When it comes to love relationships, in most cases they are motivated (at least officially) by love: we desire someone because we “love” them, we want to be together or marry “for love.” Yet, among the many reflective surfaces of love that we allow ourselves to be dazzled by is the misunderstanding of effective dependence or effective need. In fact, if we look closely at relationships we discover that they can be motivated by numerous factors, the first of which is the satisfaction of one’s needs. There is nothing wrong with that, per se: having needs is a perfectly natural thing. The trouble is that having confused ideas about feelings often generates misunderstandings and conflicts, especially when dysfunctional dynamics are triggered within the relationship.
Passion, attachment, need, jealousy, dependence or possession are different things from love, indeed they have nothing to do with “being together for love.” In these cases, mechanisms are activated (even if unconsciously) that affect our actions or those of the other person, because we evaluate the action based on misleading criteria. For example: we get angry if the partner does not answer the cell phone immediately, if he or she shows less caring than we would like…..Why do we confuse feelings? Perhaps the biggest mistake we make is to confuse love with something that has to do with how we relate to the world. In other words: we love someone to supply a need we have.
The many reasons behind relationships (besides love)
Specifically, what leads us to start love relationships, and to stay in them (sometimes in spite of problems and suffering)? The most common answer is “For love,” but in reality the motivations behind love relationships are many. This “confusion in love” can easily lead to relationship problems: indeed, when we rely on mistaken beliefs, things never turn out as we expect. Essentially, we desire a partner and remain attached to them for one or more of the following reasons:
- Personal needs (the other person gives us what we need; or we believe they will):
- Feeling loved, need for affection
- Feeling appreciated, recognized, validated
- ***uality, physical contact
- Economic needs, sustenance, material goods
- Need for someone to take care of us
- Creating a family, a “nest”
- Physical and/or ses*ual attraction
- Filling a void (emotional or existential)
- Fear of loneliness / Discomfort being with ourselves
- Search for parental figures we miss
- Completion (partner compensates for our deficiencies)
- Caring for someone
There are also pathological motivations, which lead sufferers to remain in dysfunctional or “toxic” relationships
- Victim or abuser mentality, whereby we bond with perpetrators or abusive people
Different motivations can coexist
It is good to point out that multiple motivations that drive us toward someone can coexist: for example, it is common to feel need, jealousy, resentment, and even love toward the same partner; the conflicting feelings do not cancel each other out, but in fact coexist.
Examples where need prevails
The following are some examples of relational situations in which need is what drives us (even when the stated motivation is love).
Beauty makes us dream
When an unfamiliar person’s beauty strikes and captivates us, we often experience feelings we call love. But how can we love someone we don’t even know? Actually, what we feel is a hope for happiness, the promise of an exciting future (beauty has this power to make us dream): but that happiness and excitement is about us; we rarely question what would make the other person happy (we want to believe that we are the answer, because to think otherwise would shatter our dream).
Sense of challenge
When we are attracted or fascinated by someone, we sometimes feel that we are driven by love (when in fact it is a selfish impulse): if he or she does not want us, we usually insist and try every way to be reciprocated. This is precisely because our primary goal is our happiness, our satisfaction, not his.
Or if he prefers another person to us, it is obvious that he believes he is better off with her. But, again, we seldom accept this preference: instead we usually feel jealousy toward the competition, resentment toward those who do not reciprocate us, and other very unnoble feelings that have nothing to do with love – but instead have everything to do with our frustrated needs and wants.
We fall in love but at some point stop loving for no good reason. Yet the loved one is still her; what has changed? That she is no longer able to give us what she used to give us. Our love has not disappeared: we will continue to love that person, but the absence of “nourishment” will inevitably be felt. Sooner or later we will meet someone who can nourish our unmet needs, and we will go to meet this new person.
After a separation…the real dynamics
When a relationship comes to an end and we persist in wanting to remain entangled in a relationship that only brings pain one has to wonder how much this attachment is love and how much is need and dependence. Perhaps what we miss is not so much the person, but everything he or she used to give us.
When we are disappointed or hurt by the other, often the love for him/her seems to fade or even disappear (casting doubt on whether it ever really existed). Instead, all that seems to remain is the pain, frustration or anger of our needs being denied, ignored or neglected.
