Avoid Pretending to Feel Loved When You Do Not


Here’s my take on how to enjoy being married. You don’t work on the relationship. You work on enjoying it.
Remember when you enjoyed it? Remember when you were thrilled about getting married? Remember those times you felt so close and so in love that you spent half the day thinking of ways to delight your mate? It wasn’t work then, was it?
Well, that’s what I mean when I say Enjoy Being Married.
So, when I say Assume Love, you can be sure I do not mean ignore that awful, frightening doubt and act as if you feel loved, respected, safe, or happy.
Assume Love is a technique you can use when you stop feeling that way. And I offer it to you because you will not get back there by accusing your committed life partner of causing those awful feelings. If it was his or her intention to make you unhappy, the accusation won’t lead to change. And if it was not his or her intention, you have evened the score by pulling your mate down to your unhappiness level, and you have done it intentionally. Not helpful!
You will also not get back there by being extra sweet, helpful, generous, or sexy while you feel unloved, disrespected, unsafe, or miserable. You are the one who feels awful. You will feel more awful, increasing your resentment level, unless your spouse feels inspired by all these extras to do more for you. Each bit of additional resentment raises the bar for what he or she will need to do in return to please you. At the same time, the resentment leaks out between efforts, demotivating your mate.
Working at being married fails miserably unless the two of you are working with a therapist who makes sure you can both see and appreciate each other’s efforts.
So, please do not pretend to feel loved when you feel unloved, unsafe, unhappy, or disrespected. When you feel this way, your very human mind will take the very human precaution of watching intently for all other threats to your very important relationship, which will keep it from noticing most of the love, caring, and respect sent your way.
Instead, Assume Love. Take a few minutes to look at what’s happened through a different set of eyes. Instead of asking if this situation is bad or dangerous, ask how it might happen even if your partner, your husband, your wife still adores you.
Don’t worry. You cannot explain away truly unloving behavior. You won’t buy a story that it’s OK to love someone but allow yourself to lose control over what you do that harms them. You will still protect yourself from the sociopath or narcissist or drug addict. But you may well change your view of the spouse whose intense lack of respect at work leads to hypersensitivity about respect at home or the spouse whose early childhood association of lima beans and death leads to a stinging rejection of your delicious lima bean casserole.
You may check the calendar for possible explanations and correlate your guy’s new interest in porn with the date of his vasectomy. You may check the 5 love languages for explanations and notice his upsetting lack of affirming words for the difficult journey you are on is accompanied by a big increase in hugs, hair stroking, and shoulder massages.
And since the most likely reason you are so fiercely affected by any loss of love is that you love your mate and value your relationship, you will not need to pretend to care when an explanation suddenly fits.
If you suddenly feel closer and more connected than you have in months after you Assume Love, your spouse may reap some benefits from this. But do not Assume Love for his or her sake.
Assume Love to help you check whether your anger or hurt comes from something real and dangerous to your relationship or from your brain’s early warning system jumping to conclusions to protect you. Assume Love for your own release from the pain of these inaccurate thoughts about a situation. Assume Love for the possibility that you may feel suddenly and intensely in love again and actively enjoy doing wonderful things for your husband, wife, or life partner.
Remember that Assume Love is a technique (assume there is no doubt about your mate’s love or character while you look for possible explanations). It is not an instruction to act as if you feel loved.
Your brain is hugely self-protective. It will not let you get away with pretending for very long. Once alarmed, it will keep looking for danger until you ask it to take a break and look for loving explanations. It knows you were promised lifelong love, so it will accept this as a safe possibility to explore, but it needs a plausible explanation, not just an assumption. You must use the technique, not pretend you feel loved, to change the chemical soup in your brain and let you enjoy being married.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • “You dont work on the relationship, you work on enjoying it”. Powerful statement that brings the person out of the “I have to fix this” mentality and proposes that they look for the positive enjoyable aspects in the relationship.

