For over a decade, I’ve worked with clients as a relationship therapist and clients commonly wonder, “Is love supposed to hurt?”
If you wonder as well if love is supposed to hurt, please know this is understandable. Many relationships are truly painful. In both my observations, and personal history, I know relationships are often filled with pain, confusion, conflict, drama, and chaos.
But is suffering the way love is supposed to be?
The short answer is: No, love is not supposed to hurt. We may often mistake painful relationships for love, but this is not the true essence of love.
Love, in a healthy relationship, is closely tied to trust. When we can trust another person, fundamentally, we know they have our best interest in mind.
Many of us, myself included, have dated people that, deep down, we did not feel truly valued our wellbeing. In the truest sense, there was not trust in that relationship. And without trust, we do not have true love.
We can feel pain in a healthy relationship
Of course, in a healthy relationship, you will still experience sadness, disappointment, and anger. This is natural. You will still have misunderstandings in a healthy relationship. You will even argue at times.
If your partner is going through a hard time, you may feel scared, in a healthy relationship. When your partner leaves a mess in the kitchen, you may feel angry in a healthy relationship. If your partner travels for work, you may miss them and feel the pain of that longing, in a healthy relationship. But this is different than a pattern of pain in a relationship.
Pain is the exception, not the rule, in healthy relationships
When a relationship is truly loving, we are not left consistently hurting. Pain may come and go at various times like waves in the ocean. However, in a healthy relationship, pain is not the standard experience. Rather, it’s the exception that makes the rule.
In fact, research shows that in healthy relationships, couples have 20 positive interactions to every 1 negative interaction. Even when they argue, couples will have 5 positive interactions to every 1 negative one in a healthy relationship. (Positive interactions in an argument include validating the other person’s emotions and taking accountability for how you were offensive or hurtful.)
Healthy love uplifts you
In a healthy relationship, you feel seen, valued, respected and content most of the time.
“A healthy relationship is a reciprocal one whereby both members feel accurately seen and carried in the mind of the other. Where both parties feel safe and trusted. Where no one has to prove their worth. Where both parties graciously attend to the bids for love and understanding.”Wendy T. Behary, Disarming the Narcissist
Your partner does not actively cause you harm in a healthy relationship. Of course, inadvertently, all people make mistakes and can be offensive but it’s not intentional or consistent in a healthy relationship.
Healthy love never leaves you feeling hurt and confused most of the time.
True love never destroys your sense of self-trust or self-esteem. Rather, you feel uplifted by a healthy relationship. In a secure relationship, you can take healthy risks like starting your own business with more ease because you have a safe place to land at home.
Mistaking pain for love
Yet if you have fallen into the trap of mistaking pain for love, it’s not your fault.
Growing up if you were hurt, abused, neglected, or rejected by people who told you they loved you, then, of course, you learned that “love” is pain. Or you may have learned that love is pain by what you witnessed. For example, if one of your parent’s never spoke up and walked on eggshells around your other parent you learned that “love” is silent suffering.
Or if your parents fought all the time with name calling, criticism, and yelling, you learned that it’s “love” to attack your partner.
Learning love is a battlefield
If you have experienced enough wounding in your family growing up, you likely learned relationships are a game of victimizing and being victimized. In this game, one or both partners, mistreat one another.
You play this game any time you get stuck in a pattern of analyzing someone’s mixed signals. Or if when you fixate on why someone ghosted you and hope that they return.
Related: I got ghosted and it hurts
When you justify why he didn’t text, or make plans with you, or do what he promised, you play this game.
Any time you overly empathize with your partner’s hurt and minimize your own pain and needs you fall into the trap of believing love is war. This may be done, for example, by excusing his poor treatment of you because of his painful childhood and completely disregarding your own wounds.
Having compassion for yourself
If you notice that you have mistakenly love for suffering, it’s incredibly important you practice self-compassion.
It’s not your fault that you have picked painful relationships and mistakenly these for love. If you consider your wounds around what you learned about love, your behaviors make sense.
