The headline for this article reads like a country music song, oozing with emotion and heartache over unrequited love. The article is kind of like that only for the couple involved; the heartache is real.
Do you think it’s possible in a long-term relationship, for one partner to love the other fully without being loved back in return? It is, and it happens all the time. However, it can take years of neglect and emotional abuse for the partner who is doing all the loving to understand the ramifications.
Joanna and Tim have been married for 13 years. Joanna has a full-time job; she makes sure that kids are taken care of, pays most of the bills, runs the household and plans the couple’s social life. Tim is quiet and keeps to himself, rarely sharing his thoughts or feelings. He lost his job and after an interval of being unemployed landed a stable part time position.
Joanna is frustrated with her husband. He always appears depressed or anxious. The behavior isn’t recent. It’s not due to losing his job. It’s how he is and has been. He’s moody. For as long as Joanna can remember, Tim doesn’t know how to be happy.
Joanna will plan a night out, a movie, concert or nice dinner in a fancy restaurant. “Sure, he goes along with it, might even seem appreciative at first. But I’m on edge the whole time, waiting for one of his inevitable mood swings where he retreats into his head, and I’m all alone with unresponsive Tim sitting next to me. I’m tired of trying to make him happy or force a smile out of him. He’s content being a disinterested blob.”
After over a decade of being the sole provider of love, joy and happiness in the marriage, Joanna’s used up. She now faces a dilemma. Tim has never reciprocated love in their relationship. It has always been a one-way street. Now she wants to feel loved and experience passionate romantic love.
According to self-help expert, Tony Robbins, couples experience different levels of love in a relationship.
- Level 1: Baby Love. I’ll love you if you give me what I want or need; otherwise, there’s going be trouble. Think of a baby. “Give me my bottle or I’ll fuss.”
- Level 2: Transactional Love (Horse-Trader Love). “If you give me a back rub, I’ll massage your feet.”
- Level 3: Unconditional Love. (Real Love). “No matter what, I love you.” This is the love we hope to feel about our family and partners
- Level 4: Spiritual Love; the love that transcends everything. “I love everyone, even my enemies.” Think of Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama. They are the essence of love.
Most of us oscillate up and down levels one, two and three in our marriages. Hanging out a lot in levels one and two.
Joanna has demonstrated both transactional love (“I’ll plan a nice night out if you’ll be pleasant.”) and real love in her relationship with Tim. She has been primarily unconditional in loving him for over a decade and expected nothing in return. She has neither felt nor experienced that from him.
Tim is barely on the chart when it comes to love in a relationship. When he is, it’s baby love. “Don’t ask me to talk about my feelings or I’ll get weird.”
Joanna feels alone. She is questioning her marriage. Tim is angry. He blames her change of heart on his having lost his job and with that, her respect for him. He wants them to get over it and go back to the way it was. Joanna, on the other hand, is ready to move on. She’s awakened to what hasn’t been working all along. She feels that Tim is not capable of loving her the way she wants. Tim may not even be capable of loving himself.
That message did not land well for Tim. He got defensive. Remember, Tim’s not one to talk about his feelings. Reluctantly he’s agreed to practice some steps I’ve outlined for him to try to rebuild his relationship with Joanna.
Tim’s first assignment:
- Practice being fully present with Joanna, paying attention, being alert, and not zoning out.
- Recognize that Joanna’s need to be loved and made to feel special is a reasonable and legitimate expectation.
- Demonstrate that he is attentive to her needs.
This couple has a long way to go. The patterns of how they react to each other in their 13-year marriage are set. The reality of the situation is that Tim does not know how to be happy. If he can break through that, then he has a chance of moving out of the baby love stage and onto demonstrating transactional as well as unconditional love to Joanna.