The longer you’ve been reading my blog, the more you get that it’s not exactly love addiction that’s your problem (oh sure, that’s the outward manifestation of it!). It’s self avoidance. Plain and simple.
The more you chase after a toxic, unavailable, abusive partner and focus on fixing something that will most likely never be fixed, the more you are avoiding yourself. The more you commit fully to a fully non-committed individual, the more you are refusing to focus on meeting your essential needs. And the more you remain anchored to fantasy land (he’ll come around someday...), the more you are denying yourself reality worth living. Worse, you are avoiding taking care of yourself, mentally, emotionally and physically. You are avoiding making responsible, safe choices for yourself by choosing people who respect you, who are kind to you and who really deeply want to be around you. And you are avoiding growing up and all that entails.
That you love him is merely a distraction.
So, the other night, while I was devouring my new book Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson, PhD, I came across a few paragraphs about avoidance and where it comes from. Hanson writes that our “brain is built more for avoiding than for approaching.” Yikes! He says that’s because “it’s the negative experiences, not the positive ones, that have generally had the most impact on survival.” He goes on to give examples. For example, if you miss your opportunity to hook up with a sexy excruciatingly, you can always find another one. But if you miss your opportunity to dodge a charging sabertooth tiger, you’re dead. No second chance. But, how does that prehistoric behavior apply to today’s world where there’s virtually no threat of charging tigers?
Well, according to scientific research, we still desperately try to control and protect ourselves from perceived threats. It’s almost as if our brain doesn’t distinguish between a charging tiger or a partner who is placing a pretty serious demand for commitment on us. Our brain doesn’t see the difference between an attacking mammoth and a nagging heap of responsibilities that overwhelm and distress us. In the avoidant brain, these scenarios are all seen as equally unpleasant threats that need to be avoided.
The reality is, however, that while we may be prone to our biology, we have evolved enough to know better. And we now have the tools to change and re-evaluate what is truly life-threatening versus what is merely uncomfortable (excruciatingly uncomfortable for some). The first step towards avoiding avoidance is, like it or not, to face your fears and recognize that they won’t kill you. Being alone is a big fear. Many people avoid getting out of a bad relationship simply because the fear of being alone is overwhelming. Finding a job and supporting yourself financially is another. The fear of entrapment in a nine to five job can really keep people paralyzed from seeking out any work. And let’s face it, when we are obsessing over a chaotic, toxic relationship, we have little time to focus on our responsibilities.
If this sounds remotely familiar try “exposure therapy.” Expose yourself little by little to that which frightens you, that which you are avoiding. If it is fear of being alone, then, while still in a relationship, schedule one day of solitude per week. Go see a movie by yourself. Go out to a restaurant by yourself. Curl up on the sofa and binge watch your favorite Netflix series. You might find that during your alone time you learn more about who you are and what you like. You are also strengthening your survival skills to be able to emotionally handle time on your own.
Procrastination is one thing; complete avoidance is another. Whatever you are trying to avoid won’t go away. Chances are, it’ll get worse. More than that, obsessing over your relationship won’t help you resolve the real problem: self avoidance.
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 (hello brain plasticity!). 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 (and drugs, money, shopping, food, you name it…) to avoid. Once you realize that, it’s over. Your love addict can take a back seat, because you now know that the one thing she 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! My mother puts it this way, “We’re sprinters, not long-distance runners!”
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.
Dating is such an enormous challenge for people coming out of bad, toxic relationships. We get signals crossed, often don’t pick up on subtle clues and, because we’re still a little flinchy, we try desperately to dodge any future problems by creating a set of dating rules or expectations, just so as not to get burned again. And while a certain amount of protection in the form of guidelines or boundaries is always a good thing, too many will insure that you pretty much never date again. here’s how to cut back on a few of those iron clad rules…
Don’t make assumptions about people before you know them: My mother used to say, Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see. And that especially goes for dating. Dating between two healthy individuals is tricky, tricky, tricky, but for those who come from abusive or dysfunctional families, or are newly healing from a bad break-up it can seem hopeless. Many of us come from a world where our circle of friends or family members didn’t teach us healthy dating. We’ve learned to mistrust people, we’ve learned that people can be unreliable, and we’ve learned to protect ourselves from people who might hurt us. So, when we come out of unhealthy and try to find healthy, we tend to bring with us all that mistrust, fear and skepticism about the world, and often, we make blanket assumptions about people that lean toward the negative because that’s all we know. Here are a few examples:
- Assuming all people lie
- Assuming you will be rejected because, “he’s too good” for you
- Assuming he’s not the one because of the way he dresses or looks
- Assuming he/she will be boring because of their [job], [lifestyle], [interests] (fill in the blanks)
- Assuming you should not date someone who has only be single for a few months
- Assuming you should not date someone who has been single for a few years
- Assuming you should not date someone because they don’t “seem” like your type
When we pull information about people from our fantasy-brain, we may or may not be correct about our assumptions, because, like I said, your assumptions come from what you’ve learned in the past.
