If you think I give a lot of advice in this blog, you should see me as a mom. I dole out advice like a factory conveyor belt lined with Peeps at Easter. And one of the best responses I always seem to get in response to all my wise advice is “I know.”
You need to wear a jacket, it’s cold out.
You shouldn’t hit your brother.
You were supposed to take the trash out.
My kids say “I know” to almost everything. They know it all! It’s become a knee-jerk response to a question they know the answer to. And yet, in reality, they plan to do or have already done something else entirely.
Love addicts often have the same response. We know what’s right, but we tend to do something completely different.
You shouldn’t stay in a relationship with a man who hurts you.
Don’t go crawling back; have some dignity.
Stay away from bad boys.
Oops! So, if you KNOW all this stuff, why do you still do it? If you KNOW you are worth more than scraps, then why aren’t your actions proving that you know this?
I’m not sure I have the answer, but I do know (I know!) that better health comes when our words and actions sync up. When we stop with the childish response, “I know.” Who cares if you know! Don’t just tell me (and don’t just tell yourself) that you know, PROVE that you know by your actions. A head full of “knowing” but not “doing” is fantasy. In recovery, we need our actions to be louder than our “I knows.”
The words just slipped out. I could feel them clinking around in my head for moments before letting them loose: If you’re so mad at me then divorce me! Who needs this shit! And yet, divorce was the last thing on either of our minds. No issue, no fight, no behavior nor secret-thought has ever led to either of us wanting a divorce, and yet, there they were. Cold words that fell upon silence and couldn’t be reeled back even with the most sincerest regret. We were fighting about who knows what. But we were fighting long and hard with our emotions. Logic was long gone. It was late. We were weary. The words came out as a form of manipulation. But, I know this only in retrospect. They were designed as a challenge, not to receive the response, “OK, I will divorce you!” rather, to receive the response, “No! Why are we fighting? I love you and I’m sorry. I’ll never leave you.”
Sadly, manipulation rarely bestows upon you the hoped for outcome. If anything, it causes more trouble, especially if you’re arguing with someone who doesn’t subscribe to manipulation. Which is my husband’s case. And yet, there I was, reverting back to scrappy love-addict tactics that really only worked in my unhealthy relationship, and, if I’m honest with myself, didn’t even work then. And so, the night raged on. He became even angrier with me, which led to us sleeping in separate rooms, which led to us having a huge fight in the morning, which led to loads of crying and sadness and emotion and drama and shame and fear and…wait…Was I back to living that ‘ol life of chaos again?
Say it isn’t so.
OK, it isn’t so.
But, if I am to be realistic, arguments happen even in the best relationship. And we ultimately worked it out and went back to our happy selves. But my eyes opened to how much I needed to improve in this department. And I definitely realized, that night, I needed to change a few of my bottom line behaviors from here on out if I was going to fight fair and be a responsible, loving grown up. I especially needed to stop engaging in “love addict tactics.”
So, here’s my 8 points to help you argue with your partner in a healthier, more dignified way. But, a word of caution: this list is written for healthy relationships, or rather, for individuals who have each others’ best interest at heart. It’s not a way in which to negotiate or “fight fair” with an unhealthy individual whom you can’t seem to get a long with in any way. If you find yourself arguing incessantly, that’s another blog with different advice. And while you can (and should) certainly change and improve your arguing skills with darn near anyone, for your own sake, you may not get a matching result from your partner. If you do, this is a good sign! It means you are both moving in a similar direction and are equally working towards peace. If you don’t, it’s a sign that you are moving in separate directions and it may be time to reassess the value of the relationship.
Without further ado…
- Lose the drama: love addicts love drama. They say things and incite problems simply to drive the drama up to heightened levels. And for what reason? To feel alive? To release built up anger or emotions? Or simply because drama is something their chemistry craves. I don’t know. What I do know is that drama doesn’t equal dignity. Reassess your goals (in your head, while you’re arguing) by asking, what’s my hoped-for outcome? Is it self-centered? Is it to just yell and scream and blow off steam? Or is it to ultimately work towards peace with this person?
- Argue conscientiously: as hard as it may seem to switch off your impassioned, emotional brain and switch on your logical one, it can be done! I can clearly hear the rumblings of logic in my head when I am arguing, and in the past, I would often push those rumblings aside and opt for some crazy emotional response. Now, I try to focus. I take pauses. I breathe. And I use my logical brain as much as possible to get my point across. Arguing doesn’t always have to be hot and fiery. It can be approached from a level-headed, cool perspective. You’re in charge.
- Don’t manipulate: Saying or doing something to incite a response in your partner is manipulation. The classic example of this is the individual who screams, “If you leave me, I’ll kill myself!” That’s manipulation and quite frankly, it’s evil. My example, above, though not as extreme, is still manipulation. You cannot control people, and what’s more, people don’t want to be controlled. That’s the goal of manipulation, and it will only get you so far. Remove it as a communication skill. It’s an unhealthy one.
