The 'If You Love Me' Pattern in Relationships - Teal Swan Articles - Teal Swan Jump to content

The 'If You Love Me' Pattern in Relationships

At this point in human history, people do not understand love.  This means they can’t yet truly practice it even if they use the words “I love you.”  To love something is to take it as a part of yourself. Doing this naturally makes their best interests a part of your own best interests.  It makes it so that you can’t hurt them without hurting yourself too. Doing this naturally makes it easy to prioritize needs. For example, if someone needs medical help because they are hurt and we need food because we are hungry, it will be easy (if we take that person as part of ourself) to prioritize their need for medical help.  This mutual caretaking of each other’s best interests is ultimately what creates trust in a relationship. But even people who understand this can fall into a damaging pattern in their relationships; a pattern that can be prevented if you see it clearly.   

At this point in human history, people are raised to believe that love implies selflessness or and/or self-sacrifice.  Because of this, they have been trained that when they love someone, they should act in that person’s best interests over their own.  This is drastically different than simply prioritizing the various needs that arise from either people in a relationship.  We expect other people tfighting against tho act in our best interests over their own as well. Because of this, the relationship inevitably becomes a fight over whose best interests are most important at any given moment.  It becomes a zero-sum game under the guise of love. To understand the concept of the zero sum game in depth, watch my video titled: The Zero Sum Game (What is a Zero Sum Game and How To End One). Any time a needs or desires conflict arises, we expect them to do what is best for us, even if they have to go against their own best interests to do it.  We expect them to willingly lose that zero sum game and if they don’t, we decide it is because they are self centered and cruel and they don’t love us.

For example, imagine that a woman enters into a relationship with a man.  In the beginning it seems like they are on the same page in terms of desires.  But soon, it is obvious they aren’t. He lives in an intentional community and loves it and does not want children.  She wants a single family home and is ready to start a family. It is a serious enough conflict that she is always miserable when she’s with the community and no matter how nice their time is when it is just the two of them, he never changes his mind and keeps bringing her back to the community.  Neither of them face the incompatibility and decide together what to do with it, so it begins to feel like he is simply fine seeing her in pain. She decides that if he loved her, he couldn’t see her in this pain and would choose to leave the community and get himself in the mental space to have a child.  He doesn’t because this is the opposite of his best interests. When he doesn’t, she decides that he is a total self-centered ass hole who held her back from her true desires and whom she can’t trust and who doesn’t love her.   

This pattern is a set up.  It is a set up because we put people in a zero sum game where we expect them to willingly lose.  And then we decide when they don’t willingly lose that they are terrible and unloving and that we can’t trust them.  But the fact that we put them in that position and expect what we expect means we can’t be trusted.  The bottom line is, we cannot put someone in the lose-lose scenario of making them choose between playing a zero sum game or self sacrificing and call it love.  

The main reason this dynamic occurs is that people are unwilling to face incompatibility in their relationships.  When we can’t face incompatibility, the conflicts that arise because of differences that are non-harmonious, cause us to fight for the rightness and goodness of our own preferences and choices.  We fight for them by fighting against the other person’s preferences and choices as if they are bad, wrong or dysfunctional.  The relationship eventually devolves into both people feeling shamed by the other. It devolves into the ‘if you loved me, you wouldn’t do this/if you loved me you wouldn’t ask me not to’ dynamic. 

Therefore, we may find ourselves in situations where no matter how much we love someone, we can’t do or be what they want and need without hurting ourselves.  In these moments, we have to get that love is not something that is demonstrated by hurting ourselves for someone else’s sake. We only have this definition of love because it is what your adult caregivers taught us in childhood.  They taught us that the highest expression of love is when we sacrificed our desires and needs for theirs and for other people’s. This is simply a zero sum game played for personal happiness under the guise of love. We got positive feedback and avoided consequences for choosing to lose this zero sum game, so our wires are crossed. 

One thing that must be understood is that we also have to stop thinking that an excuse for refusing to see incompatibility is that we know what their best interests are better than they do.  It is common when we can see that a person is making choices in their life based off of unhealed wounding, that we decide their best interest is to make the choice that we would want them to make.  But we have to accept that a person has free will. And what counts is whether they see something as their best interest, not whether we see it as their best interest.

If someone is unwilling or unable to align with your best interests, it is more likely an indication of incompatibility than it is an indication that your needs and desires are wrong or that they are a cruel, self centered person who does not love you.

In order to gain awareness around this, get a piece of paper and write the sentence:  If they loved me _____________.” Think of a situation where someone didn’t act as if they loved you.  Then fill in the blank with as many things as you can think of that you would expect them to do differently if they loved you.  For example, they would have cancelled the meeting, they would have stayed loyal instead of cheated, they would have made an effort to impress my family, they would have known I was overworked and made dinner for me etc.  Then become aware of how in those statements, you may just be expecting them to abandon their own best interests for your sake. See how you may be expecting them to willingly lose a zero sum game.

If someone genuinely loves you, it is reasonable to expect that they consider and caretake your best interests as well as mutually address any incompatibility that arises.  But if they love you, and if you love them, you cannot expect him or her to abandon his or her best interests for your sake.  Needs conflicts arise in relationships and when they do, it is easy to slip into a zero sum game.  You cannot define whether someone loves you or how trustworthy they are by how willing they are to lose that zero sum game so you can have your needs and desires fulfilled at their expense.

When we take someone’s best interests as a part of our own, it does not mean that we abandon ours.  When we love someone, our own desires and needs do not get thrown out the window. It simply becomes easier to prioritize the various needs that exist.  It simply makes it easier to see where incompatibility does and doesn’t exist. When we experience an incompatibility, we can then find a ‘third option’, an arrangement where by agreeing to changes, both people can feel the best that is possible in that given situation.  The third option is not the same as a compromise. It is a decision or arrangement that is the highest and best option for both parties given the incompatibility. And deciding upon this option together instead of unilaterally is what makes the relationship safe.


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