We are wired to seek secure, dependable love. Attachment theory describes this instinct as deeply rooted in our biology. And yet for many of us, receiving expressions of love from a romantic partner may feel downright uncomfortable.
We cope with the discomfort as best we can. We change the subject or laugh awkwardly. Perhaps we muddle through a thank you and turn inward.
When we have an attachment history of unpredictable affection from a parent or previous partner, accepting tenderness may be intertwined with memories of sadness, rejection, or fear.
So what to do when receiving love feels a bit daunting?
Here are three steps you can practice:
1. Notice what feelings come up when a partner expresses love.
Do you feel overwhelmed, fearful, or anxious? No need to fix the feelings. Just notice.
Now, observe what thoughts come up. Thoughts might include: “I don’t deserve love,” “I’m not good enough,” or “They might say they love me now, but wait ‘til they really know me!”
Again, no need to fix. Your only job is to notice the story you are telling yourself.
2. Gently acknowledge to yourself that this “receiving love” thing is tough.
Think of what you might say to a close friend-- now say that to yourself! Examples of compassionate self-talk: “This feels scary,” “You’ve been through a lot so this feels uncomfortable,” or even, “You feel overwhelmed right now and that’s okay.” Research shows that self-compassion is not self-indulgence. Rather, it helps us think more clearly and connect with others.
3. When you’re ready, and if you feel safe, share the feelings and thoughts that you’ve noticed with your partner.
Let them know that receiving love isn’t so simple for you. Invite them to have a conversation about how you’d like to feel when receiving loving words or actions. Do you hope to feel more calm, less anxious, or more joy?
Brainstorm with your partner. How can they support you to more comfortably receive their love? If you’re not ready to say it all out loud (and that’s just fine!), try journaling or keeping notes on your phone as a first step toward a conversation.
Notice → Self-Compassion → Journal → Share.
You got this.