Angry, she flings her words like darts, targeted: ‘You don’t love me the way I love you!’
In romantic love, we spend a lot of time balancing the scales – I do this for you, you do that for me… ‘I went to that show with her, she can go to the game with me.’ Equality, balance, quid pro quo. And when it falters, and a couple comes in for counseling, the words come: tearful sometimes, stoic occasionally: ‘you don’t love me the way I love you’.
This search for balance seems directly at odds with what we need from a partner though ~ take a classic fairy tale: a grieving young lady forced to care for her distain-filled step mom and her daughters is looking for a guy to rescue her. He needs to have power, a tolerance for singing woodland creatures and be prepared to deal with some daddy issues surrounding abandonment. Cinderella on the other hand, needs to be willing to be removed from her family to a distant part of the countryside, be nonplussed by seemingly magical circumstances and have tiny feet. If they both wanted the same things from a relationship, the story would have been a non-starter.
‘But my partner and I are egalitarian; neither one of us makes all the decisions, we compromise on everything.’ Again, I feel like this is something we believe we do but upon examination, find either isn’t working, or isn’t working the way we think it is.
Preference is often stronger in one partner than another, so when, say, deciding on what movie to see, you might be open to anything that doesn’t have crying or Meryl Streep in it, your partner might have their heart set on space lasers, and nothing else will do. You end up seeing the latest Star Trek, but was it a balanced compromise?
Apply this to love, and ask yourself – do I need love the same way I give love? Does my partner expect what they give me from me? Probably not. You’ve likely heard of Chapman’s ‘5 Love Languages’: Gifts, Words of Affirmation, Quality of Time, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. That’s not quite what I’m talking about – I’m talking about degrees of interest and yielding.
For a practical exercise to see this in motion in your own life: what expectations do you have
about kitchen dishes? Does the cook do them? Does the non-cook do them? Should they be done immediately after a meal or when the mood strikes you? Chances are, one of you has very specific feelings about these tiny questions: If 1 is 'not important' and 5 is 'very important', one partner might say 2, the other 5. For the partner with the 5, the interest and yield components of this minute issue might really matter, for the partner with the 2, to accommodate their spouse would be an easy thing…
When friction occurs, try yielding more when your interest is less.
With the dishes, I would argue the compromise only occurs – the quid pro quo happens – only if both of you feel strongly on opposites sides of the issue. Extrapolate to issues more important than dishes – say, in-laws visiting or pet ownership or children’s bedtimes or milestone birthdays… how important the issue is and how willing you each might be to yielding can build a range of feelings from resentment to anxiety to exasperation to ‘you don’t love me the way I love you!'
(There are two concepts at work here, the notion of loving differently being okay and degrees of interest and yield, but they’re entwined in my head, so I’m presenting them as united here.)
Whichever question you choose as your starting place as a couple; how important is this (whatever the disagreement is about) to me? OR do I need love the way I give love? Most often, the work needs to come from you first, then your partner.