Marriage Entitlement – Part 2: When Your Love Is Not Enough

Marriage entitlement can be a very difficult subject to broach with a spouse. Because we rarely talk about marriage entitlements, spouses who are unfairly painted as withholding them often don’t have the language to defend themselves. And without this language they are unable to either clear their names from unfair blame or set the necessary boundaries.

In Part 1 of Marriage Entitlement we explored the problem of over-entitlement in marriage in a general way. In Part 2 we are going to narrow our discussion by beginning an examination of each of the five marriage entitlements.  We will start with the first category on our list from Part 1, our entitlement to physical and emotional needs.

But before we begin this exploration, let’s take a brief moment to review our list of emotional and physical marriage entitlements.

Marriage Entitlements Regarding Physical/Emotional Needs:

Entitlement to love in a marriage.
Entitlement to happiness in a marriage.
Entitlement to relationships with our extended family within a marriage.
Entitlement to emotional support within a marriage.
Entitlement to physical safety within a marriage.
Entitlement to emotional safety within a marriage.
Entitlement to discussion around issues that affect our marriage.
Entitlement to sex in a marriage.

The first aspect of physical and emotional needs we will be discussing is the marriage entitlement to love. What you learn in this blog post will allow you to reverse the behavior of a spouse who unfairly claims they are either not feeling loved or claims that you are not showing enough love when it is perfectly clear that you are.

He Loves Me-He Loves Me Not

It may seem to some people that over-entitlement to love is more of an annoyance in a relationship than a destructive element. But there are some very real consequences for partners of over-entitled spouses when it comes to this area.

Although their spouse may be simply stating a fact, the fact that they don’t feel loved, the partner being complained about will probably interpret it as a strike against their character. Because love is a known marriage entitlement, a complaint about not fulfilling obligations in this area can make a partner question their belief in themselves.

Being told they are a bad partner, even through words that only imply it, can take a toll on self-esteem despite the knowledge that they are giving plenty of love. The distress at being labeled a bad partner can cause a spouse, in desperation to clear their bad name, to try to express so much love that their spouse cannot possibly complain.

This will not work to solve the problem of a spouse who feels over-entitled to love. It will actually make the problem worse. When we give way more to our spouse than they give to us, we may be dismayed to find that our extreme efforts go unrecognized. Just like an over-indulged child, the over-indulged spouse will only grow more demanding, not less.

So what are the reasons a spouse may not be able to feel the love their partner shows them? Let’s take a look at what causes this common tendency.

Can You Feel The Love

There are many reasons why a spouse may not recognize the love that is expressed to them by their partner. One of the most common reasons for over-entitlement to love is relationship insecurity. Relationship insecurity can very easily make a spouse feel like they can never get enough love no matter how much their partner gives them.

We know from life experience that everyone gets insecure in their relationships from time to time. We all worry occasionally that we are not good enough to deserve the love we are entitled to from our spouse. So how do we cope with this occasional worry?

When we carefully observe our own behavior in these situations we will find that we literally talk to ourselves, in our head, about our worries. What we say to ourselves will determine how well we handle an occasional bout of insecurity over feeling loved.

Reasonably secure people will assure themselves when insecurity arises. They may stay worried for a while, but they will eventually give themselves a little pep talk to better their perspective. They might tell themselves that their spouse isn’t perfect either. Or they may remind themselves of a loving thing their spouse did. Or sometimes they just busy themselves and the worry passes.

But for highly insecure people, this pep talk does not come naturally. For them worry leads to more worry. And because they are not able to take care of their needs around relationship insecurity, they will try to get their partners to solve the problem for them.

This often leads to underhanded attempts to get a partner to give them more and more love under the guise of entitlement. But insecurity is a very complex tendency. Contrary to what we might think, we will find that if a person is not able to soothe their own fears around insecurity, no amount of assurance from an outside person will fill this hole. They must fill it for themselves.

There is, however, one behavioral loophole that allows spouses to help in this area. If the insecure partner admits their insecurity to their spouse and asks the spouse to assure them, this request, unlike the one they demand, will actually help.

The reason it helps is because the act of identifying a need and then taking action to have it fulfilled translates to the brain as taking care of a need. The act of asking for help from another person fills the hole because it is a form of taking care of one’s self.

But asking for help is a rare occurrence for insecure spouses. Admitting to insecurity makes them feel even more insecure. What usually happens instead is the insecure person panics at their inability to fulfill their need for themselves. Then in their panic they make excessive demands on their spouse to give them the love they cannot self-administer.

Let’s now take a look at how it feels to the insecure person when they are unable to recognize love. In order to do this we must take a look at a human phenomenon that we all experience from time to time. That phenomenon is defensiveness. Understanding defensiveness will give us our first insight into the mechanics of over-entitlement.

