Love is all you need

Love is all you need

From the moment we are born, we all share a need for love and connection. We begin to learn about trust and safety before we learn to talk. What we experience as children forms the basis for our future relationships. It determines whether we can trust and be honest about our feelings.

In our adult relationships we all strive for a deep sense of connection and personal security with our partner. We want our partner to know our strengths, share in our joys, and support us when things go wrong. When we feel this connection, we can be creative problem solvers as issues arise. If we do not have this strong sense of trust and safety, we will struggle for connection, for the feeling that we are loved and valued.

As a relationship therapist, it is helpful that my clients understand that, besides a current couple’s history, what may have happened in childhood and in previous relationships can influence connection and happiness.

We may have experienced things that negatively impacted our trust and safety systems and, in turn, influence our current relationship. So, as we bring ourselves and the collection of our experiences into new relationships, our past hurts may show up and have a negative impact on our sense of love and connection, our ability to share our inner world, to ask for our needs to be met, or to meet the needs of the ones we love.

How does this play out in a therapist office? Couples often report distress in the form of “communication issues.” They talk about the arguments (or the silence) and the frustration they are experiencing. While they may be showing up in anger and resentment, both really want to feel love and connection. They are asking of themselves and their partner: “Do you really care about me? Can you see me? Do you hear me? Do my feelings matter to you? Am I invisible?” Have you ever said, “I just don’t get you; you say you love me but I just don’t feel it?”

I often see the impact that individual, family, and couple histories have on influencing a couple’s ability to connect. When we are reminded, most often unintentionally, of a past pain we may have a negative reaction that feels like it came from nowhere and surprises both me and my partner.

 It may be the way he or she touched you or suggested some form of intimacy or sex. Perhaps your partner approached you with an intensity that felt overwhelming or didn’t recognize your need for space to feel safe. It may be the way we communicate with raised voices, sighs, or impatience with one another that sends alarm. One thing is likely true for us all: we didn’t wake up this morning and say, “I’m going to yell at my husband today,” or “I think I will ignore my wife,” but these are the negative behaviors we show our partner when something in the relationship triggers our alarm bells.

When something happens that causes us to feel hurt, fear, or shame our alarm bells go off. These bells are our body’s way of letting us know we aren’t feeling safe. Without conscious thought we have an automatic response from our central nervous system. This is because pain and trauma are stored in both the brain and the body via the central nervous system. Our central nervous system utilizes survival mechanisms called fight, flight, and freeze behaviors.

Our fight, flight, or freeze responses can generate extreme behaviors that create stress and confusion in the relationship. Some examples might be; jumping or pulling away from a loving embrace, being easily startled or angered when you are surprised. Rejecting a dearly loved partner without an explanation that makes sense to them or even yourself. These alarm bells shape our response to stressful events in ways that can feel out of character or with an intensity that may not match the current experience.

You, or your partner, may literally act in ways you do not fully understand or agree with; you do the opposite of what you need to do to get your needs met. One person in the couple may show up as detached and unwilling to risk with their partner, be silent, moody or not interact for hours or days at a time (flight or freeze). Trying to access that person can be painful. Or, one partner may become so distressed and need to connect with their partner that they do whatever it takes to get their partner’s attention, even if that means doing or saying hurtful things (fight).

This represents a negative interaction pattern in the relationship and can keep the couple feeling stuck, repeating destructive behaviors, and generate feelings of failure in the relationship. Expressions that you may hear in this pattern are, “Here we go again, I am so tired of this same discussion, why can’t we just change what we are doing? I knew this would happen; this always happens when we talk about this, I just want us to get along.”

Since we bring the collection of our experiences into every relationship, we are ultimately influenced by them at some point. Unresolved pain and trauma issues may cause us to avoid closeness with our partner, resulting in a struggle to believe we are truly loved and cared for. We can feel easily overwhelmed, misjudge the motives of our partner and engage in conflict-avoidant behaviors. This can ultimately lead to additional conflict with our partner, issues that are left unresolved and feelings of isolation and loneliness.

We are literally hard wired for connection. That is what makes us human, and when we have our needs met, we thrive. While the words “all you need is love” live in the consciousness of our collective souls (thanks to the Beatles!) perhaps what we also need is understanding and ways to bring connection and comfort to ourselves and others. Be curious about others and all that goes in to the collective experience of who we are. In this way, we can increase our connection to others and feel the love we so richly deserve.

*If pain or trauma are getting in the way of your relationship, consider therapy as a way to improve your understanding of self and the people you love.

*For additional information on the impact that trauma may be having on your relationship, see my blog “Trauma in Relationships-All you need is Love” at Stonebridgecouplestherapy.com

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