As a relationship therapist who counsels singles and couples, I have been privy to the fears, compulsions, deepest secrets and desires of those hoping to figure out what it takes to find and sustain love.
No matter what their ages, histories or financial portfolios, the questions patients ask and the wishes they drop in my lap are heart-touchingly similar. It is likely their secret concerns echo yours. And knowing you are not alone in harboring these emotionally debilitating feelings can be a giant salve, a step toward healing. MyDaily: Secret Regrets: What Do You Regret Doing—Or Not Doing—Most In Life?
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So I am opening my office door to reveal the five most common problems unhappy-in-love patients bring up on my couch:
1. "I have to hide who I really am, because who I am is unlovable."
Beneath the bravado and anger a patient exudes when bemoaning that no one (this can include a current partner) seems truly capable of giving love often lies a bone-deep, crippling belief: Something in me is inherently unworthy.
This crippling fear people causes people to hide their true selves, even with the one who shares their bed. *Janet B., a 34-year-old divorcee, admitted, "Bill was an open book. But I held back so much—an abortion I'd had as a teen, even guilty thoughts I had about co-workers who got bigger raises than me. I didn't want my husband to think I was a bad person." She laughed ruefully as I pointed out, "Instead, your withholding made you become strangers."
Love Tip: Obviously the seeds of such low self esteem are rooted in one's psyche, thus difficult to root out with a 1-2-3 abracadabra shrink trick. But it is helpful in moments when you feel, "Oh, I can't say that to him. I'll sound too awful," to tell yourself, "Even Mother Teresa had mean thoughts. No one is perfect. Would I rather pretend to be perfect or try to be real and make a genuine connection?"
2. "My partner doesn't understand or care about how I feel."
Here is the ultimate irony of relationships circa 2011: In an era where thousands of "friends" are available at the click of a mouse, we long for a soul mate who will truly "get" us, thus assuaging our sense of isolation. Yet 60% of the patients I counsel complain of feeling more alone in their double bed then when they slept solo.
Especially in long-term partnerships, there is a danger of partners becoming emotionally estranged as they stop believing their one and only sees their side. *Kate M., 40, said in a therapy session with her husband of three years, "Don just doesn't get that I need to hear the words 'I love you' more than twice a year or I don't feel cared about." Her spouse rebutted in a resigned tone, "And she doesn't get that it hurts me that she thinks I don't love her."