Dialog with a therapist

Are you focusing on the other person’s needs and wants far more than your own? Do you have a clear idea of what your values are?   Look at this conversation between a counselor and woman struggling with boyfriend. She is in a relationship where her needs (to be loved every day, not just some days) are not being met, but she’s remaining in the relationship anyway. See how the dialog plays out…

Counselor: You seem very distressed. What’s the issue?

Woman:  I’m very frustrated and deeply hurt. My boyfriend runs hot and cold. One day he says he loves me, the next he walks away and wants out of the relationship, or just doesn’t seem intrested. One day he loves me, the next he doesn’t. It’s been like this for three years. I feel like a yo-yo. Why does he keep changing his mind? I’m going nuts with his ups and downs. I love him, but he needs to change!

Counselor: Who knows why he changes his mind. Who knows why anyone can’t commit or be more stable in a particular relationship. But let’s not focus on him. Let’s focus on you.  For starters, let’s narrow down the issue How do you feel about someone who changes his mind all the time and only loves you half the time?

Woman: I hate it. It hurts. I wish he’d just make up his mind.

Woman: He probably will not do that. So, instead of focusing on his needs and wants (what he wants and what he seems to need, and what he’s thinking) what are your needs?

Woman: My needs? Well, I want him to love me, of course. I want him to be stable.

Counselor: Of course. But remove him from the picture for a second, and ask yourself what you deeply need from any relationship. In a perfect world, what you would want from your partner?

Woman: Um, I would want him to love me.

Counselor: Every day, right? Not just some days.

Woman: Yes! I want someone to love me every day! Not just some days! I want a man to be stable.

Counselor: So that you can trust him, right?

Woman: Yes! I never know what I am going to get with this guy. I have a hard time trusting him and then I feel rotten inside, like it’s my fault for not believing him.

Counselor: That “rotten inside” feeling tells me that you have needs inside you that you are denying, that are not being met. Those needs are called “values” whether you know you have them or not. Trouble is, you are going against your value system.

Woman: What do you mean? What’s a value?

Counselor: Think of a value this way, it’s like clothing. It’s an essential part of how you exist. You wouldn’t leave the house naked would you? It’s the same with your values. We shouldn’t leave the house naked every day, and yet we do. That being said, a value is something that you absolutely must have in your life in order to not only survive but thrive. To feel whole and complete and true to yourself. It can be anything from “I need to work at something I love,” or “I need to be able to trust those closest to me.” Everyone’s values are different. The value that you’re defining here–that you’ve been denying yourself– is that you need stability and you need to be in a relationship with someone who will love you every day. That rotten feeling inside you is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. That crucial needs are not being met.

Woman: Oh, I see. So, where does my boyfriend fit into this?

Counselor: He doesn’t. He doesn’t have the qualities of a stable, trusting partner. He doesn’t fit into your value system because he doesn’t share your same value for stability or trust. And let’s be honest, you can’t have a trusting, loving relationship with someone who is not a trusting loving person. It’s like trying to fight diabetes by eating donuts. It’s not going to happen.

Woman: So what does that mean? I’m sure if I wait, he will change. He said so!

Counselor: It’s been three years. People tend to be who they are right from the start. A healthy person might have only put up with this behavior for about six month to a year, tops. You are past the point of hoping someone will change. More than anything, you are teaching him that your values aren’t as important as his. You are teaching him that it’s OK for him to be unloving and untrusting.

Woman: How am I teaching him that?! I hate that he changes his mind about me! I complain all the time and tell him he needs to stop hurting me in that way.

Counselor: You stay. And by staying you are teaching him that no matter what he does, you may not like it, but you’re sticking around anyway. Sure, you’re telling him that you’re unhappy, but your actions are saying something else entirely: that it’s OK that he does not love you 100%.

Woman: So how do my actions tell him I want him to love me 100%?

Counselor: Well, you leave.

Woman: That sounds counterproductive! If I love him why would I leave?!

Counselor: Ah yes, love. Love is a wonderful thing. But it’s not the only thing you need to be content and healthy in life. Let’s look at it this way. Say you’re shopping for a new house and you need three bedrooms because there are three members of your family. You also need to be close to your job in the country and you really love houses, not apartments. So, you meet with a realtor and she shows you a one-bedroom apartment in the city. You LOVE it! It’s beautiful! But does it fit your needs? Would you go out and buy it? And if you did buy it, where would the other members of your family sleep? And how inconvenienced would you be driving an hour and half to work every day? You may LOVE the apartment, but you clearly need something else more appropriate to who you are.

Woman:I see your point But…

Counselor: But…it’s the same with your boyfriend. He’s a one-bedroom apartment in the city, and you need a three-bedroom in the country. You may love him, but he does not fit your needs. This is very hard to recognize and accept. But, your needs are equally as important as his, and your needs are not being met within the confines of this particular relationship. By leaving the relationship you send a clear message: I have higher expectations of a boyfriend. I expect that he will love me 100% and I will not remain in a relationship where my partner does not also share this same value.

Woman: But if I leave, I’m afraid he won’t come after me, he’ll simply let me go and I’ll lose him.

Counselor: That’s the risk you take. But again, what is more important to you? Being loved 100% or remaining in a relationship–any relationship– for the sake of not being alone? Which value is higher? This choice, that we all make, is what separates healthy individuals from unhealthy ones. It’s what keeps people in unfulfilled, painful relationships, or catapults them to a higher ground. The choice is yours, not his.

It is not unreasonable to expect to be loved every day. Believing that you are being loved every day is not the same thing as being TOLD “I love you” every day, nor is it the same thing as having sex every day or cuddling every day or reaping tons of affection from your partner. You know you are loved every day when you TRUST that the person you are with isn’t going any where. They are stable. And they are committed to being your partner. Your partner doesn’t have to show you affection every day (though it adds a nice touch to the relationship) for you to know you are loved every day. But he or she does have to inspire in you a sense of security and reliability that he/she is invested in the relationship. When you don’t have that, and you stay anyway, that’s when things get problematic.

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