But keep in mind that the healthier you become through self healing, the better quality people you will meet and attract. And so, you don’t want to write off someone for the same reasons you wrote off past partners. Why? Because, YOU’VE changed. Because you’re different. And because the process of dating is getting to know someone first, before making decisions about them. Remember, you’re not looking for perfect. Mr. Perfect doesn’t exist. You are looking for shared values, attraction, compatibility, kindness, respect and so on. And because you’re not omniscient, you are unable to know who people are until you actually do the work of getting to know them.
Don’t be a Seinfeld: There’s a great episode of Seinfeld where he breaks up with a woman because he doesn’t like the fact that she eats her peas one at a time. In fact, part of the humor of that show is that all the characters on Seinfeld all suffer from the same neurotic attribute of fault-finding in others. No one is ever good enough for them; and so, they’re eternally stuck with just themselves. Perfect for a sitcom, horrible if it’s your real-life situation.
Extreme pickiness is an unhealthy state. When you find fault in everyone you meet you are either a.) attracted to and pursuing the wrong type of person, or b.) you are unable to accept people and relationships as they are. We all have faults. You do too! And usually, extreme pickiness comes from a place of insecurity within ourselves, and fear of commitment. When we do not accept, tolerate or forgive our own faults, how can we do so in others? When we cannot tolerate little things like the way a person eats, or the way they laugh, or the length of their fingers, we need to ask ourselves if we are creating these barriers to attraction because we’re really not attracted to this person, or, because we are afraid of being available and vulnerable in a relationship. If it happens once in a while–say, you meet someone and they have an unappealing laugh, then, most likely, you’re not picky. You really just don’t like their laugh. If it happens all the time, and you always seem to find something wrong with people, then you’re picky. It’s you.
Remember too, that there’s a healthy level of pickiness. We want to have relatively high standards of people, we want to make sure their values match ours as close as possible. We want to take it slow, get to know people and not dive into something too quickly. And we certainly want to be attracted to our partner and like who they are. But we don’t want to be so extreme that we dump a really great guy simply because he has a crooked smile or wears baseball caps sideways. Don’t let pickiness be your way of over-protecting yourself from a relationship.
Don’t give up too quickly: People are strange. They hold back. They don’t always make good first impressions. A while back, there was a friend of mine who would date a guy and if he didn’t impress her, or say the magic words (who knows what they were!) by the second date, she would not go out with him again. In her mind, she didn’t want to “waste” her time. In retrospect, she was lazy. Dating is work. It takes time. It takes effort. You have to be willing to put in that work, time and effort if you want to successfully find someone right for you, and that means hanging on through a few possibly awkward dates, to see if there’s anything deeper there. If you find yourself breezing through men the way you skim through Instagram, you’re probably doing it wrong. And keep in mind there’s always obvious moments where giving up quickly is a good thing–if you find yourself really turned off by someone, that might be a good sign that you don’t need to give this a second go. But, think of your friendships. I am sure you have friends that you didn’t click with right away, but eventually grew to love. It’s the same with dating. Don’t set your expectations so high that no one can reach them. Dating is absolutely NOT about clicking and falling in love on the first date. It’s a slow, somewhat awkward, but exciting process of getting to know someone. A good rule of thumb is three to five. Three dates aught to tell you whether or not this person is worth investing in. Five dates is usually the amount of time it takes for some of the more glaring red flags to make themselves known.
Don’t hang on for dear life if it’s time to go: Watch out for your own red flags. Don’t let “don’t give up too quickly” turn into “hang on for dear life.” Remember it takes two to date. If he bails out before you’ve determined whether he’s right for you, then, he’s not right for you! You don’t get to go chasing after him in a moment of “Wait, we could be perfect together!” He has his own ability to determine if someone is perfect for him or not, and you need to respect that, just as you would hope he’d respect you. Dating is not a game of trying desperately to hold on or convince someone of your worth. You are worthy! Your worth has nothing to do with someone wanting to continue dating you or not. And vice versa.
