When Love Isn't Enough - The Open Secret of Conflict in Couples


Of course, true love is always enough when it comes to our relationship with ourselves, but what of it in the case of intimate relationship with a partner, husband or wife? In this realm of relationship with another, our underlying, undying love for each other may just not be enough in itself to sustain the relationship in a way where both people feel satisfied and connected enough to stick it out.

One reason this appears to be so is because unlike a mother's love for her infant or perhaps even her toddler, most of our embodied love as it plays out in relationship with a partner in adulthood appears to be, to varying degrees, conditional. If a mother's love for  her baby is unconditional, ours for our lover is very rarely practiced as such! Even if, at core, our true nature or essence may love our partner unconditionally just as they are, from our relative and conditioned personality, this just isn't true! We have needs and preferences from this conditioned place, which is not wrong or problematic at all, just a natural part of conditioning. As a personality, as a 'separate self', we do have needs, preferences, some of them very strong, and even of course, deal-breakers and bottom lines. 

I want to throw it out there that, like so many things that seem to be true, we are in fact taught its relative opposite. In fact, there seems to be a 2for1 special floating around out there in our collective conditioning, which states that:

1) Falling in love with another will inevitably lead to living 'happily ever after'

2) And, that once in love, that in itself is an absolute sign that that love is enough, one way or another, to sustain and render that relationship healthy and life-long.

'Love is All You Need'. It's even, of course, in our most beloved music. Sometimes even The Beatles may have gotten it wrong! We need that love to be embodied, expressed, related to us to a degree that is at a 'tipping point', or the love that is there feels buried, and thus is not felt. This usually leads, over the years, to built-up resentment, contempt, and defensiveness, all signifying varying degrees of a lack of emotional safety. 

Finally, in my experience of working as a couples therapist for the past 9 years, I have seen the communication breakdown play out again and again, and the spectrum of fighting that goes along with that. To the point of this article, I've seen this play out between people who deeply love each other. I've helped many of them embody that love more and more through the learning and unlearning process that is couples therapy. Many have since grown together and are living more and more mutually satisfying relationships and lives, and some who have had just too much buit up resentment, and thus a deeply toxified dynamic in their relationship, have broken up. It would seem to me that love is, of course, fundamental in a healthy relationship. And yet, it is not the only pillar on which relationship stands. Those of openness, trust, and communication are just as important in order to live a truly nourishing and vitally sustaining intimate relationship. 
Stay tuned for my next article in a few weeks where I'll be offering some supportive techniques on how to take breaks and nourish yourself while in the midst of a fight or conflict with your intimate partner.


Tom Rhodes, MFT has an office in the San Francisco neighborhood of Noe Valley, where he provides psychotherapy & couples counseling. He specializes in working with people suffering from issues including anxiety, panic attacks, spiritual crisis, break-up crisis, and couples conflicts.  He can be reached at 415-574-5799, or at tom@selfinquirytherapy.com.