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Anti-Love Myth # 1: True Love Means You'll Know What to Do

Synopsis: Our sweet, pretty, horribly destructive, super common, love-ruining myth in example; A group’s help; Care and cure effort; Two answers for why we keep perpetuating the myth; The triggering of useless self attack; Ruining your children’s romantic future; The two brains improvement you can make; and Restaurant behavior & love relating.


With an anguished look Francine moaned, “If I have to tell him what I want that spoils it.  If he truly loves me, he just will know what to do and he’ll do it.  Won’t he?  That’s the way real love works, doesn’t it?”

Upon hearing this the other seven members of Francine’s counseling group all groaned in unison.  My trainee assistant therapist then said, “How has thinking that way been working for you so far, Francine?”  Quizzically she replied, “Maybe not so well, but perhaps I just haven’t found the right guy who really loves me yet.”  Again members of the group groaned.  Cheri, said, “I have an ex who relied on that myth and all it ever did was cause a lot of trouble and fights.  I always was having to guess and usually I guessed wrong.”  Jake spoke up and added, “Yeh, I get so frustrated with my wife never telling me what she really wants.  I really love her but she doesn’t give me a clear message that I can work with.  She expects me to ‘read her mind’ and I never can.  This could lead us to the breaking point if we don’t do something about it.”

I then asked, “Francine, what do you think the word communication means when we say we all have to learn how to really communicate with the ones we love?”  Francine replied, “I don’t know, I never really thought about it.”  I replied, “Could it mean you and your lover have to take a lot of the guesswork out of your relationship?  Maybe it means we all have to tell each other what we secretly hope for, dream about, and directly ask for what we need and want.”  With some energy Francine strongly said, “I think I get it and I’m going to work on that.”  So she did and with good results over time.

Loretta who just had been listening then made this comment, “Without asking for what I wanted, when my husband didn’t say or do just the right, loving thing I thought it meant I had done something wrong, or he was mad at me, or maybe he didn’t care or he was just being cruel.  When what I wanted didn’t come my way I’d feel guilty and try to figure out what I had done wrong and why he was punishing me.  I’m sure I seemed pathetic and whiny.  I see now I was not sending any clear message at all, just hoping he’d magically know or guess how to be nice to me.  When he ‘failed’ to come through for me I would get pouty.  When I acted like that he would get mad at me and I would feel too afraid to even talk to him, let alone tell him what I needed or wanted, so I guess he never really knew.  It never crossed my mind that he had no idea what I wanted — that he actually couldn’t know.  What a mess not asking for what I really wanted made.  It would have been so simple and I think we’d still be together today if I’d known that.”

Brandon then brought up the question “Why do so many people believe that awful myth which says ‘If you love someone you’ll know what to do, and you’ll do it, and it will turn out to be the right thing?  Why do we rely on a false myth that love makes us ‘mind readers’ when it causes a lot of pain and misery, and no doubt a lot of breakups?”

Understanding how many people come to believe this ‘love myth’ which turns out to have such an anti-love effect can help us guard against it.  There are two parts to the thinking about that.  The first part applies to when you are a baby your parents are repeatedly figuring out what you need and want, and give it to you without you asking for it because, as an infant, you can’t.  You may look distressed, or cry or look unhappy, then someone feeds you or changes your diaper or because they love you they make you feel better one way or another.  Therefore, you grow up being conditioned to think that those who love you automatically will know or figure out what you need and give it to you without you having to learn how to identify it, ask for it, or accurately inform anyone about how you feel.

All you have to do is look or sound a little unhappy and those loving people will sweep in and take care of you in a way that satisfies.  When you are a child that works because your wants and needs are mostly simple.  Adulthood is much more complicated and individualistic, so we have to learn to communicate our wants very clearly or we don’t have much of a chance of getting what we need or desire.  The dependence on loved ones being mind readers, therefore, basically is a childish way of operating and it often does enormous damage to adult love relationships.

The second part is that we in the Western world have been conditioned, at least somewhat, by childhood fairy tales.  In the fairy tales Prince and/or Princess Charming always automatically does the right thing which always leads to "happily ever after" without anyone having to really communicate.  Think of Snow White.  She is laying there in her coffin and the prince comes along and automatically does the one correct thing that brings her back to life.  He kisses her and she pops up full of hugs and kisses for him.  How did he know to do that?

It’s inferred that love gave him the immediate, perfect knowledge of what to do.  He didn’t have to research it, consult wise men or white witches, study old scrolls, remember what some wizard once said, or form a committee to study the matter.  He just immediately, automatically knew what to do and did it because that is ‘the magic of love’ according to the story.  To a large extent our romance mythology is built on this kind of understanding of how love is supposed to work.  We keep teaching this destructive myth to the detriment and destruction of many love relationships that otherwise might work out fine.

Think about it.  Notice that this way of operating can work in fairy tales and romance stories because only one brain is involved in scripting all the roles.  In real life you have at least two individual brains thinking individualistically.  For there to be joint, cooperative, successful action those two brains have to communicate with one another.  Only occasionally will both brains think enough in similar fashion for people to have pretty much the same thought simultaneously.  That phenomenon can be enjoyed but not relied upon.  Therefore, mutually communicating your feelings and especially your desires, then jointly working out what to do next is the way to go – if you want frequent cooperative success.

By the way, you might want to give some thought about whether or not you are perpetuating the "love gives magical, automatic knowledge" myth to your children and, thus, perhaps assisting them toward future romantic agonies and maybe failure.

Here’s the dilemma. You either can hold on to the sweet, pretty but false romantic myth that love magically can guide those who love you to take care of you ‘just right’, or you can go to the trouble to learn to clearly communicate your thoughts, feelings and especially your desires.  If you accurately communicate what you want you at least have a chance of getting what you want, of course, there is no guarantee.  Furthermore, if you are a decent listener you actually may come to understand what your beloved really wants or at least realize what questions to ask to find out.  If you hold on to and depend upon the myth – well, you can guess what you’re odds are of getting what you need and want.

Many of my patients have heard my analogy of restaurant behavior and love relating.  If you go to a restaurant and don’t ask for what you want, you are highly unlikely to get it.  The wait-person can’t read your mind.  If instead you say, “I’d like a steak, medium rare, with mushrooms on the side and a baked potato with sour cream and chives, and broccoli also” you have a far better chance of getting more exactly what you want.  Likewise, in a love relationship if you come home tired and worried, and just plop down and hang your head, you might not get the hug and attentive listening that you really want.  All your mate can do is guess what to do and they may guess you want to be left alone.  But if you say, “I’ve really had a rough day and I’m worried about tomorrow.  Will you give me a big hug and listen to me with love for about 5 minutes?  I think that will help us have a much nicer evening together” the chances are much better that your mate will understand what you want and hopefully help you with that.

As always – Grow and Go with Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly


Love Success Question Are you in any way afraid to ask someone you love for what you want, and if so how are you going to get past that?


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