Defensiveness can be described as a form of mental Jujitsu that our brain engages in to spare us from uncomfortable emotional states. It performs these mental gymnastics most often to protect us from humiliation. The threat of humiliation will always be lurking when we feel insecure. And the actions that our brain takes in order to avoid this very uncomfortable feeling are what we call defensiveness.

When it comes to romantic love, we are more vulnerable to humiliation than almost any other circumstance. So it is no surprise that when a spouse feels insecurity around whether they deserve to be loved they may become defensive. Let’s take a look at the ingenious way the defensive brain shifts the blame due to insecurity from themselves to their innocent partner.

The Defensive Brain And Love

Your spouse may start off feeling insecure. They may not realize it, but they are feeling afraid they aren’t good enough to deserve your love. This makes your spouse feel very needy for assurances of love. It would take lots of extra love from you in order to calm down the insecurity.

But the brain does not like the very powerless position that being needy puts it in. There is too much potential for humiliation. So it comes up with a brilliant solution that allows your spouse to get lots of extra love while not having to admit to being needy.

By shifting the perspective from your spouse needing extra love to you not giving your spouse enough, two birds are killed with one stone. Your spouse gets to have all extra love they need so they don’t have to feel insecure, and they don’t have to admit that they have a problem. You get to be the problem.

But insecurity is not the only reason a spouse may engage in over-entitled behavior. There can be many reasons for a spouse to become over-entitled to love. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

1.   Hidden resentments.
2.   Emotional needs that have not been communicated.
3.   Emotional needs that have been communicated but are not fulfilled by a partner.
3.   A partner reminding the other of someone who made them feel bad in the past.
4.   Fear of intimacy.
5.   Lack of trust of a partner.
6.   Pent up anger from other areas of a partner’s life.
7.   Guilt at using an individual outside of the relationship to fulfill needs.
8.   Disapproval at a partner from friends or family.
9.   Shame from a perceived loss of status due to a partner’s qualities or actions.
10. The sting of reality caused by a receding of euphoria as the effects of falling in love lessen.
11.  Fear of control or fear of engulfment from a partner.
12.  A belief that a life dream will not be possible within the relationship.
13.  The realization that they have idealized in the beginning stages of love and have chosen a partner that is not appropriate for them.
14.  Fear of not being able to take care of the needs of a partner.

The list can go on and on. As you can see, these reasons for over-entitlement are varied and complex. But most of them have absolutely nothing to do with the behavior of their partner. The best way to bring these hidden problems out into the open is to limit over-entitled behavior. Once this unhealthy outlet is blocked a spouse is more likely to stumble upon the real reason they are having a hard time recognizing that they are loved.

But the process of stopping entitled behavior is easier said than done. Because our spouse is an adult, we can’t simply set boundaries the way we would with our children. We can’t put our spouse into a time-out or deny them privileges. And there is never a situation where it is appropriate for one spouse or any adult, for that matter, to discipline or punish another.

The way to set boundaries for over-entitlement to love is a two-fold process. It starts with a simple and clear explanation of the limitations of transferring love from one spouse to the other. After this explanation of your boundaries you will need to withhold the over-entitled aspect of your spouse’s demands, repeating your beliefs if your spouse seems surprised or upset by your actions.

But before you can have a discussion with your spouse about what they are and aren’t entitled to, you will have to have a very clear understanding for yourself. To truly understand entitlement to love we need to first answer one very simple question. That question is are we actually entitled to love in our marriage.

Are We Entitled to Love?

Entitlement to love in a marriage is perhaps one of the most complex and the most difficult entitlements to understand, yet it may be the most important. For many people it is the main reason they enter into a lifelong relationship.

The reason entitlement to love in a marriage is so complex lies in what looks like an un-resolveable contradiction. This contradiction stems from the fact that love is an emotion. And we all know that emotions do not appear out of thin air because we ask them to, nor can we evoke them from others on demand.

Not only that, but love happens to be a particularly capricious and fickle emotion. And no one has ever figured out a way to tap it and dispense it at will. Yet we also know that each of us is entitled to have it in a marriage. So we are now faced with an interesting riddle which asks how can love, which we have no voluntary control over, be something that we promise to our spouse.

In order to answer this riddle of how love can be an entitlement in marriage, we will have to look more closely at the language human beings use to transfer loving feelings to others.

We know that love does not get passed telepathically from person to person. But it must get passed on somehow because each of us has had the experience of feeling loved. As it turns out, all we need to do to understand how love is passed from one person to another is to simply observe people who love each other.

