Why is it that so many of us long for a life partner?
I believe that at our core we long to be known, truly seen and loved. We also long to offer someone else that depth of love. We have other core needs too, such as to be safe, to have our basic physical needs met, etc. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs comes to mind here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs
On top of those core longings or needs, go secondary longings and strategies that are meant to feed our core need to be known and loved.
These secondary longings include things like:
- to be respected
- to be seen as smart
- to be experienced as funny
- to be protected
- to be needed
- to be thought of as handsome or beautiful
- to be desired sexually
- to be known as kind
- to be considered strong
You get the idea. This secondary list could go on almost forever. These secondary longings are not bad either but they sometimes get us in trouble. They can get our relationships in trouble too.
We can mix up the meanings, especially if we were not loved unconditionally very well in our family of origin. So, how does it work?
In my family of origin we didn’t know how to offer love well. I tried using “nice and good” as a way to feel more loved. My brothers chose a variety of other options including funny and smart. It’s not that I’m not nice or my brothers aren’t funny and smart (they are both both!). It’s that we can end up feeling worthy of love because we are nice, smart, funny, etc.
Even if you are someone who is funny, smart, thin, nice, beautiful, well-read and accomplished you may still not genuinely feel loved. You may spend lots of energy still on all these things hoping that they will make you finally feel loved.
The tricky part is that we equate these secondary traits and attempts at getting our needs met with our primary need to be known and loved.
If you don’t find me nice you may not love me.
If you don’t think I’m smart you may not think I’m worthy of being loved.
If you don’t find me funny you may not want to know me.
We get so practiced at these strategies to be loved and valued (by others and by ourselves) that we don’t see them for what they are. I can be loved even when I’m not 100% nice. I can be loved even if I’m not funny or smart.
These secondary ways of showing up to get our needs met can really get in the way. What if I think I have been getting my need to be loved met because I am beautiful but then get in an accident and am no longer “beautiful” according to my old standard?
The absolute beauty of a good partnership or marriage is that we are able to take away those outer layers as we build trust and the courage to be more vulnerable with our partner.
In beautiful healthy lasting relationships both people are able to be seen with their shortcomings and strengths, imperfections and gifts, and be deeply loved.
Our secondary strategies come with insecurities and can cause problems in our relationships.
If I think I need to be seen as smart then it will be hard for me to be wrong.
If I think I need to be strong then it will be hard for me to not be in control.
If I think I need to be beautiful then it will be hard for me to seen when I’m not feeling perfect.
So, how can we love our partner better?
How can we be less frustrated with them when they might be using a secondary strategy?
Tips on dealing with secondary strategies in relationship:
- Remember that behind a behavior that is annoying you, are two things: 1) My desire to be loved, likely showing up through some secondary strategy, 2) My partner’s desire to be loved likely showing up through some secondary strategy.
- Look for the secondary strategy that the other person may be using. See it for what it is.
- Be honest about what feels threatened in you - take time to reflect and be vulnerable.
- Ask yourself “What would loving them look like if you can’t or don’t want to feed the secondary strategy?”
- Try to separate out the frustrating situation from the person - you can offer love to someone and feedback on something that bothers you at the same time!
As we “self-actualize”, which is at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy, we can meet more and more of these needs for ourself and are less vulnerable to other people’s opinions and feedback. Until we meet that level of enlightenment, let’s be generous with our offerings of love and seeing the lovable in each other!
Until next time,
Luv Life Coach