- Be honest: I read somewhere that truth brings you closer to people, whereas lies keep you apart. For love addicts, as much as we crave love, we often fear intimacy, and so, we lie to keep a “safe” emotional distance between us and the object of our desire. If you’re in a healthy relationship, or simply changing the rules from unhealthy to healthy, you need to lose the lying and as scary as intimacy might seem, it’s your responsibly to yourself and to your partner to be honest.
- Listen: Arguing inevitably entails two people trying desperately to be heard, albeit screaming their point across to the other, trying to grab center-stage and win over the other. Fight fairly. That means give the other person a chance to get his or her point across, to speak his or her mind. Don’t sit there and think of all the things you plan to say when he’s done. Really listen. You’d like it if he listened to you, yes?
- Put yourself in her shoes: people are different. They want different things and they respond differently in different situation. No matter how much of the time you’re on the same page, you and your partner will approach things differently. And oftentimes, they will seem like aliens to you! As hard as I try, I sometimes can not understand why D does certain things. But if I love him, I have to try to put myself in his shoes and trust that he knows what he’s doing. This is very hard to do. But worth it.
- Keep it real and keep it in the now: How often in an argument do you find yourself dredging up the past? If you’re anything like me, a lot. Well, don’t do it unless it’s part of the current landscape of discussion. There’s no need. You’ve forgiven for past transgressions and there needs to be a clean slate. I’m not talking arguing over chronic abuse that continues to happen. If this is the case, why are you arguing to begin with. You need to get out. And speaking of getting out, you need to keep your arguments REAL. What I mean by that, is don’t argue from a fantasy perspective, rather a reality-based one. Are you trying to change your partner? Get him or her to do what you want him to do? Are you unsatisfied with his or her behavior, but, if he just stops doing this one thing, it’ll all be alright? This is called fighting for the fantasy. And it looks like shadow boxing. You’re merely swinging hits at your own shadow and will not accomplish anything, especially not changing him. When we argue it has to be from a personal perspective, not a “I know what’s best for you” perspective. You are not dating your son or daughter. You are dating a grown adult. Keep it real. Accept his or her reality.
- Bow out gracefully: Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who knows! Take some cool down time to think it over. Apologize if you need to. I know I have a very hard time with this (I think I’m always right!), and so, apologizing feels like defeat. It’s really not. It’s deferring to the relationship, not always the other person. Letting go of a belief that you hold dear (as long as it’s not a value, big difference!), is tough. But, sacrifices and compromising are an occasional requirement of a healthy relationship. Ask yourself, what is the higher good? Being right, or sharing happiness between the two of you?
I heard the term “sexual communicator” many years ago, though not exactly in that form. My mother used to say that I had to be careful not to “communicate sexually” with people I was not sexually attracted to, otherwise, they’d get the wrong idea. Looking back, I definitely communicated on a sexual level, but I didn’t see it as a problem, until I got into recovery.
Sexual communication most often has three associations:
- communication that is sexual in nature and appropriate between two people who are or who plan to be sexually intimate,
- narcissism as it applies to the narcissistic personality disorder, and
- excessive flirting as it relates to the sex addict
I do not want to talk about any of these types of communication, although the last one might be closely related to this discussion.
What I’m talking about is far more subtle and difficult to recognize. Here are some of the signs you might be a sexual communicator:
- Difficulty talking to men as “friends” or “acquaintances” on a non-sexual level (especially men you are not attracted to or who are unavailable)
- Not feeling comfortable in clothing unless it’s “sexy”
- No interest in going out with friends unless the potential for flirting or meeting and talking to mates is present
- No interest in people, places or activities that don’t have a sexual element to them
- Feeling most comfortable only when able to flirt or speak using sexual innuendos or behavior
- Averting eye contact with people, unless there is sexual communication
- Displaying sexual body language or leading the conversation in a sexual, flirtatious direction with almost anyone
- Consciously or unconsciously wondering if the person you are talking to finds you “attractive.”
If any of these points sound familiar, you may be a sexual communicator. But here’s the thing: communicating sexually with someone you are intimately involved with is acceptable and healthy; communicating sexually with your married neighbor, your co-workers, your boss, your friends, your friend’s boyfriend, or people you do not intend to have an intimate relationship with is, well, dangerous and unhealthy.
Communicating sexually puts all conversations –even platonic ones– on a heightened sexual level and removes the possibility of knowing people on many different levels, thus narrowing the scope and experience of relating to the world. When you remove sexuality from a conversation, what do you have? To a sexual communicator, you have a boring conversation. But to a healthy person, you have the potential to understand and know people on an intellectual, emotional or spiritual level. You also have the potential to create non-intense relationships that you are not instantly bound to. Sexual communicators tend to become intense and locked into close relationships with people, cross boundaries, date people with many red flags and hop into relationships they later regret.
So, how do you change the way you communicate if you’re a sexual communicator?
The first step is to be aware of these signs, aware of your motives when speaking to people and aware of your ability (or inability) to change your behavior.