Don’t create impossible hurdles to your heart: While protecting yourself is very important and, let’s face it, we all want to avoid the dreaded broken heart, we cannot get back in the ring and expect to win if we don’t throw a few punches and get knocked down a time or two. Wanting and needing love makes us vulnerable, but just as we cannot impulsively spew out all our emotions and hope to instantly click with our soulmate on the first or second date, we cannot operate from behind a steel barrier either. You need to let people in. Trust me. Letting down some of your walls will not rob you of anything. Your beauty and energy and spirit will all still be intact. You are only sharing it. Leo Buscaglia, the famous “Love Doctor” used to say, I can love and love and love and love and the more people I love, I never lose the power to love. On the one hand this sounds like a recipe for spreading yourself way too thin, but, the truth is, we can share ourselves without losing ourselves. Protect yourself, yes. But, don’t entomb yourself in a bomb shelter with 10 feet thick steel walls. Not only will you hurt yourself, you will deny others the beauty that is you.
Bottom line: dating is all about balance. You need to be able to negotiate your way through the dating world by using your logic brain and your heart, and quite often your gut too. When we only use our emotions (never a good idea), or haven’t yet learned how to trust our brain, we fail to approach dating in a healthy, holistic way. So, we need to give people time and not make quick assumptions about them either for good or bad. We also need to remove the “fantasy” idea that dating is all about love and sex. It’s not. It’s about learning. Having fun. Experiencing the world with this one particular person. No quick investment. And no quick write off. And lastly, we need to take a look at our own behavior and our own level of pickiness about people. If you’re finding fault in every potential partner, you’re doing so for a reason: to protect yourself from a deeper, more intimate connection with someone for fear of getting hurt. If that’s the case, it’s time to do a little more work on yourself before heading out into the world of dating. It’s rough out there!
The other day, as I sat in a cafe in Philly having no plans, I took out my cell and checked Facebook–my all time worst time-waster. Among a gazillion other posts, I came across one that snapped me out of my lighthearted mood: “Very hard to accept the death of a friend who was just diagnosed five weeks ago with cancer.” The sentence made my spine grow hot. A wave of fear overtook me. My first thought: that nagging back pain I’ve had this past month is probably cancer. This is going to happen to me.
My second thought: Did I just make that person’s suffering about me?
How often do we do this? We hear about a tragedy half way across the world and then, make it our own. If a plane crashes, our flight next week will crash too. If a relative comes down with an illness, we immediately take a health inventory of ourselves. Me, me, me, it’s all about me.
This is not compassion, or empathy or sympathy, but rather, a form of situational narcissism. It’s not that you aren’t concerned with others’ suffering, per se, it is that you are overly concerned with your own suffering and how everyone else’s problems relate to you.
This same type of situational narcissism can easily be applied to your toxic relationships. How many times have you taken his avoidance of you, or absence, personally? How many times did he say he was coming over and when he didn’t, you blamed yourself. How many times has she said she loved you, only to end up with someone else while you’re left wondering, “what did I do wrong?”
Individuals make choices, they have experiences, they exist. For most of their lives (no matter how much you’d like to believe otherwise) they think and exist outside the realm of YOU. When we write ourselves in to other people beliefs, actions, behaviors, circumstances and choices, we ignore reality and instead, opt for a fantasy world where we are the main attraction in everyone else’s existence. I have news for you, you’re not.
So? What is about you? Well, your perspective. Your choices. The decisions you make. If your partner is repeatedly choosing to make other plans outside of seeing you, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to stay and tell him to make more choices about you? To stop hurting you? Ignoring you? How long will you choose to live with someone who doesn’t make you a priority at least part of the time?
Stop writing yourself into other people’s script as if it’s all about you. Stop thinking that others are somehow in control of your fate. They are not. And just as my neighbor’s cancer has nothing to do with me or my fate, your PoA’s choice to stay home and watch video games instead of be with you has nothing to do with your value or your worth. You do.