When we watch people who love each other we clearly see that the way we transfer our love to another is through a process of show and tell. We use actions and words which demonstrate our feelings. People who love each other pass the feeling back and forth through a combination of intonation, choice of words, gestures and actions.

But just because we are all capable of expressing love using these communication tools, it doesn’t mean that we can guarantee that our loved one will receive our message the way it was intended. As in all types of language, there is always the chance that something gets lost in translation.

What we find out when we recognize that even love can get lost in translation is that the act of expressing our love to each other can be a marriage entitlement, but a guarantee of our receiving it in the way it was intended can not.

To put it simply, we might say that although anyone can control how they express their love, no one is capable of controlling how it is received. So it only makes sense that even though we are entitled to have love expressed to us, we can’t demand that another person make us feel that love.

The paragraph you just read is our first example of the type of simple language that can be used to clarify boundaries with a spouse who claims that they are not being loved because they don’t feel it.

It’s now time to take a look at our second limitation. The second limitation we are going to address is one that gets tested when a spouse decides that their partner is not showing enough love even when they are doing everything in their power to express it.

When Enough Is Not Enough

When a spouse declares your love is not enough, a very important question arises. Who in a marriage should be the one who decides how much is enough. The question of which spouse should be the decider comes up in many areas of entitlement, so we will be taking a little extra time to address how to resolve this issue.

When it comes to how much love is enough we are often faced with a power struggle over which spouse’s perspective should be the one we go with.  This leads us to very important questions such as is it fair to take one partner’s perspective over the other, and if it isn’t, whose perspective should be the one we choose to use.

Because we all suffer from human bias which tends to make us favor our own perspective we will need to find an outside source to resolve this dilemma.  The way we are going to resolve the question of which spouse gets to decide how much love is enough is by borrowing some concepts from people who have been figuring out how to work with human bias for centuries.

As it turns out, our best legal scholars have been working very hard for a long time to resolve exactly this type of issue. And we will find that the ways they have found that work to overcome human bias when judging our public life corresponds very well to the judgments we must make in our private life.

Applying The Law To Love

Faced with the knowledge that we can’t trust ourselves and we can’t trust our spouse to determine how much love we are entitled to due to human bias, there is one person we can trust in these matters. Because neutral third parties do not have the bias that we may have when it comes to fairness within our marriage, they become the perfect person to decide just how much love is enough.

But since few of us have a marriage mediator at hand or on retainer to help us arbitrate such things, we will instead be borrowing a very helpful tool from our legal system. We are going to use an imaginary or hypothetical neutral third party to decide just how much love we are entitled to and what form it should take.

One of the ways legal scholars have come up with in order to allow an unbiased judgment of others’ behavior is to have the person doing the judging adopt the perspective of a reasonable and prudent person. This hypothetical person is someone who would use average care, skill and judgment according to what society requires to protect the interest of themselves and others.

A juror may be asked to think about what a reasonable and prudent person may do in whatever situation is being judged. This tool helps a juror remove their personal bias when judging whether someone has been negligent in their behavior.

We can use this same concept to determine whether a spouse has been negligent in almost any aspect of marriage entitlement. It is fairly easy to imagine how a reasonable and prudent person would judge how we treat our partner. And by looking at our behavior from this neutral point of view we can not only easily see our spouse’s bias, but we can also assure ourselves that our own judgment isn’t clouded by bias.

Because few spouses appreciate a lecture on law as it applies to love, we will now need to find language that expresses these same concepts in a way that doesn’t offend our spouse.

We’re going to take a look some examples of how you might explain to your spouse what you believe the boundaries should be in each of these two areas of love. There are no magic words we can use to accomplish this. But by using a few time-honored concepts of boundary-setting, you should be able to get your over-entitled spouse to curb their behavior in either of these areas.

We are going to start out our quest for the kind of language that can stop over-entitlement to love by addressing our first limitation. This will be the kind of language that will be helpful for a spouse who believes you are solely responsible for making them feel loved. Typically this behavior presents with a spouse telling you that you don’t love them because they don’t feel it.

This type of language should be used in an initial sit-down discussion that consists of you explaining to your spouse in a clear way why you will not be taking on excessive demands for love. It can also be used in future scenarios if you are told you are not giving your spouse enough love when you know that you are doing all you can.

Your initial discussion might go something like this:

“I know you have been feeling very unloved by me. And that probably makes it seem like it’s my fault and that I’m doing something wrong. The thing is, I feel like I am doing everything I can to make you feel loved.”

“The problem, at least from how I see it, is that I know that I can control the way I show you my love. But even though I may wish I could, I can’t control whether you end up feeling loved. No one can control how another person actually feels.”

“So if there is some reason that you know of for why my love isn’t coming through, we probably need to figure out what that is. Because until we know why you aren’t feeling loved when I express it, there is nothing I can do to help no matter how much I might want to.”

