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If you’ve ever been in a romantic relationship, there may have been a time when you haven’t felt loved by your partner. Maybe your partner didn’t show affection as much as they used to or you realized that you both spent all of your meals on your phones instead of engaging with one another.
Maybe you felt taken for granted, not supported, or like they weren’t interested in what you do, say, or need. It’s totally normal to have ups and downs in relationships, but occasionally, in relationships that are basically healthy and nurturing, there can be some aspect that might make you feel like you don’t matter enough to the person.
Sherry Amatenstein, a New York City therapist and MyWellbeing community member, says that not feeling loved by a partner is one of the top topics her clients bring up. To figure out why, she prompts them to ask themselves these two questions:
Very often, we gauge our own self-worth by how loved we are—or feel we are—by someone else. In order to understand why, or to spot some themes in our lives, a little bit of self-reflection is in order.
One homework assignment Sherry gives clients is to write a romantic resume. First, write down the names of each of the partners who have had the biggest impact in your life, including your current partner if you have one. Then write down:
Writing down your partners as well as their negative and positive qualities and yours can help you examine your relationship patterns. For example, if your parents frequently complimented you or criticized you, this could have left you feeling hollow inside and constantly seeking some grand gesture from your romantic partners. Grand gestures can provide a brief adrenaline rush, but then you’re left feeling needy again, because at the end of the day, filling the void is an inside job—yours.
So if you see a pattern that your partners have either performed grand gestures of love or not, you’ll be able to see if that has been something that you have sought over time and start to think about how that affects your relationships.
This first question is about examining the most important relationship you will ever have—the one you have with yourself. Until and unless you feel like a lovable person simply because of who you are and not whether or not someone does something that gives you the rush of adrenaline you crave, it’s impossible to feel good about yourself.
Then, you consistently feel disappointed that your partner doesn’t understand you. The pain of that disappointment might be something you keep seeking simply because it’s familiar—if you grew up with it and you continue to feel disappointed in your romantic relationships, you might gravitate toward people who continue to cause you disappointment to maintain that sense of familiarity.
But this will only cause you to stay shut down and try to protect your heart from the pain anyway. In order to feel loved, you have to break down your walls and let people in. Which leads to Sherry’s next question:
The chances that your partner will be able to read your mind and do exactly what would make you feel more loved and valued is slim—if they could, they would probably already be doing it!
In order for your partner to truly understand you, you have to offer them a window into what’s really going on underneath your facade.
While it’s not a substitute for therapy, it’s an exercise that couples who have a solid foundation of kindness and respect toward one another can use. Here’s how it works:
Unless you take emotional risks with your partner and open up so they truly understand how you feel, it might be hard to feel secure and loved. It’s only when we keep secrets that might cause us shame, regret, or pain that they gain power over us. Once we share and see that our partner’s love for us hasn’t changed or diminished, we can feel truly loved.
Say you mention that you’re nervous about an upcoming meeting with your boss. Your partner might try to reassure you that you’ll do a great job. You might smile and say thanks, but then the conversation moves to a different topic when in reality, you wanted to take the next step to admit how scared you really feel and how much more reassurance you really need.
You could say, “Hey, I know we just started talking about X, but I wanted to open up a little and say that I’m actually pretty nervous about this upcoming meeting and it’s been weighing on my mind. I appreciated that you said that I’d do a great job, but I just can’t seem to keep my confidence up.” You could:
Chances are, your partner will appreciate the guidance to help them know exactly how they can support you. If you and your partner aren’t used to giving and receiving feedback, it might feel awkward on your end and they might be surprised at first, but it’s never a bad time to start and keep strengthening that muscle.
If you’re feeling unloved, a therapist or relationship coach could support you to build a more solid relationship with yourself, as well as work on ways to communicate your needs and feelings to your partner. Everyone deserves to feel loved in their relationships, but the most important—and long-lasting—relationship in your life is the one you have with yourself. While it might take some time to get there, the best way to feel loved by others is to love yourself first.
Caitlin is an organizational change strategist, advisor, writer, and the founder of Commcoterie, a change management communication consultancy. She helps leaders and the consultants who work with them communicate change for long-lasting impact. Caitlin is a frequent speaker, workshop facilitator, panelist, and podcast guest on topics such as organizational change, internal communication strategy, DEIBA, leadership and learning, management and coaching, women in the workplace, mental health and wellness at work, and company culture. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.