Couples Counseling New York City

Can You Accept Real Love?

Colette Dowling, LCSW

Author of the following article on couples counseling and real love, NYC psychotherapist Colette Dowling, LCSW, has also written The Cinderella Complex: Women's Hidden Fear of Independence, a best seller in twenty-three languages, and other books on relationhip issues.

The following article on couples counseling and couples therapy is by NYC psychotherapist Colette Dowling,LCSW. Colette is a therapist with an office in the Flat Iron district of New York City.

      Couples counseling or couples therapy is a place to explore our hidden feelings about love.  Much of the confusion in our relationships is related to these hidden feeling. When we can recognize the feelings and learn from them, our relationships improve.

            I have found, in my couples counseling over the years, that there's a lot of misunderstanding about what love actually is. Of course it's supposed to just come naturally, but so often it doesn't. One thing I heark, frequently is "It's not supposed to be this hard," and in a way that'[s true.

            Real love is something we worry about finding, but the true difficulty may be in accepting it when we do. Love can be hard to take. I know this seems counterintuitive, but if you really think about it, it could change your whole understanding of love. Couples counseling offers a safe place to think about such things, and perhaps change forever the way you feel about love and intimacy.

             All of us have been wounded in some way, whether by early love relationships or later ones. Naturally, we create defenses to avoid getting hurt again, and unfortunately this includes defenses against love. Real love, when we've gone so long without, can cause anxiety and sadness. Love hurts, as the song goes. So unconsciously we may be motivated to keep it at bay.

             Not you? Well, think again. You might surprise yourself.

            As those who enter couples counseling are often surprised to discover, being truly loved tilts our world and creates anxiety, even panic. Sometimes it’s easier to settle for the illusion of love--to create fantasy relationships that may have the outward signs of being the real thing, but which lack the joys--and the tensions-- of real love.

             Or maybe we actually do manage to fall in love but before we know it, romance fades, dismally. Why does this happen? One reason may be that we can't tolerate the tension caused by being loved, and the insecurities it stirs up.

             "I thought love is supposed to make us feel secure," you say.

              Not necessarily. The way it can play out is this. Soon after we start feeling committed to someone we lock love into a compartment far removed from day-to-day reality. Removed, that is, from the way we actually behave toward the other. We have the IDEA that we're in love, but our behaviors don't match the concept.

             Think about what this is like when you're on the receiving end--that is, when someone's giving you the talk of love but not the behaviors that go along with it. Before long you're wondering where reality is. It's confusing, even crazy-making. Is it him (or her) or is it me? Is this real love?

             A lack of loving behavior on the part of someone who claims to love you is definitely a red flag. But you already knew that, right? The real question is what you're doing in the complicated mish-mash that is supposed to feel good but in fact has you feeling anxious and confused.

              Real love seems to elude us. People enter couples counseling thinking they can't find it, when the real problem may be that they can't tolerate it.

               Or, they may lack the capacity to truly love another because they haven’t yet worked out their own identity issues. They want someone to “complete” them and make them feel whole. Unfortunately it doesn't work this way. We make a gift of ourselves when we love, and to do that we have to be complete to begin with.

                Partly, this "I need love in order to feel complete" is a cultural idea. We're told we need a soulmate if we're going to be truly gratified in life. Without a soulmate our glass will remain forever half-empty. Life's journey becomes the endless search for romantic gratification, without which we basically believe we have nothing. Firestone and Catlett, in their book, Fear of Intimacy, offer us an eye-opening definition of love. Love "is those behaviors that enhance the emotional well-being, sense of self, and autonomy of both parties”.

            Your goal, in other words, is enhancing the other, not yourself. The task is in giving yourself enough love to feel good--at which point you'll actually have something to offer someone else.

            Anyone who claims to love will behave in certain predictable ways toward the object of that love. Their behavior will be appreciative and respectful of the true nature of the other person. They'll support his or her personal freedom, rather than try to possess.

            Those who say they want love but basically avoid it are in conflict. They'll need to repair the wounds they've experienced in the past if they want to be able to tolerate the anxiety that goes along with mature love.

             Creating in oneself the ability to love is a developmental task, and often mastering it requires help. But the good news is that it can be accomplished--IF love is something you really want.

NYC psychotherapist Colette Dowling, LCSW, is a licensed social worker with a masters degree from the Smith College School for Social Work. She has done advanced training in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis at The Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy, in New York. Some of her books are The Cinderella Complex and "You Mean I Don't Have to Feel This Way?": New Help for Depression, Anxiety and Addiction.

See more of Colette's thoughts on couples counseling and couples therapy

Colette has a private practice in the Flat Iron district of Manhattan. Her office is convenient to Brooklyn, Hoboken and Jersey City. She can be reached at 718-594-0201, or at

To hear Colette speaking about the challenges of starting therapy with someone new, press the audio button.

Click here for a description of Colette's therapy practice.

For further information on couples counseling and other relationship issues see Colette's website.

Copyright Colette Dowling, 2006-2010