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MARRIAGE DONE RIGHT

Marriage advice: When one spouse isn’t ready to receive the love of the other

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - 12:01 am

We all need to be loved and respected for who we are. But some people aren't ready to hear words of love and accept them as sincere.

Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt, in their book “Receiving Love,” explain that, in a surprising number of marriages, one, or both spouses, is “not able to recognize genuine love when it is offered.”

Hendrix and Hunt, marriage therapists who are married to each other, report their marriage suffered from this problem. Hunt finally asked her husband, “Do you believe I love you?” He answered, “No, I don't think you do.” She was shocked in light of all she did for him and their marriage. Even Hendrix acknowledged that rejecting his wife's love was irrational.

Unquestionably, many marriages struggle because couples don't act in loving ways to each other. But, Hendrix and Hunt began looking at the couples they were counseling and concluded, “It's surprising how often the compliments, appreciation and encouragement of a well-intentioned partner make no dent in the armor of an unhappy partner.”

One spouse can set up barriers to accepting love by:

Assuming the effort is insincere: She says she wants more affection from him, but rejects his kisses and words of love because “they don't feel genuine.”

Devaluing the effort: He wants more support from her, but, when she gives it, he shuts her down, saying, “You know you don't really mean that.”

Attributing motives that make the effort meaningless: He takes time off work to help his exhausted wife with their newborn, but she refuses the help, saying, “You're just doing this to prove something!”

Hendrix and Hunt warn of other signs that honest efforts to express love are being rejected: Your spouse didn't act soon enough, didn't do it often enough, or didn't get it right. Or you say he or she was not listening, or you push the effort aside because you can't handle the feelings.

If you're rejecting your spouse's honest efforts to love, there is nothing your spouse can do to change things. Hendrix had an ever-present assumption in the back of his mind that whatever Hunt did had some self-serving motive behind it. A loving spouse can never do enough, say enough or give enough to break through the barrier of rejection.

Remember, love is dangerous. You have to bare your heart to tell someone you love them; accepting another person's love is letting them hold your heart in their hand. Being loved for who you are, as you are, is a wonderful ideal, but it makes you vulnerable to hurt, betrayal and abandonment. For some people, the fear of rejection holds greater risks than the fear of never being loved.

If you have trouble receiving love from your spouse, Hendrix and Hunt suggest you look to your past.

When you were growing up, did you get the message from someone who was extremely important in your life, someone you loved deeply, that you weren't worthy? That you weren't attractive enough, smart enough or talented enough to “deserve” to be loved? That message may be so deeply etched into you that you can't believe your spouse really could love you.

Instead of focusing on that message from the past, Hendrix and Hunt suggest you focus on loving your spouse. By learning to love him or her, despite the flaws, you will simultaneously learn to accept your own list of flaws. “Self-love is born out of love of another.”

Hendrix and Hunt say their marriage is stronger now than ever. By learning to love and receive love, every couple can move in this direction.

2012, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan’s website is www.marriagedoneright.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.