Looking for Love (That Never Existed)

The other day a client of mine was talking about how she wants to be loved in the manner that she wants to be loved. At first hearing this statement, it seemed so straight forward and simple. However, as she and I spoke, we saw what was implicit in the statement and what caused her such great suffering.

To want to be loved is perhaps the most basic of human wants. From the moment of our birth through the entire life journey, this drive can bring us great joy. And a great deal of suffering.

As was the case with my client, often what a person wants is that which never existed. This is a desire for what should have been – the kind of unconditional love a child should be nurtured in — but was not. Often then the quest for love is the quest for what never was and cannot be.

In this way it often is difficult to appreciate being loved for how one is loved, rather than how one should be loved. Of course, I do not mean one should accept abusive or truly unsatisfactory relationships. But it can be very difficult to accept the love, in all of its many imperfections, that exists when one is still searching for that love that never happened.

Often this problem emerges in my work with individuals and with couples. Again, I do not mean to imply that the solution is simply accepting what is there in the relationship. The core of couples’ therapy is developing communication and tools so as to build a more satisfying relationship. And a great tool in this building process is being able to separate that quest for a kind of love that one did not have with the actual love one has now. In this way, to accept what is “good enough” now. Against the backdrop of the kind of love that one should have – and should have had – what is current can often feel less than, deficient. It seems to me that this experience is at the core of why so many relationships fail.

In my work then with the client I mentioned above and with others, we often find that there is a grieving process to experience. There is grief in acknowledging what was not and should have been. And in this way, as is the work of grief, there can come more room and opportunity to accept what is now.

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