When I worked with couples and families in my therapy practice, I experienced the highs and lows of people who had been hurt by those they loved. Whether it was a parent and child dynamic or a romantic partnership, it was always an honor to witness the determination they had in wanting to heal their relationships. They would arrive in therapy with their hearts hurting and their hopes diminished, looking for something to create a new beginning. They would often sit in front of me feeling divided, ready on one level to give up and yet still wanting to try. My work with many of these clients was engaging the part of them that still had hope. Hope, however small, was the catalyst for them to continue the therapeutic process no matter what the outcome.
With this knowledge, I watched with interest the HBO series Tell Me You Love Me , which was on in the fall. The show focused on three couples who were in ongoing couples’ therapy. In watching it, I was pleased to see that the therapy experience was shown in a rare but accurate light. The couples depicted in the series believed they were in love. Yet, in therapy, when that love was examined, the pain of their relationships emerged.
It was a shock for them and for many real life couples to realize that love itself does not conquer all. It is certainly very important and does carry us through both good times and bad. However, love alone does not conquer issues such as mistrust, broken promises, the withholding of affection, or physical abuse. Love itself cannot heal the psychological wounds within a relationship if it is not combined with real emotional repair work. In my experience, consistent action combined with love is what heals those wounds.
Alexander Lowen , a well-known therapist, said that love blossoms with security. The security in knowing that when someone tells you they will be faithful, true to their word, and present in the relationship, then that is what he or she will be. It’s not a matter of expecting perfection from another person; it’s a matter of knowing that the person you love as a friend, family member, or romantic partner is someone you can have healthy dependence upon. Healthy dependence occurs when you believe and know, from concrete experience, that the person you are involved with will behave in a trustworthy manner a majority of the time. It’s not to be confused with co-dependency, which is the giving up of your sense of self for the needs of another person. Healthy dependency provides us with the security of knowing that someone else respects, and yes, loves us enough to honor our needs. They keep their word to the best of their ability and we keep ours with them.
Couples and families who communicate what they need, and understand the importance of love plus action, create strong foundations. In the long run, knowing that another person has your best interests at heart and acts accordingly goes a long way toward having a healthy relationship.