  • Thank you for elaborating on this topic Patty 🙂 And I agree with Laviera…that’s a powerful line. I have a tendency to want to “fix” everything…but instead of working on the relationship, I work on enjoying it and seeing what’s already there that’s awesome 🙂

  • Thanks, Niloo. If you want to celebrate the awesome, I think every reader of this blog would love to hear about your discovery and its effect on how you feel about your spouse and how your spouse treats you.

  • I have been struggling to be happy in my marriage for a long time. After finding out my husband has a personality disorder everything that has happened started to make sense. Were still together because of money reasons, but mentally I’m so ready to move on. Everyday that I’m still here is just a reminder of the love that’s no longer their. I miss being loved and wanted by the person I onced felt true love for. Any advice you can share with me?

  • Oh, unhappy wife, I am so sorry for what brings you here. Personality disorders and chronic illnesses can make life a lot harder on both of you. I hope you read my story on the Author page, because it sounds a lot like you are in a very similar place to the one I was in back then.
    Are you in physical danger? Are you subjected to frequent, withering diatribes? I don’t think anyone can or should live like that. But if what you face every day because of his disorder is more on the level of annoyance or patience-testing, and if you once felt loved by him despite the disorder, I think there’s a way back.
    The key is to Expect Love. One by one, let go of all the things you expected he should do or be because you share a home or because he married you or because he promised to love you. The list seems to grow longer and longer with time.
    A fairly easy place to start if you’re already considering divorce is to pretend you are already divorced and responsible for everything you need to get by. Everything, even the things he still takes care of now. If your day is too busy with all this in it (and it will be), start paring down or putting some real elbow grease into making more money to pay the people who will do it for you.
    This was what my first husband’s death forced on me, and I wish I had done it ten years sooner. When I was overwhelmed, I simply expected him to handle the excess (and to treat me with extra tenderness at the same time), instead of making the huge changes I made after he was gone. It was those unmet expectations, far more than anything he did, that left me missing the love I once felt from him. Whenever I find my expectations mounting in marriage #2 (as they are this week, because we’re getting ready to leave on a long trip), I stop myself now, and I get to see the immediate difference in how loved I feel. So do the people I coach.
    But just to make sure you rediscover some of it, after years of telling yourself your unmet expectations meant you are no longer loved, make time once a day to list three loving things your husband did that day or three things you still admire about him. If you have trouble with this, be sure to read Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages for a long list of loving acts you might not yet recognize, and be sure to watch for signs of respect, which for most men are the foundation for any loving relationship.
    The best thing? You don’t even need to change your plans to divorce or try to be a “better” wife. Just start acting as if he’s not available for the chores stuff, the money stuff, the broken equipment stuff, the protection stuff, or the recreation stuff, and allow him to be there for the love stuff.
    You just might fall back in love. If not, you’ve got a nice head start on the divorce transition.

  • I had to read this a few times before it got to me. Then it got to me. I suspect I’m someone who really struggles to feel loved, even when that love is clearly there. I’m working with a good counsellor at the moment and I can see a little bit how I learned early on in my life to try and see where the love wasn’t coming from. It was the only way to be safe. But it cripples you in a relationship.
    What really gets me the most is the realisation that my mind focuses so much energy on being defensive and has not the first clue what it’s supposed to be looking for. I know that I need love, I feel it desperately at times, if I let myself. But I don’t look for it, I certainly don’t assume it. I look for reasons for it to not be here, proof that I don’t have it. Those warning signs that I am in danger are my day to day life, they are what I live for.
    So it occurs to me that I don’t even know how to feel loved, let alone assume I am loved. I can do it intellectually, but on an emotional level it’s not there. And it just explains so so much of what’s wrong in my relationship.
    Thank you Patty, you’ve given me an insight that has probably eluded me my entire life.

