I wasn’t planning to write on this topic today, but numerous readers emailed saying they were waiting for my next post on what to do when your love is not reciprocated. So, here we go. At the outset, let me say there’s little you can do if you love someone but they don’t love you (back). The other person may change, they may even come around but he or she will not love you the way you love them. I have met hundreds of couples and have responded to thousands of emails (literally) and I’m yet to see even one such case. Yes, it’s possible that two people continue to live together amicably out of commitment or care, in fact, it’s the common scenario, but, those warm feelings they once had for each other rarely return. Why do people stop loving each other and what can you do if you are not loved back? Read on.
There was a girl who was deeply in love with a guy. He was an angry man but he assured her that he would change after their marriage. She believed him because she loved him and because she wanted to believe that he would change. So, they got married. The husband became increasingly abusive soon after their marriage. For the first year, she was still in a state of disbelief and shock for he was doing everything opposite to what he’d promised. The second year, she thought the situation would improve. The third year, she tried to change herself thinking this might make them both happy and he might change too. In the fourth year, she realized it wasn’t happening and a year later, they divorced.
Battered and hurt, she decided she would never marry again. But, a few years later, she was married to another person. This time, the guy was too sweet, unusually so. He was the other extreme compared to the first one. Citing some obscure spiritual reasons, he avoided sleeping with her. They were introduced by members of a religious organization, so she believed him. Thinking at least he was providing for her and not abusive, she accepted their marriage sans intimacy. Twenty years later, out of the blue, one day he broke down and said, “I’m sorry, but soon after I was betrothed to you, I’d got into an affair and it went on forever.” She was numb. Her whole world wiped out.
“How long did you see her?”
“Why are you telling me now?” she said.
“I couldn’t keep it in me anymore.”
“So, what do you want?”
“I don’t want a divorce,” he said.
“This is ridiculous! You cheated on me for 17 years,” she said. “Why did you leave her?”
“We broke up because she wanted me to leave you and I couldn’t. So, she married someone else.”
“But we had nothing to share in the last 20 years.”
“Yes, but I cared about you,” he said.
“This is crazy. Is that why you never touched me because you loved her? Tell me the truth.”
He kept quiet.
“I wish you hadn’t done that,” she said. “You wrecked my life. All those years, I thought I wasn’t good enough for you. I didn’t know you loved someone else. I’ll never forgive you for this.”
They separated soon after and eventually divorced. This was a real-life story I shared without distortion or exaggeration. An episode like this is not common but I’ve cited it to tell you that when the other person is not invested in you, there’s practically nothing you can do to make them love you. It doesn’t mean harmony can’t be revived in relationships, but, when the damage is too great or if the other person is not willing to work on it, there’s little hope. What can you do if an apple goes off? You can’t really restore it.
When you’ve tried everything you can think of, and when you’ve given it your best shot and you are still not loved back, at that time, you’ve three choices:
a. Change yourself
If you have no choice, if must you stay with the person due to financial, family or other reasons, and they don’t love you back, well then, stop expecting love so you may live in peace. If you can’t move out, for your own sanity, move on. Mentally. This is not necessarily the easiest but it’s the most practical and feasible choice.
b. Change the other person
In reality, this is not even a choice because you can’t change the other person unless they are willing to change. I’ve listed it here for a reason though. Quoting Brené Brown, “You cannot shame or belittle people into changing their behaviors.” If you want any change in the other person, you can’t expect it by demeaning them. When they don’t give you what you expect from the relationship, you can’t have it by continuously whinging about it.
c. Change the person
Often, a lot of people go for this option only to enter into another unfulfilling relationship. When you decide the current person is no good and that you must have someone else, be very sure you’ve actually and honestly done whatever you could to save the relationship. That said, if you are in an abusive relationship, please don’t blame yourself. There’s no justification for abuse in a relationship. In that case, protect yourself and move out.
“I don’t know the solution,” a man said to his friend complaining about his wife. “I don’t know what to do with her.”
“Why, what’s wrong?”
“She has the worst memory in the world.”
“So, she forgets everything?”
“I wish,” the man sighed. “She remembers everything, man.”
Sometimes, it’s just about if you are willing to forget, if you are willing to overlook, sometimes, this is all it takes. Leo Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Life is mostly about relationships, professional, personal, interpersonal. The first relationship you have is with yourself. Respect and value it. Don’t torture yourself. People with high self-esteem possess one common trait: they value themselves, they value what they have to offer and they consider themselves worthy of love. They believe it. Compassion and care is part of their natural makeup. No doubt there are others too who have no empathy or compassion, they too claim they are worthy of love. The difference is they do it out of their ego and not self-esteem.
Go on! do something worthwhile with your thoughts, with your time, with your life. Peace of mind is not a blessing but a commitment, a choice. Choose carefully. If you are committed to being happy, no one can stop you.