touching me more gently feels nicer," instead of "You're too rough!" and "Generosity makes you more attractive to me," instead of "I can't believe how cheap you are!" and "When you listen well and understand me, I feel closer," instead of "You never listen to me!" Combining the suggested change with an affectionate touch can even be more motivating.
Resist the seemingly natural tendency to act from hurt when your partner fails to love you in a satisfying way. Punishment is a less successful method of teaching than is offering loving guidance. Loving behavior models the right example while also easing the path for partner change. Teaching about love is not an easy task and requires a lot of patience. Lessons may have to be repeated dozens, even hundreds of times. Your teaching tools are your love, strength, patience and power to influence. However, do understand; a partner will never be forced to love better. Force alone is the wrong tool. When using any kind of force to produce constructive results, it must be combined with love. Actions which hurt your partner slow or may even derail progress.
A partner who feels loved is more open to influence than one who does not. Permanent change arrives slowly. The goal is to gradually wear down the partner's resistance to loving you in the right way by applying gentle, incessant but loving pressure...like the Colorado River which eroded the beautiful Grand Canyon persistently through millions of years. Be a loving force of nature that never gives up! Let your partner's failures motivate you to act more loving towards him or her...and surely over time your love will triumph. Teaching your partner to love will simultaneously accelerate your own growth and capacity to love. Andrew Aaron, LICSW is a sex and relationship therapist who practices in the New Bedford Seaport.