August 17: Problem solved. I laid in bed and felt sick all day and then P came and brought me lunch, a huge chocolate chip cookie and Harper’s magazine. We talked some more and played. And then after he left, he called me to tell me something really wonderful, and I returned it with something mean. He said, “I really love the way you interact with Jackie. I think you’re a great influence on her. And I hope that if you ever decide to leave, you’d remain in her life and mine.” Read more…
Sometimes we lose sight of our priorities. Or maybe, we don’t exactly know what our priorities are. Especially when it comes to dating. We can often meet a really good looking guy who lavishes a mound of attention upon us and, poof! Just like that, we forget what we’re looking for, what we need and what will ultimately serve us well in the long run. Worse yet, we can easily get caught up in a fantasy of what we think we want and need. For the sake of immediate gratification, we forget all our values and fling ourselves into what we hope will be the relationship of our dreams.
For love addicts, we tend not to know our values. We tend to have a very immature, superficial idea of love that is not so much based on health, as it is on neediness, an urgency to fill a void, and a desperation to use people and relationships as a way to cope or worse, to avoid the reality of our lives.
But having a healthy relationship takes patience and the courage to say no to the wrong people. It takes a strong sense of self to be able to recognize good qualities in others, and not so good qualities. And above all, it takes the determination to love yourself to the point where you want healthy people, places and things in your life.
So, how do you know good qualities from bad? How do you recognize healthy people versus unhealthy? Well, you look for people who do this…and not that…
- DOES THIS: Asks you out on a date. NOT THIS: Waits around for you to ask him out on a date
- DOES THIS: Calls you and/or calls you back NOT THIS: Doesn’t call you or call you back, and if he does it’s five days later.
- DOES THIS: Makes time for you, wants to spend time with you. NOT THIS: barely has time for you and when he does it’s usually in the bedroom.
- DOES THIS: Lives a clean, healthy life. NOT THIS: smokes, drinks to excess, does drugs, doesn’t face or deal with his health issues, eats poorly, etc.
- DOES THIS: Takes care of himself financially. NOT THIS: Still lives with parents, borrows money, in debt, doesn’t work, or doesn’t have a stable job where he can pay his bills and pay for a roof over his head without depending on others.
- DOES THIS: Communicates well. NOT THIS: Bottles everything up and won’t talk, or communicates only minimally, refuses to face emotional discussion, poor listener.
- DOES THIS: Lives an honest, respectful life. NOT THIS: Cheats, lies, is evasive and deceptive, dishonest in business, in personal matters or with strangers.
- DOES THIS: Treats you (and others) with respect, care, kindness and dignity NOT THIS: treats you poorly, ignores you, avoids you, repeatedly unkind to you, controls you, etc.
- DOES THIS: Enjoys you and likes you for who you are, not what you could or should be NOT THIS: Expects you to be something or someone you are not.
- DOES THIS: Is a genuinely happy person NOT THIS: is a genuinely unhappy or angry person
- DOES THIS: Feels and acts passionate towards you NOT THIS: doesn’t feel or act passionate towards you, withholds sex, love or affection, cold or inappropriate behavior, fear of intimacy
- DOES THIS: Is a grown up and acts like one. NOT THIS: is immature and refuses to grow up.
Who hasn’t had this thought pop into her head: If only my boyfriend saw a therapist, everything would be different.
I can’t tell you how many times I wished this exact thing. And why did I wish it? Because I believed that after all the self-help books I’d read, therapy was the answer. Not to my problems, of course, but my boyfriend’s. And if my bf would just go to a therapist, said therapists would back me up and convince my guy that he needs to change, (just like I said he should) or he would risk losing a relationship with me.
Looking back over all the men I dated, only two were willing to go to therapy “for me,” my ex husband and G. Both therapy sessions went horribly wrong.
The first time my ex husband and I went to a therapist he lied about his cheating and had no real interest in changing his behavior. He merely did it to appease me, and probably because he felt bullied by me and just gave in. I was desperately trying to save my marriage, singlehandedly, and the only advice we left with was “You two need to date again.” This didn’t exactly resolve anything. But, it did delay the inevitable. And the inevitable came with a flip flop. It was now me who wanted out of the relationship. And so, the second time we went, it was on his instance to save the marriage. But, by the time I got to therapy, I was completely unable to be “convinced” to stay in the marriage and we divorced shortly after.
