One of the most difficult things in relationship is when others fail to give us the love that we want or need. I see so much pain when parents aren’t sympathetic, when siblings aren’t thoughtful, when spouses aren’t affirming, or when bosses aren’t responsive. For myself and several of my clients, the following analogy has been very helpful;
What would happen if you went looking for milk in a hardware store?
That would be pretty frustrating.
What if you tried really, really hard to find milk in the hardware store?
I’d get even more frustrated.
What if you went to the manager and requested milk?
The manager would tell me that it wasn’t going to happen.
And what if you insisted?
The manager would tell me to go down the street to the grocery store where they carry milk and stop trying to get it at the hardware store.
The analogy forces an uncomfortable grappling to take place. Are we trying to get milk in a hardware store when we try to get affirmation from a spouse who is not capable of giving it? Are we attempting to get a type of love that our loved one just does not carry? Some people may not be capable of the kind of love that we desire—perhaps their own wounding has blocked their capacity for it, either permanently or temporarily. Others may be consciously or unconsciously withholding the type of love we want out of their own hurt or defensiveness.
Some of the most poignant and productive tears I have witnessed in my office are when my clients really face their futile attempts to get certain responses from people who are not delivering them. The grieving process can begin in a new way when this level of acceptance takes place. And then something profound can happen; people can start to see what love their loved ones are capable of sharing. (After all, light fixtures and lumber have their place in our lives too.) And they also take a new responsibility for getting the milk they need from sources that actually provide it. Grief and radical acceptance unleash a new adult maturity that can be surprisingly freeing.
There is nothing wrong with wanting or even needing love and it is legitimately painful when it doesn’t come from our beloveds. But we can cause ourselves untold suffering when we try to get love from sources that we think ought to provide it but who just don’t. This is where our own relational and spiritual resources come in. Who are the milk providers in your life? Do you have access to God in a way that allows you to receive what you most need directly?