Real reasons why a relationship ends
The topic of this article is one of the most likely explanations for the end of a relationship. Often the breakup of the couple is explained with a simplistic “I don’t love him or her anymore,” “We don’t love each other anymore,” but it is more likely that the end was caused by needs that were no longer met, happiness or satisfaction that was lacking, perhaps by falling out of love (as sooner or later happens to everyone), or by unrealistic expectations (perhaps never openly expressed) then inevitably disappointed.
In other words, we enter relationships with a sense of excitement, happiness, and satisfaction (and the expectation that this will continue): and many call this mix of emotions “love.” But if the excitement dies down, happiness dissipates, and satisfaction wanes (as it often does, and in some ways is also natural), what we used to call “love” also decays.
Why do we deceive ourselves about feelings
But why do we find what we feel so confusing? In part, it is because few people have sufficient emotional education, so they are unable to understand their inner world or distinguish what they are feeling: they are like “emotional illiterates.” Moreover, when we consider our feelings we often tend to deceive ourselves, attributing different motives to ourselves than the real ones (listed at the beginning), because:
- We like to see ourselves as better than we are, moved by “noble” and elevated (instead of selfish) feelings.
- We don’t like to admit that we need; it makes us feel weak and vulnerable.
- We don’t have clear emotions within us, we confuse them (in this pushed by the media as well, which present us with confusing and misleading messages about relationships, for example through romantic songs and movies).
In practice, “love” turns out to be the easiest, most convenient and rewarding explanation. Instead, admitting that we want the other for selfish and utilitarian reasons is unpleasant and embarrassing to us; to the point that we first hide it from ourselves.
It is normal for love for the other and personal needs to mix, but it is important to distinguish the real motivation for one’s actions. Otherwise we risk justifying toxic behavior, such as “I can’t let you off the hook because I love you” or “I hurt her because I loved her too much”-in these cases, love has nothing to do with it!
Does love exist? At this point it is legitimate to ask.
By this article I do not mean to say that there is no love in relationships, or that love does not exist. Far from it: love does exist, and indeed that it is more widespread than we think. What I want to show is that behind the word “love” there can often be much more, sometimes even its opposite.
In this regard, mine is a call for clarity: with oneself first, then toward others. Confusing love with needs, passion, possession and dependence is not good for love: on the contrary, it makes it look suspicious and polluted. In fact, those who complain that “Love does not exist!” often do so because they are burned by negative experiences that were passed off as love but were most likely quite different.
What is the usefulness of all this talk? Does it serve any purpose?
Simple: when a relationship has problems or ends, it is important to be clear-headed, to solve problems or close accounts with the past. Instead, confusion about feelings, motivations and expectations amplifies problems and makes it impossible to overcome them. Believing that “Love is everything” or “It’s all due to love” sounds very romantic, but it’s like believing that it’s enough to tie wings to your arms to fly: the fall will be inevitable and painful. Relationships are complex (otherwise we wouldn’t all be ruminating over them), and pretending that they are simple won’t help us. Instead, what helps us is to observe them with honesty, clarity and understanding, to understand ourselves and those around us.
Finally, knowing that it is not love (or not only) that binds me to someone, but it is needs and requirements, can help me to:
- Better choose a partner (being clear about what I am looking for).
- Live healthier relationships (not having to put up with negative behavior “in the name of love”)
- After a separation: let go of the ex more peacefully (because I no longer idealize him or her as “the love of my life”), and have more confidence to meet future partners (since needs can be fed by different people).
There are no alternatives! You cannot give love to someone if you do not have it in you.
And, even if no one has taught you how to do it, you have to learn. But really, it’s all very simple: love myself and make myself happy, take responsibility for my own happiness. When I’m happy, loving someone else is simple, because I don’t have to want them by my side all the time to be well, but I’m also well on my own.
If you love yourself, if you have no emotional deficiencies to fill, then yes your relationship can be authentic. You are not in fact, looking for someone who will complete you, or someone who will not make you feel lonely, or someone who will fill your gaps. You are simply looking for a partner who will bring value to your life. At that point, you will give love not to be thanked or to benefit, but for the authentic pleasure you derive from loving.