BY: T. Franklin Murphy | May 2018 (edited November 29, 2021)
True love matures only when nurtured by both partners contributing to the well-being of the other.
Love is a staple topic for many well-being programs. As the 1970 hit song declares, “Love is the Answer.” Our capacity to love and be loved is critical for a rich and rewarding life. “Love” dominates the media, constantly bombarding the airways with love themed songs, poems and movies. But seeking guidance through these rich sources of information is misleading. Media thrives on the ideal and ignores the mundaneness and maddening efforts involved. Love is a very personal experience which cannot be defined universally. Our experience of love is ours alone.
We exist, seeking need fulfillment. Our surrounding environments give and take from our well of fulfillment. The feeling of being loved warms the soul as we wander through the desolate plains of life. The loneliness of facing life alone is disbanded with the presence of someone who goes arm and arm with us through the tasks of living. We share common needs as humans; but our individual experience compounds natural desires with a unique structure of expectations and fulfillment. Love embarks on an exciting adventure of unfolding the secrets of our uniqueness to a partner, discovering what feels good and what does not. We invite a partner into our private world.
Our subjective knowledge of self is not a clear list of bullet points. We all only have a vague notion of what we need. Love is a process of discovery. This process cannot be one-sided. A selfish journey of discovery fails to enlist long-term connections. We cannot remain connected with a single-minded goal of self. To keep love alive, we must join in the same discovery process with our partner, learning what they need to feel loved, and honoring that knowledge with abundance.
When a need goes unfilled, we experience discomfort—something feels wrong. It’s a biological mechanism that motivates action. We purposefully seek fulfillment. Many of our social needs are molded childhood experiences. Thus, felt needs are not uniform, varying greatly from person to person.
The ache of unfulfilled needs and the unrelenting desire for a specific person to fulfill those desires is often misinterpreted as “Love.” The love starved person often mistakenly believes because they need their partner so desperately that they are “in love.” This is not the case. When personal unappeasable needs relentlessly clamor for fulfillment, we often get lost in the self, failing to recognize our partner’s own constellation of needs. Our sense of lack becomes paramount.
The greater the deficiency—the urgent sense of emptiness—the more puzzling connection becomes. We lack the clarity to share in the experience of love—the self dominates. We become self-absorbed and limited in our capacity to give love, while constantly disappointed with our partners for failing to fill the unfillable hole in our souls.
Giving when we sense lack is the difficult path we must follow. While a partner may aggravate or succor our hurts, we also have responsibility. Our needs, formed through childhood, may be too much for any loving relationship to satisfy.
"When personal unappeasable needs relentlessly clamor for fulfillment, we often get lost in the self, failing to recognize our partner’s own constellation of needs."
A healthy relationship slowly builds trust through patterned interaction. Trust is built, creating the security of predictability. Trust strengthens from exchanges of interaction. An essential block that builds a strong foundation is the continual presence of a partner. We come to know, from the patterned interaction, that our partner will be available. When we hurt, they soothe. When we disagree, they don’t attack. The trust emerges from the patterns of accessibility and acceptance is desperate times of need. Of course, if our needs surpass their resources to give, and we compound this by neglecting their needs, the relationship is on a destructive course.
“He saw my hurt and comforted me.” This simple knowledge creates security. When the events of life meet are mitigated with a trusted support system, we grow in self-confidence. When our hurt is ignored or minimized, we feel depleted forced to travel alone in an unstable world.
A child growing up in a love impoverished home develops significantly greater needs for security that clamor for attention when the child grows to an adult. The greater the needs, the more difficult to find a partner capable of fulfilling the magnitude of those needs.
Unfortunately, an excessively needy person usually can’t be saved from the personal work by finding a partner devoid of their own needs, willing to give but not receive, eventually, even the best partners tire, and disconnect. Healing requires personal work done with the support of a loving partner, never losing site of giving back in the process. We must learn to give when we feel empty.
Trust and Selfishness
The foundation of trust never develops under the canopy of selfishness. Condemning our partner for failing to satisfy our gaping hole of needs destroys the relationship, leading to physical or emotional abandonment or transforming into a painful co-dependent bond, filled with fears, the constant ache of deprivation, and relentless attempts to manipulate our partner to serve or frightened loneliness. It doesn’t work.
As adults, we can transcend the childhood deficits. No childhood is perfect; and no adult relationship is perfect. Imperfection is the standard for the human experience. The internal demands can be managed and integrated into a healthy adult life. When we embrace the flawed characters in our personal story with compassion, we can accept the past. Our histories our part of us but do not define us. We can hope for a new and better story to unfold as we courageously approach the unpredictable and imperfect world.
With wisdom and compassion the insatiable needs begin to lose their sting; we still feel their presence but no longer compelled to serve them. With a compassionate wisdom, we demand less from our partners. The expectation of complete fulfillment no longer drives our action. Our partner’s inability to fill every longing no longer destroys our trust in their caring and concern. We accept them, and they accept us, and imperfectly we work together at the tasks of living.
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