I have been a family therapist for a very long time. I should have figured it out sooner, but only yesterday I realized that I had been missing something very important when thinking about certain types of cases.
From time to time I would have cases where one family member would say about another “if s/he really loved me s/he would…”
Tests of loyalty, to me, seem so beside the point. In fact, they seem foolish. Why would we expect someone to “prove” they love us by performing a specific task or acting in a manner we prescribe? The people we love are separate from us. They have their own loves and hates, likes and dislikes, ways of expressing themselves. They show us love in their own way.
However, in this type of a relationship, they may show warmth and consideration, but heaven forbid, if they fail the litmus test the other has created, the whole relationship is at risk.
Sometimes, couples, in order to feel more appreciated and loved, have to adjust the ways in which they show love. She would like flowers. He shows love by filling up the car. He would like homemade soup. She lights romantic candles. They clearly love each other, but by asking for the show of love to be more in line with their own concept of love, both members could feel more valued and cared for.
But that is different than a test of love.
Tests of love usually involve one person expecting the other to know what s/he wants and to do it, despite any obstacles. And then, if it doesn’t happen, well, then “s/he doesn’t really love me.”
But let’s look a little closer…
Who is making the relationship contingent on specific behaviors. It’s not the “uncaring” husband or wife or friend or relative. It’s the person who has decided that the relationship consists of a series of tests all of which must be passed for it to continue to be loving.
Who has the problem?
As a therapist, it seems to me that the person who is making the statement “If you really loved me…” is in fact the person with the problem. S/he has not learned the nature of relationships. Relationships are formed between two individuals, both of whom have wants, needs, and limitations. Appreciating the other person as a distinct individual is the only way to have a truly satisfying relationship.
When ultimatums exist in relationships, it is not the person who fails to meet them who is the problem.