Feeling loved is one of the most important needs human beings have. Children who grow up feeling unloved develop unhealthy personality traits that can dog them for the rest of their lives. And for adults, the need to feel loved is just as important.
If you’re feeling like you aren’t loved, but you’re in a relationship, there can be several reasons for it. It’s best if you start out by doing some thinking about your own past, your childhood and your previous relationships.
If at some time in the past, particularly as a kid, you felt starved of love or affection, it’s important to acknowledge that, experience, to let yourself feel sad about it, and then to move on. Depending on how serious the experience was, and how heavy the repercussions are on your life today, you may need to get the help of a professional therapist to sort it out. But even taking some time on your own to grieve over this damaging past experience will help you heal.
Here are some possible reasons you might feel unloved, and some ideas about how to fix the problem.
1. You’re with the Wrong Person
It could be as simple as that. How does your partner treat you, and how do they express love and affection for you? If they don’t, if they’re cold and distant or emotionally shut down, they could be the wrong person for you to have a relationship with.
You need to think about whether they are likely to change – because either they have to change their behaviour, or you have to accept them the way they are, or the relationship is never going to improve. If you’ve tried hard to communicate with them and nothing has changed, then you need to consider getting out of the relationship and finding a more loving, affectionate partner.
2. Your Expectations Are Too High
It’s very difficult for all of us to understand when the problem is more to do with us than with another person we’re dealing with. But consider the possibility that your expectations are too high, that you, for whatever reason, need more affection and expressions of love than is reasonable, or possible for your partner to give you.
Do you constantly seek validation and reassurance of your partner’s love for you? Does this eventually irritate them and lead to friction or arguments or other problems in your relationship?
This situation is a sort of Buddhist problem. Buddha explained that human beings suffer because of their internal desires, not because of external forces.
If you’re suffering because your desires and expectations for your partner are too great, you may need to work on your own attitude, on accepting that your partner and your relationship are at a certain level and that you need to be more satisfied with that.
This isn’t a comfortable thing to admit to ourselves, and it takes hard work to downsize our expectations to fit reality. But in the end, if you can do it, you will be a happier person.
3. You Aren’t Communicating Your Needs Clearly
This is another common problem in relationships. Have you asked for what you need? Don’t laugh – you’d be surprised how many married couples don’t communicate on even this simple level. If you are feeling unlovely or unloved, or insecure in another way, and your partner can help to reassure you, then the problem is easy to solve!
But your partner cannot read your mind, so you need to communicate clearly about what you need. This can be as simple and sweet as saying, “I’m feeling sad, and I could use a hug.” That’s an easy problem to fix. And if you communicate like that, even just about small things, they will add up over time, hug after hug, for example, to a larger feeling of being loved and accepted and cared for.
Communication is important in other ways, too. By speaking up for what you need, whatever it is, and seeing that your partner is willing to help as well as they can, or at least negotiate with you, you are reminded that you’re important, and that your ideas and needs are worthwhile in the relationship.
Perhaps you want to buy a new car, or have a child, or take a walk every afternoon with your partner. Perhaps you want to quit your job and go back to school to learn some new trade. Discussing this with your partner and hearing that they are willing to compromise and work together with you to help achieve your dreams is a great boost to your ego and sense of being loved.
Even if you don’t get everything you ask for, since that’s the nature of compromise, you will feel better just for having been heard.
This common problem is related to the others above. This means, on a basic level, that you are putting someone else’s needs ahead of your own, all the time.
You are sacrificing yourself like a martyr, all the while hoping that this other person will someday notice your noble sacrifice and completely change themselves for you. Co-dependency is a big problem among the partners of addicts or alcoholics, where a long-suffering spouse pays their partner’s gambling debts or bails them out of jail again and again, or silently accepts that all the money in the savings account has been wasted on drugs.
But co-dependency doesn’t have to be so dramatic. It can take milder forms, such as when a spouse marries someone with a bad temper or who is lazy and hopes to “fix” that person just by loving them harder and harder, or by nagging. It’s very hard to change another person, particularly when it comes to deep personality issues.
But plenty of people wear themselves out trying to change their partners. They put out a tremendous amount of energy and love, hoping to get an equivalent amount back. But because they work so hard at it, and sacrifice their needs, becoming a martyr in their own eyes, the amount of love and energy they get back never seems like enough. Only a superhuman amount could satisfy them.
Co-dependency is sneaky and hard to diagnose, and even harder to fix. But it can be done. Learning to take care of yourself, and to spend less energy trying to change your partner, is possible, and it’s a very healthy thing to do.
Following this line of thinking to its logical conclusion brings us to the basic idea that if you feel unloved, it may be that you don’t love yourself enough. That may sound like a cheap idea from pop psychology, but it isn’t. Why would you, for example, stay in a relationship with a cold or emotionally distant partner who won’t change?
Because you don’t love yourself enough to go and find a better relationship, to give yourself what you deserve. Why don’t you ask for what you need? Because you don’t love yourself enough to ask for, and even fight for, what you need and deserve. Why would you sacrifice your health and financial security and sanity trying to fix another person? Because you don’t love yourself enough to put yourself first.
Always remember the safety instructions you get on an airliner. “Put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others.”
If you don’t put your own basic needs first, you won’t ever be able to help anyone else.