  • Adam, we all look for reasons to believe love’s not there. Some of us just look harder than others. Switching your focus to the signs you are loved can change your life. Watch for kind words, support for your endeavors, trust in your abilities, interest in doing things with you, delight in touching you or being touched by you, treats offered up, praise for what you do or who you are, understanding of your weak spots, insight, gifts that seem just right for you, things done to make your life a little easier, offers of your favorite meal or entertainment, delight in your accomplishments. Savor each one as long. Write them down and re-read them a week later. The more you notice, the easier it becomes to notice more.

  • I really like this article Patty. I’m in a bit of a rut with my wife. I don’t feel she is turned on by me, attracted to, nor do I feel I’m appreciated. This article is so spot on. I’m constantly looking for the signs that she’s not into me or doesn’t love me as much. I’m going to try what you’ve said, but I have to admit it’s hard to retrain my brain to think that way. I’ll also admit this is largely due to our lack of sex. Any advice on how to retrain the brain? I really love her and when we’re good we’re great. I really want my marriage to work and I don’t want to lose her.

  • Actively look for signs of the things she appreciates. Otherwise, your very human mind will check everything she says and does for signs that she takes everything you do for granted.
    When men feel unappreciated, they often forget to make their wives feel cherished. Both Emerson Eggerichs and the team of Stosny and Love have written about this. As an experiment, try telling her all the reasons why she is the one and only woman you want in your arms.
    Remember, too, as Gary Chapman points out in the Five Love Languages, that some of us feel loved when we have sex and unloved when we don’t. The others, which may include your wife, don’t necessarily mean to show any lack of loving when they don’t find time for sex, hugs, kisses, and touches.
    Is your wife less attracted to you now? Probably. But it’s very normal, very human hedonic adaptation, according to Sonja Lyubomirsky’s latest book, The Myths of Happiness. The solution is to experiment with novel ways to initiate sex.
    And any time you try any experiment with a spouse, remember this wisdom from Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Anger: the first time we try something new, it’s an unfamiliar move in a familiar dance, and your spouse very well may, without even thinking about, treat it as a misstep to recover from. Repeat it a few times, and discount the results from the first time or two.

  • I have been married for 12 yrs. I don’t feel special anymore. I wonder, is it me just imagining or a hormonal imbalance. I have a psychiatrist and he seems to think I’m a level headed reasonable person. I often ask myself, “Should I feel this way, are my feelings legit?” My husband hasn’t bought me anything personal in a long long time. And I’m classifying art supplies and flowers as the personal gifts. No jewelry ever. No lingerie or sexy anything. He doesn’t take me out. I throw hints his way but he doesn’t get them. The other night I told him how I felt. He said he wasn’t trying to make me feel bad intentionally. He works 12 hrs a day so I try not to bug him for things. But now he just keeps falling asleep and that really pisses me off. His Passive aggressive behavior pushes me to the limit. He “forgets” things I need from the store if he goes. He procrastinates something fierce. Can I complain anymore lol let’s see, how about the fact that he says he wants to watch a movie that I’ve already seen. So I put the movie on and ask, are u sure u won’t fall asleep. OH NOOO I WANNA WATCH THIS ONE he says. Ten minutes I look over and his eyes are closed. How is this suppose to make me feel? SPECIAL!?!? LOVED?!?! And I could understand if he did it every now and then but it’s EVERY SINGLE NIGHT! I made him sleep on the couch tonight. I don’t want to be around him. Of course that leaves me alone. Alone in my room still not feeling special and wanting someone who wants me to feel special. My freakin husband is in the living room asleep! There’s nothing more I can do. Except physically hold his eyes open and move his arms and legs. Wtf is wrong with me? Maybe I’m just being oversensitive. If so, somebody please put me in check. Thank you:)

