surreal purple flower field - what's real and what is not?

What’s Real and What’s Not?

It's impossible to know what your partner really feels for you. And yet, many of us grind ourselves up trying to figure out the "true" feelings of our partner.

Since you can't know for sure what your significant other is thinking or feeling, what can you do to figure out if your relationship is on the right track?

In this article, we'll

  • discuss why we can't really know our partner's feelings for sure;
  • discover that it's actually more important for your happiness how you think your partner feels, rather than how they really feel;
  • share five questions you should focus on, rather than getting stuck on guessing what your partner truly feels for you.

My mind keeps returning to a study a collaborator, Michael Barnes, and I did some years ago where we discovered that the only thing that matters for a person’s happiness and satisfaction in a relationship is not how your partner feels about you, but rather how you think your partner feels about you.

In other words, what people care about is not how their partner really feels, but rather how they think their partner really feels, even if their partner does not really feel that way.

Do people ever share exactly the same reality?  Physically, they may or may not.

Who is to say whether what I see as blue, you see as blue, or maybe as green or purple?  There is no way of knowing for sure.

But we both act the same way upon seeing, say, green—perhaps happy if it is green grass or paper currency, and not so happy if it is mold growing on the dinner we were going to eat or the envy on a person’s face!

Can you ever really know what your partner feels for you?

When it comes to people’s minds and feelings, things are even more muddled.

For most of my career, it bothered me that you could think that your partner feels a certain way about you when they actually feel a different way.

But lately, I am much less concerned, with one proviso.

Because people love each other through their stories about their relationships, and because no two people in the world have exactly the same profile of stories, any more than they have the exact same fingerprints, I have come to realize that, at some level, we not only do not know exactly how our partner feels about us; we cannot know.

We cannot see ourselves through their stories, or the unique pattern of family background and experiences they bring to a relationship.

If I am going to spend a lot of effort trying to figure out how they really feel about me, I am going to be, essentially, wasting my time, much as I would be wasting my time trying to figure out whether what they see as blue is what I see as blue, and vice versa.

If inaccurate perceptions do not matter all so much, what does matter?

The five questions you should ask

I think there are five things we should focus on rather than whether we know for sure how our partner feels about us.

1. Is your relationship an honest one?

First, worry about whether your partner is being honest with you, whether you are being honest with your partner, and whether you are both being honest with yourselves.

That is something you can verify, certainly for yourself.

Most of us avoid confronting the issue of whether we are lying, but deep down, we know.

Are we seeing what’s there in our partner, or what we want to be there?

Are we experiencing how we actually feel about our partner, or what we wish we felt, or what someone else wishes us to feel?

This is something you can introspect about, and if you decide to confront the issue, you probably can get pretty good answers.

Sometimes others pressure us to feel certain ways, and sometimes we pressure ourselves.

Sometimes we pressure our partner, and sometimes our family pressures our partner or ourselves.

Talk to your partner. Figure it out.

Most of us can feel when someone is lying to us, including when we are lying to ourselves.

Look, if we are with a psychopathic or Machiavellian partner, they may pull the wool over our eyes.

But for the most part, these are things we can see in ourselves and in others.

2. Do the actions in the relationship match the words and the purported feelings?

It is just about impossible to know for sure how someone feels, but it’s not very hard to figure out how they act.

Just watch them!  Watch yourself!

Regardless of what your partner says or what you think your partner feels, is your partner treating you with love, respect, dignity, care, and compassion?

Is your partner there for you?

Do they put your needs first, or at least, put them at high priority?

Unless you have pulled some seriously thick wool over your eyes, these are things you can determine.

If they are not acting in a way that shows their love, how much does it really matter what they say or what you think they feel?

Relationships live through actions.

3. Is the relationship making you happy?

You know when you’re happy.

Are you?

Is the relationship fulfilling your needs?

Again, you may not know exactly how someone else feels about you, or how you feel about them, but you know when you are happy and when you are unhappy.

Ask yourself honestly: Is this relationship making you happy?

4. Is the relationship helping you to grow and flourish as a person?

Are you becoming a better person as a result of this relationship?

Are you becoming more like the person you want to be?

I remember being in a relationship in which, over time, I found myself becoming less and less who I wanted to be.

I knew it had to end; it did.

This is something you can know: Are you on a trajectory to a good place, or to a place you never thought you would go and never really wanted to go to in the first place?

5. Does the relationship add meaning to yourself?

None of us knows for sure the meaning of life.

According to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the meaning of life is “42,” but it’s hard to know what to do with that!

It’s not clear there is any predestined meaning to life.

The meaning is what you create for yourself, and one way you create meaning is through your relationships.

Do you feel that your intimate relationship is creating meaning for you?

If not, why not?

And is there anything you can do about it?

Once upon a time, and not so long ago, I was very concerned about how we can know how someone else really and truly feels about us.

I no longer am. It’s just not knowable.

All you can do is obsess over it.  If you want to ask questions about your relationship, ask important questions you can answer.

Try the five I’ve provided above as starters.

They will give you a good idea of whether your relationship is where it can and should be!

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top