Visibility Matters

People like to feel visible in their relationships. What does “visible” mean? It means walking the talk. It means acting on the premise that you love the person, since you have said that you do. It’s the opposite of that awful idea implied by that old song, “You only hurt the one you love.” If there’s one person (aside from yourself) that you should never hurt, it’s the one you love.

Love of another flows from love of self. This is the precise opposite of what we’re taught. We’re taught that selflessness leads to love. Now think about this. Lack of regard for self is supposed to lead to high regard for your marital partner? This is ridiculous. Nothing but love of self and love of life could ever lead to love of another. Why? You love this other person because this person embodies your deepest and most cherished values. That’s what love is. If you didn’t care about your own values, there would be no reason to love. You could randomly pick anyone off the street, and call it love. You love someone because that person is special. People are special because they embody or represent what’s important to you.

Love of self and love of life are interconnected. You cannot love yourself if you don’t love life. Similarly, you cannot love another if you don’t love life. The worst spouses are the people who don’t love life. People from unhappy childhoods remember their parents without fondness. They describe parents who were distracted, neglectful and even downright abusive. Whether such parents were deliberately mean or not, they were unhappy people. Unhappy people don’t make good parents. You shouldn’t become a parent unless you’re first happy with life, and with yourself. Your career and other basic needs ought to be tended to before you embark on creating a new life. Creating children may be a legal entitlement, but it’s not a moral one. The world is full of parents who have kids because “it’s what one does” or because their spouse wanted it. This is morally wrong. Nothing should be done in the absence of self-interest, especially having a child. This sounds shocking against the backdrop of conventional morality. But it’s plainly true. People who don’t want to have children, who resent the presence of children in their lives, harm that child and impair some of his or her functioning in adulthood. It isn’t necessary to be a perfect parent. It is necessary to want to be a parent.

When you’re loved by another, you feel visible. It doesn’t mean you get everything you want. It means that you know you’re important to the person who says he or she loves you. You’re not always agreed with or understood, but you’re always acknowledged as important. Your emotions are not necessarily accepted as factual truths, but the fact you have those emotions, and the fact you have a mind and a psyche of your own, does matter. If these things are not conveyed to you by someone who loves you, and if you don’t convey these things back, then something is wrong with the relationship.

This lack of visibility is what causes most relationship problems, when they occur. Sometimes there are affairs. Sometimes there is hateful arguing. Sometimes there is addictive or excessive behavior, such as alcohol or drug abuse. Sometimes there is a pile-up of insensitivities over time. All of these are symptoms, not causes. Most of them are symptoms of one (or both) partners not feeling visible.

Your relationship or your marriage is like a plant. You water it, and you tend to it, because you want to do so. You do so because it’s important to you. It’s logical and rational to attend to what’s important to you. If you fear, loathe or are  indifferent to what you claim to love, then the contradiction is yours. You owe it first to yourself, and also to the one you’re with, to identify and resolve that contradiction. Individual human beings do not thrive with contradictions. Contradictions are destructive and unsustainable over the long-run, and even in the short-run are anxiety-provoking and stressful in ways you might not always allow yourself to realize. If you’re unhappy in your relationship, and you know this for certain, then set yourself free. If you’re happy but don’t tend to the relationship the way that you know you should, then change your behavior — and start to enjoy the person you once loved, once again.