When I dated G, I was in therapy because I was unable to accept G’s “flaws” and I was trying to figure out why I was always so frustrated and depressed. He always said he loved me, and he called all the time. What was my problem? Well, my problem was he smoked pot and never wanted to have sex with me. So, I thought if I could get him to meet with a therapist, she would convince him these things were interfering in our relationship and he should change his ways to save the relationship.
This didn’t work. He liked smoking pot and he had an extremely low libido (most likely because of the pot), and he had no desire to change.
So what did these men learn from therapy? Probably nothing. What did I learn? That’s more important here. I learned that just because a well-educated relationship specialist understands what it takes to have a healthy relationship, they could not convince someone to love me or to BE what I wanted them to be. Just because my therapist and I agreed that my boyfriend’s behavior was not acceptable, it didn’t mean he also agreed or even cared. And therein lies the problem.
Therapy doesn’t convince anyone to love you, especially if they don’t want to be convinced. And believing in therapy as a way to “fix” a relationship that is founded on neglect, disrespect, avoidance or any other ingrained behavior is wishful, unrealistic thinking.
Therapy ONLY works when two people are committed to each other and when those two people share the same value in working on the relationship. More importantly, what we learn from therapy is often something we don’t particularly want to learn: that we cannot control or convince others to love us. And the “everything will be different” fantasy typically comes when you ditch the guy who clearly doesn’t love you and replace him for one who does. And, surprise! When that happens, you typically find yourself not needing therapy at all!
August 13: I have to say that yesterday was the closest I felt to P in a long while. He touched me all over, and massaged my neck, and took care of me, all because I had an excruciating headache. And I mean excruciating. He called me in the afternoon and asked if I could come down and eat with him since he didn’t have to be at work until 10:30pm. I said sure, but once I got there, the headache turned ugly and I felt horrible. And yet, it felt so nice to have his hands on me like that. He even insisted on driving. We ended up at Applebees eating bad food that we regretted eating. Before that, I…Read More
My life has been somewhat chaotic for the past several years. In 2013 I quit working with my brothers at our company because I felt I was being treated poorly, and so in July 2014, I started my own business (a smoothie bar inside a fitness center). But, after a year, I felt trapped and wanted to do more with my life. So, I sold the business in September 2015. From September to the beginning of November I had no job and so, my goal was to return to grad school to get my Master’s in Counseling. During that time of no work I was sick almost every day, fought with my husband, felt depressed and was bored out of my mind. But, on November 6, the president of our company died, which thrust me right back into having to work with my brothers. While I was once again in a situation where I was being bullied, mistreated, ignored and hated, I eventually felt as though I had a greater purpose–to save my company. All the whining I did in between jobs, all the panic attacks and anxiety and yelling at my husband, all vanished once I had a huge problem outside myself–once I had something to overcome.
I see my love addiction the same way, and you, as well, should consider the idea that your love addiction, or, at the least, your PoA (person of addiction) may fill a much needed purpose. He or she might be helping to distract you from yourself, so you no longer have to deal with JUST YOU. So often we create problems or hold on to problems as security. No matter how bad they get, they seem to offer a painful “thrill” to an often humdrum existence.
I don’t know how to resolve this need in me to have a “struggle” or a problem. And, I am not so sure it’s an entirely bad thing IF I work towards solving the problem and making the problem my life’s work. Despite the pain I must endure from my one brother who regularly attacks me, I am struggling to help rebuilt a company. And when I focus on that, I feel good about myself.
So, ask yourself, if your problem or struggle is a dead end or has a worthy purpose. What parts of it are you in control of? What is out of your control? If you are struggling to convince your PoA that he should love you but you continuously find yourself being ignored or neglected, this may not be a “healthy” problem to solve, but rather a toxic one that could be draining you.
If my only problem was to fight with my brothers, I would say this problem of mine was a toxic one. In fact, that’s how I felt in 2013. I was unable to make any changes in the company (because the president was still alive), and so, the problem of dealing with my brothers was mostly beyond my control. This time around, my brothers are still beyond my control, but I now see a PURPOSE hidden within the problem. I only see this purpose because I am able to see REAL AND POSITIVE RESULTS from the work I am doing. So, for now, I will take on this problem as a healthy one. Yes, it is distracting me from myself, but it is also giving my life purpose.
Is your love addiction giving your life purpose? Or is it sucking the life out of you? Choose your problems wisely.
Here’s the year in review, folks!
Here’s an excerpt:
The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 110,000 times in 2015. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 5 days for that many people to see it.