I remember being my father’s favourite daughter.
Whenever he came home, he would excitedly pick me up and throw me in the air. He brought me to all of his meetings. He made me feel special and important. I was sure he loved me.
Then something shifted.
He became busy and distant. He was irritated by my attempt to connect with him. We barely spent time and talked about anything meaningful — in fact, we never even had small talks. And that became my reality for the rest of my childhood.
I was deeply heartbroken. I didn’t know what I did wrong. I thought perhaps I was just not good enough for my father’s love anymore. I tried to make him proud of me and show me his love again, but nothing seemed to work, and we drifted further apart as the years went by.
During my adolescence, I internalised two things:
Love is earned.
I failed to earn my father’s love.
I didn’t know how to fix my relationship with my father, so I started to look for him in the men I dated and tried to earn their love instead. Instinctively, earning their love would mean to me I’d righted my childhood wrongs.
Not surprisingly, I failed… again, and again, and again…
Well, it wasn’t exactly rocket science.
The men I chose were exactly one type — busy, emotionally unavailable, and inherently incompatible with me. No matter what I did, they didn’t see me or love me.
It upset me greatly that they didn’t respect me either. I thought I was empowered and deserving of respect, but it didn’t stop those men from walking all over me.
When I went to therapy and worked on my relationship with myself, that’s when I realised I’d got it all mixed up.
Here’s the truth I learned about respect and love in intimate relationships:
Respect isn’t given — it’s earned.
Love isn’t earned — it’s given.
As it turned out, I’d interpreted the wrong things from my broken relationship with my father.
I didn’t fail to earn his love — it wasn’t my fault that he stopped showing his love for me and neglected his family.
Likewise, I didn’t fail to “earn” my ex-partners’ love — it was their choice to not love me, regardless of why.
What I failed was to set boundaries and carry myself with dignity, which would have gained me their respect — though, not that I needed it then.
When they told me they weren’t looking for a relationship or were too busy with work to be dating, it wasn’t a sign to try harder to “earn” their time and attention.
It was a sign to accept that their love wasn’t available and show respect for myself by walking away.
Never try to “earn” someone’s love. Put that effort into loving yourself instead.
How to unlearn limiting beliefs and find healthy love
When I attended therapy last year, I finally registered that I was no longer a “vulnerable child” passively waiting for my father’s love.
I was a grown adult, just like my flawed father, who could meet my own needs and find the healthy love I need in adult relationships.
I didn’t “fail” to earn my father’s love — If anything, he was the one who failed to give me his love and care as a father. And it was neither my fault nor responsibility.
Similarly, in my romantic relationships, I kept attaching myself to unavailable men because I mistakenly believed their love was a testament to my self-worth instead of an outcome of their choice.
I mistakenly believed their love was a testament to my self-worth instead of an outcome of their choice.
Meanwhile, I didn’t have enough self-esteem to draw boundaries against bad treatment, allowing those men to continue their disrespect towards me.
Fortunately, my life and relationships transformed when I shifted my views on respect and love in intimate relationships and acted accordingly.
Love isn’t earned — it’s given.
Though, for love to be given, respect has to be earned.
Here are a few tips on how to find healthy, respectful relationships.
1. Give yourself an abundance of love.
To internalise the belief that “love is given,” you need to show yourself the evidence of it daily by doing just that — giving yourself love.
Whatever it is that you would do for a loved one, do it for yourself. Some examples could be taking yourself out on a nice meal, taking rest, showing yourself compassion, writing loving letters to yourself, and so on.
The key is frequency and consistency.
2. Earn your own respect.
While basic respect should be given to and received by everyone on the simple basis that they’re human beings, the continuity and depth of that respect should be earned.
When you earn your own longstanding respect, you strengthen your self-trust and improve your quality of life.
The easiest way to earn your own respect is to show yourself that you can make independent judgments and draw boundaries — external or internal.
It could be as simple as having a gym schedule and sticking to it. Or when a new situation requires you to make a decision, you go for the right one instead of an easy one — you will make yourself proud.
3. Walk away from people who show you that their love must be earned.
When someone puts a barrier between their love and you, remember that it’s their choice to stop you from having it. Now, there might be many reasons why they choose to do this; regardless, they’re not suitable for a healthy and loving relationship with you.
If you have showered yourself with love and gained your own deepest respect, you will know to value your time and walk away from these people.
4. Find someone who generously gives their love to you.
Once you have done all the self-work, what’s left to be done is to navigate towards loving people who choose you the same way you choose them.
It goes without saying that underneath this choosing and loving is the longstanding respect that has been earned through interactions and observations over time.