I remember being around eight years old, picking the pedals off a daisy, chanting these very words—he loves me, he loves me not. Whether he loved you or not depended on where the last pedal landed in the chant. At the time it felt like a simple game, like eeny, meeny, miny, moe. However, having worked with couples over the past 25 years, I now understand how much this childhood game reflects a dynamic that has become ingrained in the psyche of our romantic culture. Unfortunately, for many it has become an integral part of their adult relationships. Let me explain what I mean through the lives of Diane and Ken.
Diane and Ken have been together for three years. Their relationship started out great. Diane likes to feel special. Ken had a way of making Diane feel so special by his concentrated attentiveness in the beginning of their relationship. Diane became smitten early on and their romance was off and running. After a few months, Ken’s heightened attention towards Diane began to wane. The novelty of their new romance was wearing off and real life was settling in. Sound familiar? It should be. This is a normal part of moving from phase one into phase two of a developing relationship. Some couples move through this transition with ease, others do not. In the case of Diane and Ken, they got stuck.
Diane began to associate Ken’s attentiveness with his love. For example, if Ken gave Diane a compliment, he loved her; if he criticized her in any way, he did not. If he wanted to spend time with her, he loved her; if he wanted to spend his free time away, he did not. Diane was caught in the “he loves me, he loves me not” game. She reacted to what was occurring in the moment, forgetting about the bigger picture. She was too much in the moment, unable to integrate all of Ken’s actions over a long period of time. When she felt hurt or rejected, she was unable to pull back and gain perspective.
But before you label Diane as the crazy unreasonable one, let’s take a look at Ken. Ken’s self-esteem was fed by Diane’s approval. Ken liked making Diane feel special because it made him feel special in doing so. When he could no longer keep up the pace, Diane’s approval quickly turned. Ken would respond to Diane’s withdrawal and upset by once again trying to be “good”, showering her with attention. But as life demanded that Ken attend to people and things other than Diane, he would inevitably disappoint and the cycle would start anew. Ken was unable to tolerate Diane’s disapproval and became caught in a no-win situation. It takes two to play the game of “he loves me; he loves me not” and Diane and Ken had been going at it for almost three years.
So while Diane and Ken’s story is just one example of how this dynamic works, you may do the same in varying ways. Think about a time when you reacted, generalizing one action or circumstance to the entire person or relationship. Think about a time when you choose drama over reason. Think about a time when your hurt turned into something bigger than what the situation called for. It’s probably happened more than you’d like to admit. Your significant other has probably done something similar as well. No one is immune to the “he loves me, he loves me not” game. So next time someone does something that makes you feel loved or unloved, remind yourself of the following:
- It is important to see a behavior occur over time in varying circumstances in order to determine if the behavior reflects a general trait or trend. Don’t take one action or inaction and make that define your whole relationship or significant other.
- Your partner is not responsible for your happiness or making you feel whole. At the end of the day, you are responsible for feeling loved, lovable, and content.
- No one person can be everything you need them to be all the time. Learn to deal with disappointment effectively.
- It’s okay to feel hurt and rejected; it’s even okay to feel sorry for yourself for a bit. But don’t get stuck in feeling like a victim. Acknowledge your feelings and move on. Chances are your loved one will come through for you another time in the not so distant future.
- People have needs and moods of their own, separate from you. That doesn’t mean they don’t love you. Your significant other may simply be stressed, tired, distracted, or needing to attend to other things.
- Be mindful of what you make things mean. It is easy to misinterpret others’ actions. Be aware of what types of actions (or inactions) trigger the feeling of being loved or unloved. Challenge your beliefs. Test reality. Remember the bigger picture.
- In a long-term relationship, there will be times you feel more in love than others. There will be times your partner feels more in love than others. You may not have the same rhythm in this regards. But hang in there and remember that if you work on the relationship and keep the communication open, the daisy will always grow new pedals, no matter where things currently stand.
Julie Orlov, psychotherapist, speaker, and author of The Pathway to Love: Create Intimacy and Transform Your Relationships through Self-Discovery
Create Relationships in Your Life That Work — learn more at www.julieorlov.com