Is it love, or just fleeting feelings?
All the right feelings seemed to be there, but before I took the plunge into commitment, I needed some reassurance that this was the real thing, not just a lovely fantasy that would vanish as quickly as the morning dew in the rising sun of reality.
I also wanted to be sure that a deep and committed love relationship, with all the challenges as well as the joys that I knew by now hat entailed, was actually something that I wanted in my life at that stage. If dived in because of feeling pressured, or because I thought I ‘should’, it would surely end in tears! So I reflected on what my doubts were, came up with these questions to help me address them., and when I answered a clear ‘yes’ to all of them I knew that I could say ‘yes ‘ to her as well. Maybe they’ll work for you too.
1. Would I be happy for my partner if they decided, for whatever reason, that leaving me was the best next step for them on their path to becoming her full and authentic self?
This is always a tough one and a classic dilemma. If I love my partner, I will want her to be happy; and the answer to this would have to be a sad ‘Yes’! But naturally enough the ego/selfish part of my love only wants her to be happy with ME!
The truth is probably that, even if I let her go with my ‘blessing’, there would likely be a part of me secretly hoping for the day she’d knock on my door and admitting that she’s realized how great I was, and that life was too miserable without me. But the better part of me could override that.
2. Do I still feel love towards my partner when I imagine them being the way they are with me, but with someone else?
This was a reminder to me that her happiness, or unhappiness, was not all about ME. If I really loved her, I would celebrate the fact that she’s an individual I am blessed to be with, but who isn’t dependent on me to fulfill her potential.
This keeps my ego in check and stops me ever taking her for granted; and also helps me avoid ‘reacting’ if she says or does something that feels painful to me, which will make it much easier to resolve any issues which come up.
3. Am I able to tell my partner the truth even if I know it may make them angry or upset? And am I sure they’ll take responsibility for their feelings, not try to blame me?
This doesn’t mean being unnecessarily rude or unkind… or giving up on tact and diplomacy. It does mean making sure that there is a shared understanding of what is going on around the important things between us. For example, whether I’m thinking of our relationship as being long term or not; or whether I have unmet needs or unresolved hurts that are causing me to put distance between us.
Hearing the other’s truth may be painful, but I have learned that it never causes harm, and in fact increases trust, one of the key ‘ingredients’ of a loving relationship. I’ve also discovered that sharing my feelings, especially the vulnerable ones I always used to hide, is the best way for me to begin to let go of them. Burying them never works, and just ends up reducing the openness and intimacy I can feel with my partner.
4. Am I able to hear my partner’s anger towards me, whether or not I feel it’s justified, without being threatened and/or defensive?
Women friends have told me that one of the biggest frustrations they can feel with a partner is if he seems intimidated when they vent strong feelings about something; because that stops them from fully expressing it in as way that creates space for healing and understanding.
We all just need to blow off a little sometimes, even if it isn’t ‘reasonable’, and as long as it’s not done in a blaming way, it can only be helpful in my experience. And I’ve observed that women appreciate and respect a man who can stand his ground with them, hear what they have to say without retaliating or getting defensive, and hold off on giving advice or ‘solving’ their ‘problem’ until that’s asked for.
If it’s a justified criticism, it’s best to reflect back that it’s been ‘heard’ and describe what changes can be made to avoid causing future hurt.
5. Am I open to hearing my partner’s opinion and respecting it, even if it’s different to mine?
I used to think that if I backed down, or didn’t hold my ground and prevail in a conflict with my partner, I’d be seen as weak, and lose her respect. But I now know the opposite is true.
Women see inflexibility as a sign of insecurity and lose respect for a man who can’t admit when he’s wrong, or isn’t strong enough to defer to her on the many occasions when she knows best. It shows he’s centered and confident enough not to need the reassurance of always being in charge, and I’ve read that few things are more attractive to her in a man than confidence.
I want to show her that I’m at least intelligent enough to recognize my limitations; because I believe that intelligence scores pretty highly in male attractiveness ratings as well!
6. Am I able to hear my partner’s interpretation of what I’ve said if it doesn’t match my intention, and accept my responsibility to communicate with them more clearly?
I’ve had a lot of arguments because of a mismatch between what I intended to communicate with something I’ve said or done, and how it’s been interpreted. Never is this truer than in the world of online communication! (Note to self: Don’t send that ‘ironic’ email with the jokey insult; it may be taken literally!)
Things that may seem insignificant for me may touch a raw nerve and spark off a powerful reaction in my partner. If I love her, I’ll want to get to know and understand her sensitivities and triggers, and not get defensive if she ‘overreacts.' To learn about her ‘love language’ and frame what I’m trying to express in a way that she can easily receive; and avoid the instinct to blame her if she hasn’t understood me, taking responsibility instead for improving the way I communicate with her.
7. Am I willing to explain to my partner what makes me feel loved, rather than expect them to know, and then feel angry and disappointed if they don’t?
I’ve found one of the hardest steps in trying to become a grown up, has been accepting that no one else is ‘responsible’ for my feelings, and my actions. There’s no one to blame. We’re all on our own; but the good news is that when we finally take reasonability for ourselves, we can decide what we need and want, and ask for it. And if it’s not available, we can choose how to respond.
I learned that pleasing my partner was no good if it was at the expense of my own well-being because this led to resentment and manipulation. And when I change from being disappointed with her because she hasn’t given me what I think I need or angry and resentful because she’s done of said something that upset me to being clear about my needs and boundaries, I get more of the attention and respect that I was afraid of losing!
I hope these are useful in helping you stay afloat on the sea of relationship. Let me know of any disagreements or other ideas. We’re all in this together! Thank you.
This article was originally published at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission from the author.