I was a sexual communicator nearly all my life–until one experience changed my life. I was in grad school and took a part-time job teaching at a community college. As many of you know, male students can and will flirt with their teachers. And nearly all my life, I was very used to flirting and getting male attention. But, I knew it was my responsibility as a teacher to create clear boundaries between me and my students. I noticed, however, that any time I spoke to a male student I would wonder, as I always had, “Is he attracted to me?” Almost immediately, I felt this wasn’t a healthy way to relate to my students. I was nearly 40, I was professional, and these students were here to learn, not to flirt with their teacher! It was at this point in my life I forced myself to communicate another way and block my sexually communicative nature. By doing that, it opened up a whole new world of relating to and understanding people.
I sexualized men all my life. Every man I would meet I would only be able to relate to him on a sexual level. This was so narrowing and limiting. Now, I communicate with men as friends and am able to have a better understanding of who people are on a personal level, not a sexual one. More importantly, was removing my habit of communicating sexually while dating. This allowed me to get to know my husband as a friend first. And while we are free to communicate on a sexual level now, it’s not the ONLY way we communicate. How nice.
As badly as most of us want a healthy relationship, we’re simply not ready for one. I liken it to wanting to hop into a career before getting a degree. And I am reminded of a story I read recently in the news where a woman was arrested for practicing law without her law degree. She had taken a few classes at law school, but dropped out because she couldn’t afford it anymore, and instead, lied on her resume, got a job as a law clerk at a courthouse and then opened her own practice, taking on clients. Eventually, she was found and arrested. And while I’m not sure if her clients were pleased with her work her not, she was still a fraud. She operated through layers of deception and deceit and in the end, she had nothing to show for herself.
We often make this kind of misstep in our love life. We are not out of one relationship before diving into another. Or, we don’t have a decent model of a loving relationship, and so, we grab whatever comes our way.
Here are a few examples of not being “ready” for a healthy relationship and what you can do about it.
- No model of a healthy relationship: If you witnessed your parents fighting all the time, or your dad ignored your mom, or your mom was an alcoholic, these are not the best models to follow. And yet, we go out into the world and find mates based on how we learned to love as a child. As an adult, however, you can learn to follow a new healthier model. I wrote a blog about it here.
- No proper grieving period: When a relationship is over, whether you called it or not, you need to grieve. Period. You need to spend a decent amount of alone-time trying to put your life back together, figuring out who you are and finding your center. Without this period of coming to terms with the end of that relationship and self-centering, you risk choosing a new relationship based on flimsy things like loneliness, neediness and sadness. A mate is not supposed to “fill the void” in your life, he or she is supposed to compliment your own awesomeness. Not grieving is also a sign that you were not exactly in the last relationship for intimacy with the person, per se, but rather, for the intensity of any relationship. This relates closely to the next point…
- Jumping into a new relationship before the old one is officially over: Like I said above, when you do not have a healthy amount of alone-time in between relationships, it tends to be a sign that you were not exactly in the last relationship for intimacy with the person, per se, but rather, for the intensity of the relationship. Almost anyone with chemistry can create that intensity, so replacing him or her is relatively easy. The healthier option, is to spend some serious time looking back at the person you broke up with to see where YOU might have gone wrong. What you might want in a new partner and what you might want to avoid.
- Choosing the same unhealthy person over and over: My mother used to say “God will give you the same problem until you learn to fix it.” If you’re dating the same “type” over and over (especially one who tends to hurt you, frustrate you or create suffering) you have not learned to “fix” this problem. Read more about love addiction, build your self-esteem, learn what your values are. Learn what it takes to change. These are all ways in which you can grow out of repeat patterns that hold you down.
- Not being a healthy person yourself: How do you expect to attract a healthy partner if you, yourself are manipulating, lying, cheating, acting out, abusive, angry, miserable and so on? You can’t do it. Well, you might be able to attract a healthy partner, but you will not be able to sustain a relationship with a heathy partner if you possess these qualities. Why? Because, forget what you were told about “opposites attract.” Not in this situation. In this situation, like attracts like. Water seeks its own level. You need to be the healthy person you want to connect with. And that means building self-esteem, being able to take care of yourself mentally, emotionally, financially and physically, and be able to enter into a relationship as an equal partner, not someone who is looking for a fix or a hole to fill.
- Expecting too much from dating: I’ve added this in because let’s be honest, dating is something you need to learn. It’s not exactly something that we all inherently know how to do. And for love addicts, who tend to set expectations way too high when it comes to dating, a book or two on how to date, what to expect and what not to expect is helpful. You can read my “Tips on Dating for the Love Addict” as well as Judith Sills “A Fine Romance,” which will really put dating into perspective.
Bottom line: A healthy relationship is a fantasy, unless you put lots of hard work into yourself and into your “career” as a healthy person!
