Why You Need to Change How You Think About Your Relationship

by Steven Stosny

Psychologytoday.com when falling in love, we ride powerful waves of affection and intimacy. The waves occasionally drive us into the sand of self-doubt and apprehension. Yet we rise again, stronger than ever.
But riding the waves of love is the easy part.

Lots of research shows that love is more effective at bringing us together than keeping us together. You may have heard the saying, “Love is easy; relationships are hard.” The truth is relationships are hard because love is easy.

What makes it so easy is the illusion of certainty.

Strong feelings and sensations of any kind carry an illusion of certainty, i.e., they are self-validating:

If I’m angry, you must be doing something wrong.
If I’m ashamed, you must be rejecting.
… If I’m in love, you must be all that I ever wanted.
With the exception of anger and resentment, no emotional experience has more illusion of certainty than love. Why else would we take on the risk of heartbreak, i.e., disillusionment? The need to feel certain is at least part of the reason that the people we end up resenting the most are those we’ve loved the most.

Strong feelings and sensations of any kind override our perceptions of the internal world of other people. When you have a terrible headache, it’s hard to recognize that someone else has a backache. When you’re resentful, you cannot appreciate others’ vulnerabilities. If you feel excited or euphoric, you’re less likely to notice the homeless sleeping on the street. Love makes us less sensitive to the subtleties of our loved ones’ emotional worlds, in our rush to project our own onto them. Strong feelings create the illusion of certainty: The more certain we are, the more likely we are to be wrong.

Half the Story: Your Partner Changed into Someone You Like Less

When the intensity of love wanes, we stop projecting and begin to see some things in our lovers we don’t like. It’s not so much that we don’t like who they really are, it’s just that it had seemed, in love’s illusion of certainty, that they were everything we really liked. This disillusionment is what couples fight about in the second year of marriage—although they think they’re fighting about money, sex, jealousy, in-laws, housekeeping, or just something stupid. Most of the arguments that couples have in the second year of marriage take the following form:

“Why can’t you be what I want?”

“You made me feel that I was what you wanted. So you have to be what I want now!”

The Whole Story: You Changed into Someone You Like Less

Falling in love made each of you a better person. You became more appreciative, caring, loving, compassionate, and tolerant. Those qualities—not your partner—made you feel lovable and gave you a false sense of confidence that you knew how to make intimate relationships work. Your partner didn’t make you a better person and then selfishly changed; your appreciation, care, tolerance, and compassion of your partner made you a better, more loving person.

When the intensity of love wears off, caring, appreciation, tolerance, and compassion tend to fade with it. As a result, you no longer feel lovable or adequate as an intimate partner. If you blame these core hurts on your spouse (or your childhood), your relationship will fail. It may even become abusive. All abuse is failure of compassion—and in love relationships, failure of compassion feels like abuse.

When you feel inadequate or unlovable, as we all do occasionally, blaming your partner (or childhood) can only make it worse. The only way to make it better is to do something that will make you feel lovable.

What Makes a Person Lovable?

Take a moment to think of the qualities that make a person lovable—an adult, that is; children are lovable just because they’re cute.

I’ll bet you didn’t think of things like resentment, getting your own way, or having to be right. You most likely thought of appreciation, care, tolerance, and compassion. If you want to feel lovable and adequate, you have to return to the appreciative, caring, tolerant, and compassionate person you were when you fell in love.

If You Want to Love Big, Think Small

Large waves of love and romance are nice, but all waves of strong feeling, with their inherent illusion of certainty, must eventually crash into reality.

Everyday sensitivity to our partners’ vulnerabilities and strengths, in a steady trickle of small attitudes of appreciation, care, tolerance, and compassion, will cut through the illusion of certainty that blinds us to the real value of a relationship—having someone who supports us through joy and turbulence, who sees the beauty amid our warts, and who, most importantly, helps us realize our humanity by allowing us to love and support them in kind.