If you venture out into the world at all during this time of year, you will probably be overwhelmed by hearts and chocolates and silhouettes of Cupid. Don’t get me wrong; it is great to have a time on the calendar when we focus on love and romance. It can benefit every relationship to have seasons like these that encourage partners to express their love. Do it. Love it. Enjoy it.
But there’s a flip side too. If we’re honest, the pomp around Valentine’s Day can be frustrating or even discouraging for people. Maybe we are single on Valentine’s Day. Maybe our relationship isn’t as fulfilling as we want it to be. When every shelf in every department store is chock full of messages that are intended to be sweet, it can make us think that maybe there is something wrong with us.
The truth is, though, these messages of “love” can be damaging if we don’t think about what they’re saying. Chances are that there is nothing wrong with you at all. True love is not as simple as the messages on the store shelves and it’s certainly not “As seen on TV.”
That’s why I believe it’s important for us to call out the lies when we see them. It will help all of our relationships if we can start to think about love in a realistic way.
There are two in particular that I love to hate. I know they’re meant to be helpful and to express affection and deep love, but below the surface, they are the root of so many of the problems that we see in relationships.
The first one: “You make me happy!”
Yes, I know. It might seem pretty harmless. But beneath the surface layer of meaning here lies something that we really need to talk about. First, there’s the idea of happiness. To be happy is to experience an emotion. It’s the emotion that you experience when things are going well, when you’re surrounded by people that you love, or when you don’t have any particular stress. Obviously people want to be happy, but as an emotion, it passes; it’s not constant but instead it rises and falls in response to what’s happening around you. The fact that it passes is actually really important. No one is constantly happy. Sometimes you’re happy but then things happen and you experience sadness. Other things bring up feelings of anger. Emotions are constantly changing.
It doesn’t help that we tend to emphasize happiness and avoid other emotions like sadness or fear. But experiencing all of the emotions is an important part of what it means to be human. They are completely normal and should be embraced rather than avoided. There’s nothing inherently bad about feeling sad.
There is nothing or no one person that can make you happy. It is too much responsibility for anyone to assume. To put the responsibility of making you happy on your partner is to say that they’re somehow responsible for everything that happens to you. They have to manage the circumstances that you experience and, the insinuation is that, when you’re not happy, it’s also on them.
I get the sentiment, though. What we’re really trying to communicate when we say, “You make me happy” is “I feel happy that you are in my life.” This is more than just arguing over words though. The difference in the underlying meaning is profound. The words that we say and the phrases that we use have incredible power to create meaning in our lives.
So, own your happiness. Realize that happiness, sadness, anger, fear – all of the emotions – are normal. We experience them in waves that come and go. To put the responsibility for your happiness on your partner, though, is unfair to you and to them.
And that brings us to number two: “You complete me!”
If you’ve seen the movie Jerry Maguire then you already know about this one. The whole story culminates in this line that Jerry delivers to Dorothy. It is at about this time that most people reach for the box of tissues.
Me? I cry too but for a whole different reason.
For years, this phrase has gotten under my skin for the other layers of meaning –the things that it doesn’t say. For some reason, we seem to have lost touch with the idea that we can be whole human beings completely on our own. The parts of our lives where we feel lacking – where we feel broken – can be restored. When we spend time working on ourselves and exploring where these feelings come from we can learn to accept ourselves and love ourselves with our imperfections.
If we don’t do that work though, the feelings of deficiency can stick around. And – I get it – exploring some of the areas where you feel like you need to grow can be scary. Sometimes, it can be easier to look for ways to compensate for those feelings and one of the ways is to look to another person – our partners – to fill in those gaps. But this is a temporary fix; it’s not a solution.
If you find that special someone with whom you feel like you could spend the rest of your life with, it can feel like they complement you perfectly – that they are all of the things that you are not. It won’t take long though before they realize that they cannot be everything you need. To ask someone else to be the things that you are not is to ask them to do double duty and to assume responsibility for you both. This creates a sense of imbalance; it creates an unequal drain that sucks your partners energy to the point of exhaustion.
Instead, if we feel incomplete, the heathy approach, as intimidating as it may feel, is to move towards that feeling. What is about our lives that feel incomplete? Where are the areas that I’ve been wounded and who can help me make moves towards wholeness rather than distraction?
These are the lies of Valentine’s Day. The truth is that you can be whole, complete, and content just with the resources that you have at you disposal as an individual. You don’t need someone else to make you happy, or to complete you. And, the more that you move towards feeling whole the more that your relationship with your partner will enhance you life. When you refuse to burden your partner with the responsibility for your happiness and completeness, you allow them the freedom to love you unconditionally – to love you for who you really are.
Interested in exploring some new ideas about what it means to love and be in a fulfilling relationship? Reach out to us today.
After ten years in digital media and marketing, Desmond Smith recently graduated with a Master's in Marriage & Family Therapy from Pfeiffer University. He is currently working towards becoming licensed as a therapist in North Carolina. His wife, Kristy Yetman, is the owner of Yetman Counseling Services.
Desmond writes about relationships and life at his blog, PartSaintAndPartSinner.com.