We often think that big change is black and white. That for growth and change to occur, one must become completely different. This isn’t exactly true. I watched some silly Lifetime movie on love addiction the other night and the character who played a counselor says to the love addict, “the addict must die, so that the healthy person inside can live.” I’m not sure I believe that. For years now, my addict has lived side by side with my healthy self. Thing is, my addict changed in order to live in peace and harmony with healthy me. Addict Me now defers to Healthy Me because it knows that Healthy Me makes better choices and there’s less pain than when Addict Me was in charge. So, the addict inside has transformed itself; it has become subservient, tamed. But she’s still there. And while she no longer has the power she once had, she can still poke her head out of the ether and demand attention. Addict Me makes herself know when I long for “longing.” She rears her ugly head when I am ladened with anxiety and panic, or when I allow myself to turn completely co-dependent with my kids. She sometimes keeps me from making adult choices, and is always there when I can’t cope with stress. Most of the time though, she is a shadow self that follows me around dutifully and stays out of Healthy Me’s business.
Anyway, my point in relating this is that change doesn’t have to be so massive that a part of you must die. Unhealthy behavior can act like a shape-shifter. It is malleable. It can be taught to do better. Addict You doesn’t have to die. But it does have to be put in its place and told who’s boss…
1. The biggest and most successful change I made in my life was to grow up. That’s something I never really wanted to do. Being an adult scared the pants off me. It meant being responsible, working, being accountable, taking risks I didn’t want to take and facing fears I didn’t want to face. And while becoming a mom helped me to overcome some of my resistance to growing up ( a lot of it actually), I still remained emotionally anchored to my youth. That all changed in 2008 when the pain of remaining immature finally outweighed the fear of becoming a grown up. And I have news for you, while being a grown up is hard, it’s not that hard!!! The longer you do it, the better at it you become. Stunted growth happens when we AVOID ourselves. Period. We use relationships and sex to avoid (we also use drugs, money, shopping, food…) Once you realize that, it’s over. Your love addict can take a back seat, because you now know that the one thing it can’t have in order to be all-powerful, is self-growth.
2. The second biggest change was facing my fear of intimacy. In the past, I had always dated emotionally avoidant men who tended to be mentally, physically and emotionally unavailable. I did this as way to protect myself. I did this because I was unavailable. As much as I wanted love and a relationship, I was too immature and too afraid of exposing myself to someone who might have high expectations of me, to someone who might demand too much from me in the way of intimacy. I’m not a very intimate person. I can go “deep” every once in a while, but typically, I prefer to have very superficial relationships that don’t tie me down. I am this way because I have entrapment issues. My fear of entrapment ultimately led me to hop into relationships that were overly simplistic, where there was no real communication or intimacy (but lots of intensity). Getting over this meant finding someone who could love, respect, and show kindness to me, but didn’t trap me. Knowing yourself means knowing how much intimacy you are comfortable with. The more you experience intimacy with others and recognize that they will not “trap” you, and that YOU are in control to move about the cabin, so to speak, the safer you feel and the more intimacy you can handle. You also don’t want to confuse intimacy with intensity. Two different things. I could always handle intensity because it was a high that surged temporarily and gave me that feeling of connectivity with someone, but then it was over and I was free to remove myself from the intensity and recover. Many women experience this “roller coaster” of emotions. They experience the intensity of love and sex, then they crash and burn. I believe i subconsciously chose mates I knew would be this way (run away from me or neglect me) because I needed that recovery time to heal from the intensity. Surprisingly, I am still this way. Instead of a partner putting me on this roller coaster, it is my health and workout routine. I become intensely healthy and run and bike and workout to an extreme, and then I crash and desperately need to lie on the sofa and do nothing but recover for three weeks. Very strange!
3. I learned what it meant to really love myself and have self-esteem. And while I don’t have nearly as much self-esteem and confidence as I would like (believe it or not you don’t need a slew of this to have a successful relationship) I found out that having just a little more than I had before was just enough to create beauty in me to the point of becoming attractive to a healthy partner. How much self-esteem did I find? Well, enough to know these few things: I’m not perfect. No one is. I have a right to a good life. I have a right to be respected and loved. I may not be the most beautiful woman on the planet, or the smartest, but I am the ONLY one on this planet with this particular combination of traits that make me unique in all the world. That means that I am a gift to others and that it is my job to surround myself with people who appreciate my gifts and see me as a gift. Being a “gift” to the world has very little to do with superficial beauty, intelligence, color, class, etc. It has to do with recognizing the importance of that unique combo of traits that only you possess. What do I lack? I don’t think I’m very pretty, or smart. I sometimes feel fat (although I only weigh 125 lbs at 5’4″ and am fairly athletic), I make a ton of mistakes as a mother, friend, wife, sister and daughter…I don’t always believe in my knowledge and experience…I feel shame a lot, and it is still hard for me at times to be intimate with my hubby and kids. Oh well! Like I said, I changed just enough for it to matter.
