By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
One of the great joys of being in a relationship is feeling essential in someone else’s life. When you don’t feel cherished in this way, it is deeply painful. Whether it’s a dull constant ache that grows bigger with time or a sharp pain that overpowers you, it’s there. And along with feeling not loved, all too often you will feel unlovable.
Feeling unloved and unlovable are two very different things – despite sounding so similar. When you feel unloved, you perceive that your partner or others are not showing that they appreciate you. They are caught in their own “stuff” or don’t know value when they see it. However, when you feel unlovable, you sense that the problem is in you. You perceive that there is something flawed or inadequate within you as a human being that prevents others from being able to love you. This is a deep, dark secret that many people hold and that their partners (often unknowingly) feed. It can unfortunately keep people from trying to change their relationship or leave it. Because they don’t expect anyone can really love them, they believe they should be happy with what they have. So, while people who feel unloved or unlovable need a change, those who feel unlovable are particularly vulnerable and need to act now.
Think about your relationship. If you believe that there’s a chance for it to change so that you feel loved (hopefully accompanied by feeling more lovable, if that’s an issue), then work on making that change. You can do this in four basic steps:
- Clearly tell your partner how you feel; and do it during a calm time. Say something like, “I feel unappreciated.”
- Follow up with stating what your partner does to create that feeling; such as, “I feel like this when you tell me the things you want fixed around the house without even a please or thank you.”
- Be clear about what change you’d like to see from your partner; “I’m happy to fix things, but I’d just like you to show some appreciation – ask things of me rather than demand them; and acknowledge what I’ve done.”
- Finally, explain how your relationship will be better when your partner changes their behavior. “If you do these things, I will feel like you appreciate me. Then I will get to things faster and I’ll be happier – making me more fun to be around.”
As you think about this, you might decide that you don’t think your relationship can change or you’re not willing to put in the effort. If that’s the case, then you probably need to end it. There may be circumstances that make you decide to stay, but consider them very carefully. Remaining in such a relationship is damaging. Consider how it has taken away from your joie de vivre (joy in living) and perhaps has lowered your expectations – or even hopes – for having a happy life. Think about whether it has caused you to feel unlovable.
If you decide to make the journey toward a happier life, prepare for it. Turn to family and friends for support. Make plans for what you will do with your time after you end the relationship, such as spending more time with friends, volunteering, or taking on a project that you’ve been putting off. If you struggle with feeling unlovable, it is especially important to note – and repeatedly remind yourself about – those in your life who do care. Then, painful as it might be, make the break.
Doing something to change your situation can be very difficult. It means risking what you have (e.g. a partner to do things with, an identity as being part of a couple). So, be kind and patient with yourself as you work through this. But do it; especially if feeling unloved is accompanied by any sense of feeling unlovable. Then, once free of the relationship, begin to work on feeling more positively toward yourself; whether through engaging in activities that help you feel better about yourself, self-help materials, and/or therapy. You may also need to work directly on this even if your partner is supportive and your relationship is nourishing. Truly, facing the unhappiness you feel today can lead you to a happier tomorrow!
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