  • This comment got lost in my inbox for more than a month, and I apologize. I think a lot of readers will recognize the situation, so I am really glad Eva reported it.
    Eva, I believe your husband when he says he’s not trying to make you feel bad. And, in fact, what’s making you feel bad is not his actions but the things he doesn’t do that you imagine a loving husband does.
    Even level-headed, reasonable people come into marriage with expectations. More parents ought to tell us as we’re growing up that expectations are premeditated resentments. It’s reasonable to Expect Love when you marry, because it is what you’re promised. But if you elaborate this into expecting jewelry, dinners in restaurants, or the ability to stay awake in front of a TV at the end of the day, you are setting yourself up for resentment.
    Love comes in many different forms. No matter which ones you expect, they are probably the wrong ones for the spouse you choose.
    So let me start by saying there are many wonderful, loving husbands who don’t buy personal gifts. Some don’t buy any gifts. They don’t feel competent to do so, and they cannot develop any competence because they cannot put themselves in your shoes. If they want personal items, they buy personal items. And personal items are, well, personal, and they want some say over them. They cannot imagine a personal gift that delights.
    If you want sexy lingerie, you can buy yourself some and remind yourself that you are free to do so because you live with a man who makes enough money that you two have some left over for such purchases. Or you can tell him the stuff would feel sexier if he selected it, so you would like to take him to the store and show him what to look for and what to avoid. Then tell him how many times a year or which days of the year would make you feel good.
    If you want him to stay awake while you watch movies, watch them earlier in the day. If you want him to stay awake longer at the end of the day, do something more stimulating than watching TV. Play a game, turn on some music and dance, go for a moonlight walk, start a ritual of making beignets and hot cocoa just before bedtime, or turn him on. He’s not falling asleep because you are not special, but because the activity is not special.
    If he procrastinates and forgets shopping items, it could be passive aggressive — but only if you are aware of some reason for him to feel aggressive toward you. In that case, you can fix it by removing the reason. More likely, though, it’s just an overfull mind. The easiest solution is to stop giving him chores you can’t bear to wait for.
    I tend to look for more help from my husband when I’m overwhelmed. Strangely, he is often overwhelmed at the same time, and I am simply denying us any comfort in each other by delegating instead of crossing things off my list. But I am usually into a full in-my-head rant about not being special any more before I remember this.
    Because of our different biology, here’s how most men try to show you you’re special. First, they trust you. If you come back from the supermarket without a requested item, they assume the store was out of it or you were too busy to get it. They respect your boundaries. If you mention a problem, they offer solutions or silently put fixing it for you on their to-do list. However, if you do not mention a problem, they will make no effort to read your body language or actions to intuit one. And until they are royally ticked off, they will say only great things about you to other people, even if they never say them to you, because that would sound like they were judging you.
    Sometimes feeling more special is as easy as paying attention to clues that are as foreign to us women as lingerie stores and jewelry stores are to men.
    I hope you rediscover soon how special you are to him.

  • Thanks for the article, you brought up many good points. I’m wonderng if you have any words of wisdom for someone like me who is just tired of being married and alone. We both are Christians and 5 years into my marriage I discovered my husband had a porn addiction for years before we met and continues to struggle with it to this day. He has lied about big and little things and quite frankly I don’t believe anything he says. We have a sexless marriage and don’t do anything as a couple together. I keep up a good pretense for the kids sake (even though they can see the tendon) because everything I’ve read and know says divorce is still worse on them (barring physical abuse) My Christianity is also huge as I really do believe God hates divorce. I don’t know if he’s had an affair but I wouldn’t put it past him as a pron addiction, like most addictions, is a continual downward insatiable cycle. He went to counseling once but like most things didn’t follow through in part because he’s in denial of his issue And the bondage attached. In my heart I think I’m just waiting until the kids are grown to leave. We are really just roommates and split the bills in half which I initiated to avoid yet another point of contention. Any ideas on a good next step? I’m just tired of crying myself to sleep and being married and alone.