4. I said goodbye to fantasy and put action in its place. What does that mean? Well, to a love addict, it means that for most of my childhood and adult life I was very fantasy driven. I would dream of becoming a writer but not write. I would dream of falling in love with a Prince, but I wasn’t a princess. I would dream of great careers as a movie star or public speaker, but I would’t go to college. I had zero experience, I built up no wealth of knowledge in any field, but my dreams and fantasies about what I could be were enormous and elaborate. My rich fantasy life comforted me, UNTIL I was about 25, and UNTIL I actually had to socialize. And if anyone remembers back to being 25 what’s the one thing we all talked about? Or, rather, I should ask, what’s the one thing that HEALTHY people talked about? Their education. Their careers. Whether they were going to go on to grad school or if they were trying to find a job. Me? I was waiting tables at a beer and shots joint and trying to hop into bed with the first man that paid me any attention. This was not action. This was stunted growth. This was a refusal to grow up. My marriage was also a refusal to grow up. I felt protected from having to grow up while I was married. My husband would go to work and I could have babies and continue to feed my rich fantasy life. I could AVOID life. Trouble was, since I never did anything or became anything or gained any experience in any particular field (because I never invested in myself), I had a very limited pool of men to choose from who would want me as their wife. Who wants someone with ZERO responsibility and stunted growth and an inability to be intimate and mature? Well, someone who is EQUALLY stunted and immature. It wasn’t until I was about 36 years old that I realized the whole fantasy-world wasn’t sustaining me. And it wasn’t until I was 40 that I finally said goodbye to fantasy and was able to stand on my own. I went back to college, got a degree, even invested one year in graduate school. I rarely, if ever fantasize now. What I do now (duh! I could have been doing this all along) is make goals. Making concrete goals where action is required is the adult’s version of fantasy. You dream it, you plan it, you prepare for it, then you DO IT. Wow. What a difference. Since I gave up fantasy and became goal-oriented instead, I have had many accomplishments. And all these accomplishments are investments I have made in myself.
5. I realized that my failed relationships and the bad boy-avoidants that broke my heart did not CAUSE my love addiction. I did. The bad boys were a symptom of my love addiction. We often think that love addiction is about love. Not getting enough of it, wanting too much, etc. It’s not about love. It’s not even about other people. It is about self-avoidance (torchbearing keeps you from living a realistic life; ambivalence keeps you from making important decisions; straight up love addiction keeps you from growing up). It is about using love and relationships as tools to help you soothe, cope, defend and avoid. Therefore, the object of getting healthy cannot be found in solving the issues of your current relationship. When the torchbearer’s dreams come true and she finally has the object of her fantasy, the reality will never be as rich and she will need to hold a torch for someone else; if the ambivalent love addict ever makes a decision to stay or leave a relationship, more ambivalence will follow, etc.) As I’ve written about before, your unhealthy relationship serves a perfectly functional dysfunctional purpose: to keep you from avoiding yourself and growing up. When you “fix” it (without fixing yourself), the relationship will no longer serve its purpose and the PoA must go and another put in its place. This is why I continued to repeat the same patterns and be attracted to the same character over and over and over.
6. I finally determined that I no longer had to “date daddy.” This was a big change for me as my idea of a perfect mate was wrapped up in who my dad was. Freud was right. A daughter’s first love is her father. And whether that love is reciprocated or not, betrayed or not, healthy or not, it doesn’t matter!!! A daughter will still see the combination of traits in that man as ones she must look for in a man of her own. If she gets along well with her father, respects him, and has a healthy relationship with him (and vice versa), her chances of finding a healthy partner are high. If, on the other hand, he neglects her, abandons her, does drugs, lies, cheats, steals, etc., and she loses respect for him and learns to mistrust him, her chances of finding a healthy partner have been sabotaged. I knew the psychology behind daughters dating their father. But I honestly thought that if I avoided men who did drugs or were alcoholics, I would avoid the problem of being stuck with a man like my dad. Wrong. It didn’t occur to me until much later that I was picking men with much subtler comparisons to my dad. Men that avoided me. Once I learned this lesson, I was able to finally recognize the avoidant and…avoid him :)
7. Equal in weight and importance to numero uno, was that I learned what values were and I made them more important than anything, even my relationships. Values are the most important thing in your life. Well, at least they should be. If you want to say goodbye to love addiction learn what your values are and choose them over anything else. When you do that, you change. You become healthy. You become true to yourself. Eight years ago, I could not tell you what a value was if it came up and slapped me in the face. You know how all those self-help books tell you “you won’t ever find the perfect man” and “you need to learn to tolerate a few bad traits” and “no relationship comes without problems”? Well, those books are right. But, they are preaching some very dangerous information without full disclosure. Let me explain: as a woman who learned that info, I never knew which traits were acceptable and which weren’t. Sure, I knew to stay away from big ticket items. I wouldn’t remain in a relationship with a serial killer. But there’s an equation to this information that I had all wrong. I thought that if I “loved” this man, and he, in turn “said” he loved me, and if I could write down more positives about him than negatives, I should stay. And yet, using this equation caused huge amounts of ambivalence. I would see on paper with my very own eyes that this guy only had four problems and about 100 positives. What was wrong with me? What I never in a million years understood until much later in life, was that the groupings of positives and negatives that we all come with are weighted. Picking your teeth at the table might be a negative but it may only hold a weight of one point, compared to smoking pot, also a negative, but that weight might be worth 50 points. This system of weights is not arbitrary. It comes from one source and one source only: your value system. You have a system of values already in place that you either use or don’t use. Either way, it’s there and it’s functional. And it weighs things all the time. For example: every time your PoA cheats on you and you feel like your whole body is on fire? That’s a value speaking directly to you. It’s saying: this is a quality or an action that I do not like and which causes enormous pain. Wether you listen to that value or not is the key. And when you don’t know your values or that you have to choose them over a relationship, you lose. A value you tells you if certain qualities are acceptable or unacceptable. If some traits weights one point or one hundred. If it is, in fact a value, or simply a want (not a must have). It tells you this through your emotions and through your logical brain–if you listen. When I realized what my values were I was no longer ambiguous. I was able to clearly see that while some guy only had four problems, their weight was too enormous for me to bear and they went against my value system. Once I learned this, enormous change occurred. I operated in a different way. My old ways of figuring out if someone was right or wrong for me became outmoded. This new values-based way of determining someone’s staying power in my life was a much healthier approach. It taught me to look for people who SHARED my same values. Once I did that, relationships became less painful.
