Loving and Liking: The Importance of Not Liking your Spouse

In our first blog on the loving/not liking phenomenon we discussed how important it is to distinguish liking and loving. Both of these phenomena are of central importance in having successful relationships as well as have an emotionally satisfying life. Simply stated:

  • Loving is natural and often immediate. Loving is most immediate and natural with family members.
  • Liking is the result of something shared: this can be an idea or belief, an experience, or something else that is held in common.
  • Liking comes more slowly and is most common among friends.
  • It is possible to like someone whom you may not love.
  • It is possible to love someone whom you really don’t like. This is the real challenge in relationships, particularly when the person you love but don’t necessarily like is a family member.

A few more things about this business of liking:

  • “Not liking” is not the same as disliking. You can actively dislike someone for various reasons, usually having to do with someone’s character. Disliking someone tends to be complete: you really don’t like the person. This tends to be fairly rare.
  • More often, there are elements of the person you don’t like. You may actually like the person as a whole but not certain aspects of her life. These could be minor things like her table manners, the grammatical errors she routinely makes. Or the dislike could be her political position or how she behaves in a group.
  • Both liking and loving are feelings. We discussed the centrality of feelings in the Feelings I, II, III, and IV blogs. Feelings are a murky combination of emotions, thought, and intuition. They are central to life. They are close to our souls.

One of the things we do with our clients/patients is to help them distinguish the liking and loving phenomena and how they often overlap. Understanding the similarities, differences, and overlap of liking and loving is particularly helpful in spousal and other partner relationships. We have often said to couples, “You got married for the wrong reason: you loved each other.” We make this statement somewhat tongue-in-cheek knowing that it wonderful to love one’s partner and that most people do, indeed, get married because they are in love, at least in America. Yet, getting married primarily, often singularly, because you love someone, does not necessarily make for a satisfying marriage. Very often, sometimes within days after a marriage, people begin to feel a “not like” or even the “dislike” for the person they just married. Then you have a huge dilemma. But why do people discover that they don’t like each other even though they may deeply love each other? The reason, as sages throughout time have told us: “love is blind”.

Yes, love is blind, and it is wonderful in its blindness. When you come to love someone, you are not necessarily interested in everything about this person. You don’t care what s/he does for a living, whether they like baseball, or know how to cook. You certainly don’t think about whether they have ever done the dishes. You just love the person. Wonderful. But also, blind. Love is certainly blind when you immediately love your child when s/he is born. The blindness of loving such a wonderful creation of God is nothing but beautiful, soulful, and perfectly honest. You don’t think about changing diapers for three years or being awakened at 4 AM for the fourth time in the night. You just love your child. Wonderful. But also, blind.

Love can be “blind” when we don’t attend to the whole picture, or better stated, the eventual picture. Blind love is more about a soul-filled moment of perfection. You can really love those Grizzly cubs before they grow up and threaten your life, or love puppies and kittens before they poop on your new carpet. When we love things, especially young living things, we are loving the purity of what is in the moment. We can easily love the stars on a clear night, spring flowers in a mountain meadow, or the call of a loon on a quiet lake because they are representations of some level of perfection. Loving your newborn child is a kind of “perfect love” that is pure and immediate and does not take into account for any potential danger or disappointment. Falling in love with another person can equally be “perfect love” but fail to take into account inevitable disappointments.

We all have things, experiences, and people we “just love” without rational reason. My wife and I “love” the moment we hear Pacobel’s cannon. It is a representation of our “perfect love” experienced on our wedding day. We all “just love” experiences, memories, and people in different ways and times, but all love “blindly,” as we should.  We would never want to give up this glorious experience of such random loving. But when it comes to spousal like relationships, this grand experience of loving can get us in deep trouble.

Here’s what happens. In the blindness of love we see the immediate physical, sexual or otherwise ethereal qualities of another person. And in that immediate attraction we automatically disregard the plethora of differences that might otherwise be caution signs. This blindness does not help us see the things that might be substantially different between us, some of them quite profound, some less significant. The blindness of love convinces us that nothing else matters and whatever “else” there might be, it will be as easy to dismiss as it is easy to love. Most of the things we don’t like or dislike in someone else have to do with honest differences, not flaws. And in the initial embrace of blind love, these differences seem inconsequential.

When we see couples in our office for a marital assessment we always do what we call a “friendly diagnosis”. Our friendly diagnosis identifies each individual’s positive characteristics. This includes gender, personality, cultural, spiritual and intellectual strengths. Once we have identified each person’s strengths, we frame them as “preferences.” In this framework we can then compare these preferences between the partners. What have felt like “problems” to the couple can then be seen as differences. These problems when viewed through the lens of preferences help each partner to see how despite how much they love one another, there are things that they dislike about each other. Then we can talk about the “not liking” phenomenon because we have some content to the discussion rather than a wholesale not liking or disliking.

When couples learn that they actually dislike their partners for some reason, the dislike becomes more palatable, and even useful in how they see each other, hear each other, and love each other. Furthermore, when they accept that there are aspects of their partners that they don’t like, this dislike diminishes in content and in fury, sometimes to the place where they can tease one another about something not liked without hostility or resentment. They also come to realize that some of the things they don’t like not only are foundational to their partners, but that they are good things…that they just happen to not like.

A few suggestions:

  • Note that you love your partner.
  • Note immediately that you want to say things you don’t like about him or her.
  • Identify something very specific that you don’t like. This will usually be something they say, don’t say, do, or don’t do.
  • Don’t tell your partner this thing that you don’t like. Just sit on it for a day or two.
  • Notice how you “don’t like” diminishes over time…but you still don’t like when they…
  • You might find yourself identifying things you like about your partner. Make note of them.
  • You might notice that some of the things you don’t like seem to be intrinsically related to what you do like about your partner.
  • Then it might be time to talk to your partner: about loving him/her, about liking some things, and about not liking some things.

Further Reading

Our book, The Positive Power of Sadness

Previous blogs on Feelings and Loving and Liking I: Not the Same

Forthcoming Loving and Liking on Children and The Spectrum of liking/Not liking