Psychoanalysis suggests there is a dark side to our desire to take care of each other. Our subconscious communicates what we really feel and our partner may get sick of being emotionally blackmailed. Becoming more independent and giving our loved ones time and space, can actually be the best way to show affection.
Here are four tips to help you balance your attentions:
‘Examine your altruistic impulses’, says psychoanalyst Jean-Michel Hirt. In our caring for each other, fear of loss or betrayal can be a powerful driver. ‘What is consciously a good intention (to please your partner) may be spoiled by secret, subconscious motives,’ he says, ‘such as the desire to dominate, to make your partner grateful and dependent, and even to hide one’s aggression with thoughtfulness and gifts.’ If you are often too generous and find yourself demanding ‘Look how much I do for you’, it is worth taking a good look at your intentions.
‘Look after yourself first’, says psychoanalyst Moussa Nabati. ‘The more we have been nourished emotionally and made to feel secure, the more we are able to look after ourselves and the less needy we will be to others,’ she says. If you are short on self-esteem, ‘you must learn how to mother yourself, identifying your wounds and attempting to cure them, rather than transforming your partner into your therapist.’ Both partners must be able to flourish in their roles, equally caring for each other without exaggerated self-sacrifice, ‘otherwise the balance of the relationship is upset.’
‘Show you care by keeping a low profile’, says psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Stephanie Hahusseau. Taking care of your partner is less about what you can give than about the distance you maintain. You can actually measure the quality of your care by how little it burdens your loved one. ‘Understanding the other person’s emotions is one of the pillars of intimacy,’ says Hahusseau, ‘but before that can happen, you must understand your own.’ She recommends a three-step process of introspection and self-centring: (1) allow yourself to feel the emotion that’s sweeping through you; (2) identify it (anger, sadness, embarrassment…); (3) and finally accept it by saying it out loud (‘Here and now I feel sad, angry…’).
‘Cultivate positive emotions’, says Hahusseau. ‘Studies show that happy couples practise what we call positive reinforcement,’ she says. ‘They express gratitude, pay each other compliments, reminisce about the good times they spent together.’ And every couple can adopt these practices. Think of happy experiences and your partner’s good points. Doing it together or separately is just as good.