Our inner love addict may be part of our true self, but it is the part of us that just doesn’t get it. It is the hungry, lonely, tired, angry, scared side of us, that makes unhealthy decisions out of fear and self-protection as opposed to health and happiness. It is the yin to our yang. The Mr. Hyde to our Dr. Jekyll. It is Pygmalion: the bedraggled, vulgar, uncivilized flower girl that I believe we need to educate in order to turn her into a duchess–not just on the outside, but the inside as well. So, no, your Addict doesn’t have to die. But she definitely needs to move over and let Healthy You drive from now on.
When you look at your Person of Addiction (PoA) who do you see? Describe him or her. Write it down. Good qualities and bad. Is he avoidant? Careless? Disrespectful? Dishonest? Happy? Kind? Funny? And then…(surprise, surprise) know that you are looking at YOURSELF.
If you are with a disrespectful man…it is YOU who is disrespecting yourself.
If you are with an avoidant man…it is YOU who is avoiding yourself and your deeper problems.
If you are with a dishonest man…it is YOU who is not being honest with yourself.
Furthermore, ask yourself, are you angry with him? Frustrated? Disappointed? Unfulfilled? When we take responsibility for our lives and start to deeply love ourselves, we realize that this is known as projection. We are angry with ourselves. We are frustrated with ourselves. And so, we attract partners that allow us to express these emotions, without having to put the blame on ourselves. If I am with an avoidant partner, it’s not my fault. It’s his! If I am with a man who does not give me what I want, it’s his fault, not mine! Right?
Like attracts like. Water seeks its own level.
In order to be healthier and attract a healthier partner, YOU need to be everything you’d like in a mate. And you need to find the source of frustration and anger within yourself and heal it. It’s not, after all, his fault he’s avoidant, disrespectful or dishonest. It’s yours for staying with him.
Now that I have been in a stable relationship for six years (longest passionate, loving relationship EVER. Thank you very much.) that feeling of initial urgency, deep passion and lust has naturally faded– the longing and feeling of “I can’t wait to devour you” is no longer there. This, by no means, means I’ve lost love for my husband. In fact, I love him more now than ever before. But the teenage puppy-love feeling has definitely…poof!…disappeared. Reality has set in. Fantasy over. And I am quite content with that. Life is good. And yet, every once in a while–randomly– the sensation of urgency and lust creeps back in, and I feel so overwhelming “in love” with my husband that it almost seems like we’ve been thrown back into some time machine and it’s January 2009 again. Did he do something especially different? Did we bond over something important? Did something in me change and realize some deep meaningful truth?
Nope. I probably ate spicy food.
Really. No joke. This fleeting sensation of heightened passion is a clear window into brain chemistry and how food, beverages, drugs and hormones can alter your emotions. It is also a clear window into your own emotions and what you believe about that. We humans, not just love addicts, can so easily be misled to believe we “feel” love, when in fact we merely feel the effects of the drinks we had the night before, or the coffee we are ingesting or a change in hormones during our menstrual cycle. These random chemicals can transform an average Joe into the love of your life in a split second, if you happen to have eaten too much sugar at the right time, thus, making you “believe” there’s chemistry between you and good ‘ol Joe. This is kind of a sad reality for those of us who would love to believe we are making rational or even spiritual choices about people, but, at first sight, we’re kinda not. At least not all the time. My point is, we need to be aware of this phenomenon. If we are not aware of it, we can easily be fooled into thinking that we are on the right track with “Joe”, only to, days later, feel strangely ambiguous about him and wonder what the heck we were thinking.
Think about it. How often have you met someone out at a club or a party when you were drinking, hooked up, only to wake up the next morning (with or without him beside you) and thought, “What have I done?!?” The alcohol instance is an obvious example of brain chemicals influencing our behavior and, importantly, what we believe to be true. But it happens with much subtler, unexpected chemicals too–sugar, caffeine, aspirin, chocolate, high fat foods, low-fat foods, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs. Instances of these chemicals at work are when you wake up in the morning on the “wrong side of the bed.” Or suddenly just feel sad. Or laugh for no apparent reason. These are all examples of the chemicals at work in our body. And one of the most important things to realize, is that what we ingest has a huge effect. During our menstrual cycle our brain chemicals change too. Without us even knowing.