  • Married and alone, I don’t pretend to know what God wants of us, but it sounds like you two are darn close to divorced and sharing a home for your kids’ convenience. It protects them financially and gives them easy access to both parents, both admirable sacrifices on your part, but it doesn’t give them good marriage role models or one huge thing kids crave, which is for each parent to love their other parent as they do.
    If you’re going to stay, you might as well take one more shot at falling in love with their father.
    Your husband came into the marriage with an addiction and hasn’t found the strength to deal with it. You came into the marriage with good intentions but lost respect for him and trust for him. For reasons biological, men generally can build relationships only on top of a foundation of respect, so your route back to a healthy marriage will almost certainly require you to rediscover respect for the man you married, separating the man from his addiction, the sinner from the sin. If you cannot do this while he’s still actively entertaining his addiction, it will first require him to care enough to summon the strength to address the addiction.
    Since you are both Christians, I think your husband might find what Dr. Mark Laaser has to say about porn and the road back inspiring. I wrote two posts last year with references to his work and some others. Here are links to them.
    While he’s pondering those, what I recommend to you is to do what you would do if you divorced, except for the things that would violate your vows. If you would go back to school, work to increase your income, learn to dance, drop 30 pounds, dress differently, or go out with friends more, do those now. The happier and more actively involved with life you are, the better off your kids and your chances of rebuilding your marriage will be.

  • Love the article…..my wife and I have known each other for 40 years and just got married 4months ago ……I open up with all my feelings and express my love to her all the time but she refuses to show or talk about her feelings about me or us…..at times I question why she married me in the first place…..I know she loves me but actions speaks louder than words….a person needs to hear it sometimes too…..she just says she isn’t like that ….too open up…..but I am at the point of thinking about moving on if she can’t back up the I love you’s with actions….I have never felt so loved and lonely in my life…..I gave up my whole life and family to move to another state just to marry her….how can I help her to open up and give me her heart

  • One way to help her open up and give you her heart is to feel and show your gratitude for her loving actions, even if they are not the ones you heart craves. Does she give you her full attention? Does she make time to be together? Does she do little favors (or big ones) for you? Does she give you gifts or present you with food she’s cooked as if it’s a special gift? Does she hold you, massage you, make love with you? Does she compliment your good qualities or your efforts?
    Some people express their love with words. Others have some experience in their background that make them feel words are a dime a dozen, nothing you can trust, and they feel a bit sleazy expressing their love with words. Some people express their love through physical displays of affection in public or private. Others have some experience in their background that makes anything at all sexual feel a bit dirty, and they can only enjoy it when it’s offered and when they are behind closed doors. Some people give gifts to their beloved or do favors for them. Others have some experience in their background that says gifts and favors are all manipulative, things you did not really want that now oblige you to do something for the giver. And so on.
    The more you can teach yourself to see and appreciate her ways of loving, the less she’ll need to overcome to show you enough love to satisfy you. It’s a lot easier to try a different way of loving when you know that the ways that come naturally are also received and appreciated.

  • Several years later and I find this post in perfect time! My husband and I have known each other for close to 10 years; Friends for 3 years, dated 4 years and married for (almost) 3. Our courtship was rocky due to some of his friends, his mother didn’t want to like me, we started our relationship during the end of my engagement to a mutual friend and because he was unfaithful to me twice in an effort to prove he was “not good enough for me”. We have been in love with one another almost from the moment we first met, so I never gave up, we came through with an incredibly strong bond and now we are married with a 5 month old beauty! Even though I have long since forgiven him for the unfaithfulness during our courtship and I have utter trust in him, I have harsh battles when he glances at attractive women or engages with porn, even though I do the same!?!? I’ve blamed him before for my insecurities and questioned in my mind if I “deserved” how he no longer made me feel special, but I’ve grown to realize that these are my own monsters, especially since I made the decision to forgive him all of those years ago. I guess my question is, and so many other great questions have been answered in other posts, do you have advice on how to manage your own insecurities, while granting your spouse liberty to engage in harmless pleasures, such as: appreciating individuals of the opposite sex and not judging occasional encounters with porn (especially when I do the same!)? I want the control that these insecurities have over me to vanish from my life. I have such a wonderful, loving relationship and I have had enough with these petty issues. He is always very sweet and compassionate to reassure how harmless it all is, that I am the one he treasures…this great guy deserves my confidence! Please suggest any good reads in relation to the subject-Words do a lot in the way of reaching me.

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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