When Love is Kind: Mutuality in Relationships

Many people ask me, “How will I know if I'm in love?” Answer: Anyone who's in love usually knows it; the real question should be are we mutually in love, or am I wasting my time? If you want to be secure in your primary relationship, knowing how to create mutuality and work together greatly increases the chance that you'll make it as a couple. When I’m counseling couples on the verge of divorce, it’s amazing how establishing mutuality allows the love to come back.

Mutuality Prevents Heartache

     Hundreds of years ago, a lyricist wrote:
               When Love is kind, cheerful and free,
               Love’s sure to find welcome from me.
               But should Love bring heartache and pang,
               Tears and such things, Love can go hang.


Love that is not mutual is the kind that brings “heartache and pang”—and can leave you wondering how you ever left yourself open for such agony.

Mutual love, however, means you can feel secure that you both love and are loved equally, and are approximately equal in your energy for staying together. There are four major areas of mutuality that must be present if a relationship is to succeed and grow: love, benefit, trust and support.

Mutual Love: Love is the constantly renewing energy that keeps a commitment alive. When both partners feel loved, and both feel appreciated for being loving, commitment can thrive.

Mutual trust: As promises are kept and feelings respected, trust in each other grows. In order for equality to exist, both partners must experience roughly the same degree of trust.

Mutual Benefit: The benefit we gain is based on what each person knows he or she will get out of the relationship, and how each person is enhanced by being in the relationship. While each partner may perceive different benefits to differing degrees, and may value certain benefits differently, the sum total of the relationship must feel similarly beneficial to both partners; if not, unequal power results, and resentment will develop.

Mutual Support: Although relationships can involve a certain amount of stress, when we feel committed, we feel willing to face the difficulties and the challenges of working things out. Implicit in a loving relationship is the understanding that you and your partner will support each other—emotionally, financially, mentally, spiritually, verbally—to the best of your ability, through both good times and bad.

When the above four conditions exist, the mutuality necessary for true love exists. Recognizing this is especially important if you have past relationship experience in which your needs have not been met, you felt unloved, or you were abandoned. Evaluating your mutuality is also a good way to discover whether you are ready to commit to a relationship, or need more time to build. If you're paying attention to whether you and your partner both feel love, trust, benefit, and support, your intuition will probably be a pretty good indicator of whether mutuality truly exists. Most people report that they are aware when their relationships feel unfair and unequal.

To Build Mutuality

If the love, trust, benefit or support in your current relationship seem unbalanced, the following guidelines can help you create mutuality where you need it.

To build mutual love: Let each other know when you feel loved, and show your appreciation for it. If you’re not getting the kind of love you want, you can say so, and negotiate for what you want. If you’re worried that your partner is not feeling loved or appreciated, don’t let it pass. Ask about it, and let your partner know you’re willing to solve the problem together.

To build mutual trust: Only make agreements that you can actually keep. If something unavoidable or unforseen is going to prevent you from keeping a promise, renegotiate in advance. In order to have love that works, you must be willing to say no when you mean no, and help your partner feel free to do the same. When you can trust each other to say no, you will also trust each other when you say yes.

To build mutual benefit: Ask yourselves what's in the relationship for each of you. Consider whether the decisions you are making will benefit both of you. For example, if one of you decides moving is a great idea, what will the benefit be to your partner?

To build mutual support: Discuss what support means to each of you (for example, support can be emotional, verbal, or financial in nature). Experiment with different ways of giving support to each other, and discuss how supportive they feel.

If you’re feeling that one or more of the criteria for mutuality—love, trust, benefit or support—is not shared or equal, say so. It's always best to tell your partner, no matter how uncomfortable you may feel about doing so. If you do not, resentment and anger can build and, sooner or later, explode; what is perhaps only a small and easily solvable problem no can thus become a major issue later on, blown out of all proportion.

© 2010 Tina B. Tessina
adapted from: How To Be a Couple and Still Be Free (New Page)ISBN #1-56414-549-2 and The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again (Wiley) ISBN#0-02-862454-8


Author Bio:
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California, with over 30 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction (New Page); How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free (New Page); The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again (Wiley) and The Real 13th Step: Discovering Self-Confidence, Self-Reliance and Independence Beyond the Twelve Step Programs (New Page.) Her newest books are Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage and The Commuter Marriage. She publishes “Happiness Tips from Tina”, an e-mail newsletter, and the “Dr. Romance Blog” http://drromance.typepad.com/dr_romance_blog/ and has hosted "The Psyche Deli: delectable tidbits for the subconscious" a weekly hour long radio show. Online, she is “Dr. Romance” with columns at Divorce360.com, Healthapalooza.com, and Yahoo!Personals, as well as a Redbook Love Network expert. Dr. Tessina guests frequently on radio, and such TV shows as “Oprah”, “Larry King Live” and ABC news. Follow her on www.twitter.com/tinatessina or www.facebook.com/tinatessina
 
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