And, what is love but a chemical reaction in the brain. Endorphins; neurotransmitters firing neurons. Sure, we can have what’s called “chemistry” with people. And sure, we can rest our eyes on a person we find beautiful thus causing a physical, mental and emotional response. But is this because this person has done something to cause us to feel this way? Or is it merely a force within us that has created meaning and significance from a visual cue?
Lesson to be learned: be wary of emotions that seem fleeting, quick to come and quick to go. Look instead to the foods you recently ingested, even a few days prior. Know the difference between fleeting emotions and “feelings” about something or someone that linger for a very long time (even when they too seem to come and go). These latter types of emotions are much stronger indicators of something going on, on a deeper level. MOST IMPORTANT, try not obsess or assign any deep meaning to emotions that seem to hit you out of no where. More than cupid’s arrow, they could be indigestion. ;) I always think of a newborn baby when it smiles. We so often want to believe that they are smiling at us, but the truth is, it’s probably just gas.
If you haven’t already heard, I am attempting to write a book on love addiction. And so, I am currently reaching out to fellow love addicts (in recovery or not) and asking for their “childhood story.” It doesn’t have to be very long, in fact, the shorter the better (under 1000 words, please), and I am not looking for worst case scenarios either. I am looking for TRUE tales of childhood. So, whether you were abused and ignored as a child, or loved and well cared for, I would like to hear from you. I will be selecting about three of these stories for my book and you would have to agree to having your story published, of course. But I will only publish first name, last initial, and you are free to give me an alias in order to remain anonymous.
A few more tips:
- 1000 words or less
- Please do not include any full names, locations, addresses, or information. If you do, I will most likely omit them.
- Don’t be afraid to describe your caretakers, as well as your siblings, their jobs, behaviors, care-taking abilities, addictions, positives and negatives, etc.
- Tell me how you “felt” most of the time as a child. For example, were you afraid, happy, confused, spoiled, alone?
- Be as descriptive as possible, but know that I am not looking for in depth details of actual abuse.
- Finally, be as honest as possible. Your story, dramatic or mundane, might help someone someday.
You can post your story right here in a comment if you’d like to share with others (recommended), or you can send it to email@example.com
The deadline is April 1, 2015. THANKS SO MUCH!!!
Once you have made a commitment to start to depend more on yourself versus the guy or girl you were once heavily depending on, you go through four main phases.
At first the world seems too big, life seems too overwhelming, and your problems seem insurmountable. Because you have turned a blind eye for so long and hid behind your love addiction, finally opening your eyes you often see a mess. And that can be scary as heck.
But the longer you remain recovered, grow and progress in your ability to take care of yourself, the stronger and more adept you become. The mess of your life, when you begin to address it, starts to look more and more manageable. So, in phase two your new found strength gives you a high, a state of feeling empowered and free from the chains of whatever obsession held you in its grip. There might even be feelings of grandeur, or a sense that you’re perfect now and “cured” of love addiction. Perhaps your circumstances can you lead you to believe that you are done with love addiction, especially if you are in a new healthier relationship. That inner strength and belief in yourself is healthy and necessary to propel you forward in recovery. But then there’s a third phase.
Once the high of recovery, or feeling “reborn” is gone, life may overwhelm again, or seem mundane. Reality settles back in and stress increases. It is in this third phase that many love addicts relapse, slip, or even recognize, perhaps, that the previous two phases were not genuine, and what they thought might be real recovery, was instead more avoidance in dealing with life’s issues. It is at this phase that you really need to work hard to manage your life and in particular, stress. And, more importantly, your ability to get through this phase and manage stress is your true determining factor as to whether or not you are successfully healed and on your way to a deeper recovery.
The trouble with phase three is that we have spent so many years managing our stress by essentially running away from it. Love addiction, after all, has always helped us manage stress. That was and is its purpose. And it is a rather immediate and efficient defense mechanism for dealing with stress, despite it being hugely unhealthy. When the bills are piling up, or the husband is ignoring you, or the kids are uncontrollable, or you don’t seem to want to grow up and deal with grown up issues, something in your brain has determined that if you create either a fantasy or a real life situation based on love it takes the edge off and immediately de-stresses you. Love addiction is like Calgon. Remember that old commercial? Calgon take me away!
But, while fantasy and other similar techniques (like massages, zoning out, eating comfort food, exercise and even bubble baths!) are absolutely necessary to de-stress, there is a fine line between using these techniques from time to time to take the edge off, or, in the case of love addiction, to completely avoid and submerse yourself in that avoidance. It, thus, becomes your job in recovery to know three things:
- that your nature (or what you’ve been taught) is most likely to avoid problems,
- that in order to be a successful adult, you have to fight against that nature and face problems,
- but, that you still need to learn acceptable forms of managing stress, because facing all kinds of stress coming at you without having a healthy buffer can also be unhealthy.
What are acceptable forms of managing stress?
