Do you always give more love than you get?

Many of us will remember a relationship from our past which makes us cringe in disbelief: one where we were so keen for the person we were dating to return our feelings, we ignored all the signs that they were losing interest, or just actively didn’t like us very much. Looking back, it can feel incomprehensible that we were so committed to making it work with a person so unwilling to give us their attention and affection. 

Hooked on rejection

How the experience of rejection can get you hooked and what you can do about it:

Heartbreak and rejection are universal human experiences that almost all adults will have been through. However, some of us frequently find ourselves engrossed in relationships where our partner doesn’t offer the same level of care, commitment or interest. Despite continued signs of ambivalence, we can’t get them out of our head. 

We may find ourselves constantly analysing and dissecting every interaction for signs that there is hope. This can encourage acceptance of “breadcrumbing” - the act of leading someone on by showing intermittent interest - giving just enough attention to keep you craving more. This can be coupled with a tolerance for disrespectful treatment and ignoring of red flags, which become normalised as the fantasy basis of the relationship increases. We may go on dates with people that seem kind, giving and reliable, but might dismiss them as “boring”. Often, this pattern is perpetuated by an inability to create healthy boundaries, plus a deep disconnect from our own needs. 

All of this focus on the other person can lead us to hide certain parts of ourselves, in an effort to appease them. We may then find ourselves depending more and more on their attention and approval. 

Making sense of it all 

There are many reasons, both social and psychological, why so many people are inclined to deepen their investment in a love-interest the more they feel them pulling away. 

Most of us are familiar with the experience of not being able to work out whether someone likes us or not. We may fixate on “mixed messages”, try to decode their meaning with friends, and can often be left with uncomfortable doubts after long periods of wondering what a person’s true feelings for us are.  Even in the absence of any signs that they really care about us, we keep looking. The more we do this, the more we become invested in the person. Over time, we mistake our effort and concentration on the relationship for an indication of our deep attraction and connection with them. Consequently, the greater the felt rejection is, the more convinced we can become of their value and appeal. 

We are all constantly making judgments about the people and events in the world around us. We are also aware that others will be making judgments about us. In social psychology, the concept of “reflected appraisal” refers to a process where we imagine how others see us. Much of the time, the way we imagine that others perceive us is the way we perceive ourselves. In other words, we begin to base our self-esteem not on how we feel, but on how we gauge that others view us. When we look at romantic desire and persistence through this lens, it’s easy to see how when we have elevated a person’s desirability, irrespective of their regard for us, we may want to prove to ourselves and others that we “deserve” them. 

Just the act of longing for someone is enough to release highly pleasurable amounts of dopamine, sometimes creating feelings of euphoria.

At times, routine and predictability can simply seem dull when compared to the thrill of the chase. This can then lead to drama and uncertainty being equated with the intensity of attraction, which can encourage the active seeking out of partners who are specifically avoidant and distancing. The problem with most highs is that they eventually lead to a crash. 

This pattern can also be connected to the ideals many of us hold about finding a partner; the narrative (and some would say myth or fantasy) of romantic love being the result of something we have to suffer for. Our social conditioning does a lot to perpetuate this - everything from fairytales, popular film and television storylines, to romantic novels and even self-help books, can contribute to an idea that a tumultuous and challenging chase is a sign of passion and meaning, that will eventually lead to a dependable and connected relationship. This can strengthen the belief that if we are willing to show someone that we are unconditionally there for them, eventually they will return our feelings. 

Most of these experiences can be exacerbated by a lack of self-esteem and the ability to create boundaries. For some people, yearning for a love object may have started in childhood, when a parent was unavailable. If we are not convinced of our own lovability, it is easy to see how we can condone or even enjoy the sensation of someone who pushes us away.

Some people find themselves dreaming of a person who changes for them and has the power to rescue them or take away their pain. For those stuck in this loop of seeking out people who push them away, relationships can become enmeshed and absorbed, with one person continuing to give in the hope of receiving. It can become increasingly easy to confuse compromise and giving, with a compromise of self leading to a loss of identity. 

Finally, if individuals have a history of rejection with previous partners, they can endure a very similar story, holding out hope for a different, “happy ending”. This experience can create a sensation that they keep dating “the same person” over and over. 

7 tips to manage the pattern

  1. Begin to take notice of what specifically maintains the pattern for you. 

  2. Is the relationship improving your mood, your self-esteem and your ability to achieve other things? Is it giving you more of the feelings you want to be having? 

  3. What proportion of the time in the relationship is enjoyable and fun? 

  4. What do you want from a relationship? Affirmation? Companionship? Passion? Connection? How much of these are you getting?

  5. Notice other relationships in your life that are based on reciprocity and respect, that are not just with a romantic partner. 

  6. Notice your behaviours and actions that are congruent with your values, the ones that make you feel good about yourself. 

  7. Ask yourself what your bottom line is in a relationship. If you are giving more than you are getting, is this the way you want it to be? 

Talking through your patterns of behaviour when it comes to relationships can shine a light on the narrative you are telling yourself and the core self-beliefs you hold. A professional counsellor can help to uncover these and support you in finding a healthy approach to relationships.  

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Lucy Hathaway MBACP MNCS

I am a counsellor and psychotherapist living in London. I take an interest in working with the challenges that modern life can pose, including worries about love and relationships, making life changes, online dating and social media, as well as anxiety and depression.… Read more

Written by Lucy Hathaway MBACP MNCS

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