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Love and Understanding (Not)  

I often talk with single people who are struggling with relationships about myths of love and how those myths get in the way of a healthy relationship. I was recently reminded of how these myths can get in the way of ongoing relationships as well, and thought I would write about that this month.

The myth I would like to address today has to do with the relationship between love and understanding.  They myth goes something like this: If you really love me you will always understand me.  Now, there are few people who would buy into this belief with such direct language, but it does affect a number of people.

At its most insidious, it takes the form of expecting your partner to understand you better than you understand yourself.  The place I see this most often is when one person says, “I am unhappy and want you to make me feel better. But I have no idea what I need.” Again, few use such stark language, but more than a few have the expectation. In healthy relationships each individual needs to understand their own feelings and needs and take responsibility for communicating them.  Leaving that job to your partner isn’t fair and doesn’t work.

Another place this comes out is when partners have difficulty understanding each other’s different needs, desires, or temperaments.  An example might be the natural introvert who can’t understand how their extrovert partner feels refreshed after interacting with other people and takes their partner’s social activity as a personal affront.  Another might be the naturally risk averse person who feels affronted by their entrepreneurial spouse’s pursuit of projects or businesses that might result in the loss of money.

Even those who understand on an intellectual level that understanding and love don’t necessarily go together can be affected pretty profoundly on an emotional level.  I think this is one of the reasons people are often less tolerant of differences with spouses, partners, or others who are emotionally close. 

In reality, negotiating and accepting difference well is one of the best skills a couple can develop if they want to have a long lasting, healthy relationship.  Human communication and human relationships are full of misunderstanding and love does not overcome that. The only thing that really overcomes it is patient communication and openness to difference in the first place.