Managing stress without the “protection” of love addiction can be daunting. You feel exposed, naked, vulnerable. For many, it will be the first time as an adult that they will face stress in a healthy way, after many years of avoiding it. And so, it’s important to face things at your own pace and not to pile too much on your plate too soon. Just like a runner needs time to heal a serious injury before hitting the road again, so too do you need time and patience with yourself. In my case, I decided, in my “empowered” state (phase two), to pile huge amounts of responsibility on my plate. Too much! I became very ill and rundown. I falsely thought that it was my responsibility to take on every opportunity that came my way (I used love addiction to avoid finding and having a career; what do you use love addiction to avoid?). I had no ability to know what I could and could not handle. And so, buried under the weight of too much pressure and stress, I ended up collapsing and turning inward–once again avoiding life’s stress and avoiding the very thing that love addiction always helped me avoid. Not good. I felt like I was back to square one.
That being said in order to make it to phase four, which is defined by your ability to manage stress in your life consistently, over long periods of time, here are a few acceptable ways of managing stress:
- Figure out what your love addiction was protecting you from. What was the secret purpose of your love addiction? To figure that out, answer the question, What am I trying to avoid? Is it facing an unhappy marriage? Being alone? Finding a career and taking care of yourself financially? Making friends? Learning to be intimate with others? Growing up and taking on responsibility? Once you figure that out, move toward what you were trying to avoid.
- Educate yourself. If you are trying to avoid facing an unhappy marriage, start by going to therapy, or reading books on marriage therapy or talking with your spouse about the choices you both need to make moving forward or end it. If divorce is something you fear, but remaining in the marriage is painful, then start to learn what you might need to do IF you were working toward a divorce. You don’t have to make any decisions, but you might want to seek out info on important issues like how much it costs to live on your own, or what you need to do to find child support if you go back to work. The more strength you build up through educating yourself, the easier it will be if and when you do face the issue.
- Set goals for yourself. List five small decisions you can make over the course of one year (if you have the luxury of a year to deal with your life’s issues) to face your stress. In my case, I was avoiding taking care of myself financially and thus, finding a career, so, my goals, despite my fears, were to finish college, find an internship to gain experience, apply for a job in my field, and go to work. As I worked my way through each of these goals my addict brain thought up very clever ways that I should bail out. My kids need me, so I should not be away from them. Or, This job doesn’t satisfy me, I should quit. And my all time favorite: OK, I proved that I can get a job, so, now I can go home and never have to work again. Remember, you’ve been taught or it’s your nature to AVOID, so watch out for ways in which you try to run away.
- Monitor and track your behavior. If you are setting goals, and facing your stress but it starts to become unmanageable do you automatically want to call your PoA? Do you find yourself going online to chat with single men every time your tired? Lonely? Stressed? Or do you now use other ways to avoid stress? When you’re overwhelmed do you crawl into a ball and cry? Or do you go to the gym, exercise, work through the stress and then go back to the problem. Your behavior is a clear window that allows you to determine whether you’re facing stress or avoiding it.
- Read about and practice “Coping Strategies.” Learn little (but hugely beneficial) tricks like breathing, meditating, self-soothing, positive self-talk and exercising when under too much stress. Learn to add as many of these strategies to your daily routine until the stressors have quieted down or been addressed.
- Eat well and avoid high stress foods. Did you know that foods can soothe and relax and they can also cause exorbitant amounts of stress, anxiety and physical pain? Foods high in saturated fat, sugar, caffeine, alcohol and even gluten can and do increase stress in the body for multiple reasons (caffeine, for example, is a stimulant that is a known trigger for anxiety and panic attacks; alcohol is a depressants and can increase depression and your brain’s ability to manage stress; saturated fats can leave you sluggish and tired, etc.)
- One thing at a time. Codependant individual especially have to be wary of doing too much too soon, especially for others. In recovery, we need to know what we can handle and the only way to find that out is to start adding responsibility to your plate, and dealing with your stressors as they come. If, for example, you are currently dealing with a divorce and it’s not finalized yet, don’t add any huge projects to your calendar just yet. Wait. Diving into one thing when another isn’t wrapped up doesn’t signals that you might be avoiding facing one thing and trying to cover it up with another. Recognize this and try to deal with one big issue at a time.
- Take time to avoid your problems. Yes, I said it. Avoid your problems. Not 100 percent. Not half the time. Just a fraction of the time. Just for a little while each day, perhaps. One of the worst things we can do in between setting goals, taking action toward managing our stress and tackling problems is worry and ruminate. So, release yourself from the obsession of worrying about your problems by positive self-talk, or, dare I say it, slipping into fantasy for a little while until you can face stress again. Despite wanting to take on the world, we still need to protect ourselves from too much stress. And avoidance is, after all a safe way to do it–if only for a little while and in a very controlled setting. Set a timer for 20 minutes and allow your brain to go anywhere it wants. This freedom to wander and ignore life’s troubles can actually have a healing affect and renew you. When the timer goes off though, it’s time to refocus on life’s more unpleasant issues.