In fact, Bessel van der Kolk in his powerful book, The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, explains:
“Many traumatized people seem to seek out experiences that would repel most of us, and patients often complain about a vague sense of emptiness and boredom when they are not angry, under duress, or involved in some dangerous activity.”
Your trauma causes you to recreate emotional pain to feel alive. You are also drawn to what’s familiar naturally as all our brains mistakenly make up that what’s familiar must be what’s “safe.”
Your trauma becomes your dating template
The wounds you experienced around love become the template for what you are attracted to in a relationship.
As you are naturally drawn to what’s familiar, you may find that until you heal your trauma, you are attracted to people who recreate the pain you experienced growing up.
I grew up in an alcoholic home and so, in my 20s, it makes sense that I was deeply drawn to a man who struggled with alcoholism amongst other issues. This was a familiar relationship to me. His ups and downs made sense. Whenever I saw him, I did not know if he would be his “good” self or his “mean” self and this was incredibly familiar.
“We’re programmed for suffering, not joy. The masochism is built in at a very early age. You’re supposed to work and suffer – and the trouble is: you believe it.”― Erica Jong, Fear of Flying
Furthermore, I realized later, that my pattern of prioritizing words over actions also made sense. Growing up, my mother always told me how much she loved me and that I saved her life. Yet, she also was often cruel to me. Her favorite nickname for me growing up, for example, was “bitch.” She also failed to protect me from abuse that was going on in the home.
Therefore, it was familiar for the men I dated to tell me they loved me without ever showing me love.
You can create a new template
For most of my dating life, my template was to attract men who said incredibly romantic things to me but were inconsistent at best and emotionally abusive at the worst.
Yet, I began to heal from my trauma.
In part, you heal trauma by acknowledging your wounds. You must first acknowledge how your trauma impacted your ability to have healthy, safe, intimate relationships.
This act of naming your wounds and how they created your dating template is validating and hopefully, inspires self-compassion.
Then you have a variety of healing options available to you which include meditation, yoga, and therapy. My own healing included all three of these modalities, but EMDR therapy was especially necessary. This is because EMDR allows you to see reality more clearly.
For example, just because I had no concept of healthy love, I realized I was not doomed to stay in unhealthy relationships. My past happened but my future was still unwritten, and I could find a healthy, loving, safe partner – which I eventually did.
Seeing what’s possible
Trauma both distorts your sense of what’s possible as well as what you deserve.
Yet, you can heal. Part of healing includes learning what a healthy relationship entails so you may discern from your past attractions to what’s truly in your highest and best.
In a healthy relationship, you will never have to excuse, minimize, rationalize, or deny someone’s abuse. When a relationship is good for your wellbeing, you never feel you are disrespecting yourself by staying.
In an unhealthy relationship, you may notice that you cannot truly love yourself and the other person. If you stay, you will cause yourself more suffering.
However, in a healthy relationship, you are on the same team. There are no winners or losers when the relationship is good for you as you are both working together to support one another’s best interest.
You can heal. Regardless of the relationship choices you’ve made in the past which have caused you hurt, you can pick a new path.
The best way to highlight this is with this wonderful poem which I highly encourage you to read (and re-read) to inspire hope: Autobiography in 5 short chapters.
I am sending you so much love for your healing journey!
About The Author, Krystal
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. She has focused her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She teaches the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.
This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.
Her third book, Self-Love Made Possible: The 5-Step Guide to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy and Become Your Own Best Friend will be released late 2022. To be notified of its release, please join the waitlist here.
Her course, Confidently Authentic: Stop People Pleasing and Start Being True to Yourself, provides the skills necessary to have a healthy relationship. This course features over a year of relationship skills you would learn in therapy. Students share this course has been “life changing.”
Each week, she answers your relationship questions from a place of expertise and compassion. To submit your relationship questions, please DM us @confidentlyauthentic.com or you may send an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to submit your question.