So many people come to see me and are frustrated that their partner isn’t giving them something that is being asked for over and over. I’m not talking about physical objects. I’m talking about certain behaviors and actions. They don’t tell me they love me. They don’t share their feelings. They don’t empathize with me. It almost always has to do with feelings.
When they fail to get the action or response that they are looking for, they almost always make the same assumption – “my partner doesn’t love me” or “I don’t matter to them.” While that is actually true in some situations, it isn’t always. As we all know but like to often ignore, when we make assumptions we can frequently be very off the mark.
When I have partners coming to therapy over and over, trying to do things differently it is hard to believe that they don’t really care about their partner. Yes, some people may go along just to avoid the stress of ending a relationship but that tends to be a small minority. Coming to therapy with me is work. I challenge, I push, I prod. I make people uncomfortable. It isn’t something most people want to do unless they are actually invested in change. So, seeing someone come back again and again, even if change isn’t happening, makes me doubt that they “just don’t care enough.”
What the situation more commonly turns out to be is that the partner is being asked to do something that they don’t have the tools or understanding to do. Overall our society does pretty poor job of teaching us how to experience, process and express emotions. It tends to value logic over emotions. The result is that many people never learn to truly feel their emotions and be comfortable with them. Instead they detach from their emotions, suppress them and don’t express them because that was discouraged as they grew up.
In other words, they didn’t learn the language. Expressing emotions means being aware of the emotions, being able to identify them and having the words to talk about them. In order to empathize, a person needs to be able to find and feel that emotion in themselves. If they are cut off from those emotions, that isn’t possible. They may not even have enough understanding to realize that they don’t know how to do what is being asked for. They believe their emotional education was just what it was supposed to be.
Think about it like this – what if I asked you to give me a 15 minute lecture on quantum physics speaking only in Russian? (On the off chance there is one Russian speaking, quantum physicist reading my blog, you know what I mean!) Would you be able to do it? How would it feel if I kept telling you that you weren’t doing because you are a bad person and don’t care about honoring my request? I’m guessing that would get pretty frustrating.
If you find yourself in a situation where your partner says they want to meet your needs and desires but consistently doesn’t, don’t jump to conclusions. Talk to your partner. The solution may be learning some new skills and a new language, not a lack of love or desire.