Why do some people seem to have all the luck when it comes to love? Here's the thing, while we all equally deserve love, we don't all get an equal chance at it. This is hard for a relationship therapist to admit. So many people I see truly want love, but struggle to get it. Romantic comedies make it seem so simple. All it takes is a bump in the street, a gaze in the moonlight and bam - you're in love! Love is shown as an uncontrollable, intense desire that is certain to strike us all. In the real life though, this is simply not sure. Adult love, which makes us feel cared for, nurtured, respected and valued takes skill and intentionally. What movies call "love at first sight" is really attraction at first sight and "true love" is nothing more than infatuation. Authentic, genuine real-life love doesn't just happen to you, it happens because of you.
Our ability to relate to others, give and receive love, has to do with who we are. In movies we often see two people who may be struggling in their life. They've been hurt in the past and are deficient in some way. Then along comes the right man or women. The two fall in love, wounds disappear and everyone lives happily ever after. As encouraging as this sounds, it doesn't make sense. In real life, hurt and pain are barriers to love, not bait. It's those that are emotionally healthy that have a chance at love, not those who feel 'broken'.
Here's the psychology behind this theory. We all have what's called 'Internal Working Models'. These models develop in our childhood and relate to how we see ourselves and others. A positive internal working model means we've experienced secure attachment with our parents; they responded when we cried, picked us up, fed and nurtured us. They made us feel loved and protected. They taught us that we are worthy and the world is safe. As adults we are less sensitive to rejection, less jealous or suspicious of others, less touchy in conflict and better at regulating our emotions.
If love and kindness was prevalent in your family, you will have better learned how to identify authentic love and how to cultivate it in an adult relationship. You will more easily be able to tell when someone is being genuinely loving towards you or when they're just pretending for their own gains; you will better know how to nurture your partner and be caring without losing yourself in the process; you will better know how to express your needs and recognize your partner's needs in your relationship.
What about those with negative internal working models? These individuals have an insecure attachment style; their caretakers were unreliable, inconsistent, neglectful or even abusive in their childhood. As babies they may have cried for hours without being picked up, not fed in a timely manner, left alone for hours, seldom nurtured or hugged. Their parents may have fought all the time, divorced, had a revolving door of new partners or simply didn't know what they were doing. Whatever the reason, the result was the same - a child who felt helpless, unloved and afraid. They learned others are not to be trusted and to fend for themselves. Their internal working model shouts, 'the world is unsafe and people are cruel or unreliable!'
In a relationship they are more suspicious of their partner, may regularly question their partner's feelings or genuineness towards them; have stronger emotional outburst when they don't get their way or feel wronged; are critical of themselves and their partner; are more likely to try to control their partner, push them away or constantly require more and more of them. Their partners are often left feeling disconnected or like no matter how much they do, it's never enough. These relationships experience higher conflict, jealousy, mistrust, and cheating.
So while we all deserve love in our life, we are not all equally equipped at finding and keeping it. To some, it's natural. Others have to be more intentional about learning how genuine adult-love works, it doesn't come automatically to them. They may need to seek support from an expert to learn about and understand healthy love; their friends and family are probably lacking in this knowledge as much as they are. They have to learn about themselves and develop better emotional regulation. They have to recognize their own feelings of inadequacies and insecurities and work on healing themselves so it doesn't keep playing out in their relationships. Unlike the movies, love doesn't just come and find you and change your life, you have to change you and then you'll find love.