Why Love Hurts

Why do intimate relationships cause us pain


Imagine that each one of us is a tree with a light on top.

Imagine that our roots are planted in soil. Now there are many ingredients in that soil. But some of what is in that soil is the pain of all of humanity stretching back to the dawn of time. As I said, this is not the only thing that is in the soil, it is just some of what is in there. Some of that pain gets into our roots, and that becomes our personal emotional pain.

We do all that we can to keep that pain under the surface, so that we don’t feel it. That’s understandable. Who wants to feel pain? Besides, we need to get on with life. We’ve got stuff to do.

Then, nature provides us with the best “bait and switch.” We meet someone and we fall in love. We sell ourselves the story that finding this person will finally take all our pain away.

For a while this turns out to be true. For the first time in our life we are understood, seen, given the love we’ve always wanted, and are able to give the love that we have in our hearts.

Then something strange happens. It seems like this person, who was supposed to be the source of our happiness, instead, starts causing us pain. What is happening?

Let’s go back to our image of the tree with the ligh on top. When we get close to someone, it draws our pain — that is in our roots under the soil planted in the soil of pain — which we have successfully kept hidden — up to the surface, so we feel it. That flood light at the top of the plant? It starts to glow. That glow means we are feeling our pain.

At this point we conflate proximity with cause. What does that mean? Here is what we believe: I get close to you, I feel pain, therefore you must be causing me that pain. Wrong. It is just that getting close to someone acts as a catalyst, as a wicking agent, it just serves to draw the pain that is already in you, that comes from the pain of all humanity stretching back to the dawn of time, up to the surface so you can feel it.

Nature has to offer you the best ‘bait’ — passionate love — to get you to feel the thing you’ve been trying
to avoid feeling your whole life — ‘the switch –’ your pain.

Why would nature do that? Because nature uses pain as a signal. Pain is nature’s way of getting our attention. As Woody Allen said, why couldn’t God just have installed bells? Because we would have ignored them. Nature uses pain as a symptom to tell us that in some way we are not living out our destiny. We are not living up to our potential. We are not being that which we are meant to be. Pain tells us we need to grow, change, improve, realize ourselves, in some way. Pain is nature’s way of telling us we have been avoiding something.

So in our relationships, when we feel pain, we take it to mean that there is something wrong with our partner that needs to be fixed. We believe that if we could only fix them, our pain would go away. But really, it is the opposite. When we feel pain in a relationship, it is a signal that there is a wound in us that needs to be healed. It is a signal from nature that we are not in alignment with nature’s law, which is to become that which we are meant to be.

How do we know what that is? We find out from our partner. All we need to do is ask our partner the question, “Now that we are close, what is it that I do that brings up your pain the most?” Then we know what it is within us that needs to grow.

If we find ourselves reacting defensively and with blame when our partner answers that question, we know they have hit the right button.

For example, if your partner feels their pain when you yell at them, your yelling is coming from the wounded part of you that needs to be healed. In order to stop yelling, you need to go to that hurt part of yourself, feel it, and heal it. If your partner gets upset because you lie to them, your lying is coming from the wounded part of yourself. If your partner feels their pain because you have a hard time saying “I have a problem,” that difficulty is coming from your source of pain.

Changing that behavior is the hardest thing to do because it will mean going to the deepest source of our pain. But if we are willing to go there, we can heal and give our partner what they need most from us. It will get us the fulfilling love relationship that is our true birthright. Isn’t that worth a little suffering?

Your choice is the misery of a stuck relationship or going through the dark cave to face your pain, growing and changing, and having the great life and relationship the universe wants you to have. You decide.

Dr. Glenn Berger is a psychotherapist, relationship counselor, business and artist’s coach, and young person’s mentor. He sees patients in New York City, in Mt. Kisco, NY, and around the world by Skype.

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  1. I belive, that learnig to live and to love is our destination.

  2. There is really nothing new in the world, but each one of us has our own unique way of interpreting “what is.” I really liked your article, your perspective and the hopeful way you present how couples can help each other heal. So many times couples lose hope… thinking that their relationship cannot be healed. So much to learn…so little education on this subject! Thanks for the education!

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