This kind of language sets forth what you believe are appropriate limitations or boundaries for what a spouse should do to make their partner feel loved. But just because you tell your partner what your limitations are doesn’t mean they are going to accept it.

This type of discussion can go several ways. It might lead to a productive conversation about hidden issues your partner may have but may not be telling you. But it also may lead to resistance.

Because this discussion is nothing more than an explanation of your future boundary-setting, it doesn’t matter if the talk is productive or not. It will still have done its job of notifying your spouse of your position so your future boundary-setting has a chance of being accepted as sincere and not a punishment.

If it goes well, you can go about your business until the next time your spouse declares you don’t love them. If it doesn’t go well and your spouse resists, you can let them know that you’re very sorry that your gestures of love are not being interpreted the way they are intended, that you are still going to show them love because you believe all spouses are entitled to that, but that you will not be able to take responsibility for whether they feel it or not.

In either case, you will not need to do anything else until the next time your spouse proclaims they are not loved. At this point you can move to the second phase of boundary-setting.

In the future when complaints are made in this area, you can state that you are very sorry, but that you can only be responsible for your part, which is showing your love. You can’t be responsible for how it makes them feel. You can then remind your spouse of the loving gestures you have shown them in the recent past and tell them you believe you have been sincerely showing you love.

Again, you may face resistance each time the subject comes up. But if you are calm and persistent and don’t cave in to excessive demands, eventually this boundary will be respected.

Now let’s take a look at our second limitation. If the problem with your spouse seems to revolve around you being told you’re not showing your partner enough love, you can introduce the second limitation or boundary in an initial sit-down discussion.

This talk will have the same goal, to let your partner know what you believe the limitations of love are so boundary-setting in the future is not misinterpreted.

The language you use might go something like this:

“I get that you don’t feel like I show you enough love. The problem is that I feel like I’m showing you lots of love, and I’m having trouble understanding why don’t think that someone that shows love the way I do wouldn’t be considered a loving spouse.”

“The only thing I can do is act in the way that I’ve always been taught is a loving way. I think I was taught the same way you were. I know that when we watch a movie or a T.V. show we both know which character is the loving spouse and which one isn’t. I feel like I am showing love the way any loving spouse would show it.”

Once you have explained what you believe the limitations of showing love are, the next time your spouse says you are not being loving enough you can list the things you have done in a loving way. These might range from kissing them goodbye in the mornings when you leave to work to picking up their favorite food, random hugs or compliments, or any loving gestures you regularly show your spouse.  Then you can say that you believe these are the ways people show love, and that you think you have been expressing it.

There are any number of things that a defensive over-entitled spouse may say to try to derail your attempts at setting boundaries when it comes to limitations of love. But a solid comprehension of these concepts should allow you to stay strong in your beliefs.

But before you make any attempts to change the level of entitlement in your marriage, we are going to take a look at two important disclaimers that may help to soften the blow of these potentially harsh-sounding boundaries.

These disclaimers will also enable you to understand some of the gray areas of these limitations so your thinking doesn’t become too black and white. They can put a more human element into what may feel a little like tough love for an over-entitled spouse.

The first disclaimer has to do with the first boundary, that you are only responsible for showing love, not for how it is received. When you have your initial discussion and in subsequent boundary-setting you may want to at some point let your spouse know that although you don’t want to be unfairly accused of being a bad spouse for not showing love, you are nonetheless very concerned with their feeling loved.

You might want to include in your discussions that even though you don’t feel you have to accept any blame for them not feeling loved, you will pay attention to what makes them feel loved and will make every effort to get them feel that way.

The second disclaimer pertains to the second boundary, that you are only obligated to show your spouse the amount of love that an average caring person would expect to come from a loving spouse. Since we all have variations in how much love we need you may want to let your spouse know that if they need a little more demonstration of love than the average caring person, you are certainly not going to withhold that from them. You can let your spouse now that you are more than happy to give a little extra in any area to match their personal needs.

Although it may take time before your spouse gives up on their over-entitled behavior, if you state your position strongly and make it clear that you don’t agree with over-entitled demands, you will see a change. As your spouse starts to become more comfortable with behaving in an un-entitled way, they will also gain self-esteem from knowing that they are treating you appropriately.

Please tune in for Part 3 of Marriage Entitlement as we continue our exploration of the five entitlements beginning with the marriage entitlement of happiness.


Are You Being Blamed For Your Wife’s Relationship Insecurity?

Is Your Spouse On Your Side?

Four Questions You Need To Be Asking To Help Save Your Marriage

A Stress-Free Approach To Resolving Marriage Conflict

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