Marlo and Jack have been married for twelve years and have two young children. Marlo and Jack each state that they love each other, yet Marlo does not feel loved by Jack, while Jack states that he is content with the relationship.
In their relationship system, Marlo tends to be the caretaker, while Jack is the taker. Marlo often thinks about what would please Jack, while Jack rarely thinks about what Marlo wants or feels.
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What should Marlo do? Should she leave Jack, even though she loves him? Should she continue to try to get him to care about her, which has never worked? These are the questions Marlo had for me when she had a phone counseling session with me.
Marlo was quite surprised when I told her that neither action was warranted at this time.
"Marlo," I said to her, "there is a good possibility that the way Jack treats you is a mirror of how you treat yourself. How often do you think about what you want or feel?"
"Not very often. I usually think more about Jack and my kids than I do about myself. I think it's selfish to think about myself. I want to be loving, not selfish."
Marlo was confused between selfishness and self-responsibility. Actually, in their relationship, Jack was the selfish one in expecting Marlo to give herself up to take responsibility for his feelings and needs. By not caring about her own feelings and needs, Marlo was training her children to be selfish as well. They were already learning to blame her for their feelings and expect her to give herself up for them. As soon as Jack or the children would get angry or withdraw, Marlo would feel guilty and responsible and give herself up to do what they wanted.
Marlo would not know whether or not Jack really loved her until she started to love herself. Marlo questioned whether it would be easier to leave Jack and start over. I assured her that the same thing would eventually happen if she remained a caretaker, because people usually end up treating us the way we treat ourselves.
"So what do I do?" asked Marlo. "I'm so used to taking care of everyone else. I have no idea how to take care of myself."
I began to help Marlo learn the Inner Bonding process. "Imagine that your feelings and needs are a small child that you've just adopted. What would you do to help her begin to feel loved?"
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"Well, I would spend time with her, and listen to her and hold her. I would let her know that I'm here and not going away. I would do lots of things to help her feel safe and loved."
"Exactly!" I stated. "This is what you need to start to do for yourself. Keep imagining that your own feelings are a small child and you are the parent of this child. You really do know how to be loving — it's just that you've never thought about being loving to yourself. Take all that you've learned about giving to others and now give some of it to yourself."