I wait for it… and every time I get it. A woman or a man will call into my radio show , e mail, post to me on social media, or be on my therapy couch and heartbreakingly sob over the abuse being suffered at the hands and mouth of a current lover. And then drop in … “but I love him/her/they”.
The “But” is a self acknowledgement that this is a kind of crazy sequence of events : falling in love, enduring months even years of abuse and still feeling love, or what feels like love, for this person . Its a painful experience , having a heart that occupies both pain and love simultaneously. Lets try and untangle this so that when you bravely acknowledge you are in an abusive or even unhappy relationship, you are able to own that . And simultaneously own that you have ongoing confusing even shameful feelings of “attachment ” to this person . I am here to tell you it is Not Love. Not healthy dignified love. Its about sentimentality , hopefulness and attachment.
I begin by inviting you to define “Love”.
Tick off what fits with your definition : This is based on a 2013 methodological study in which a convenience sample of 59 British women were asked to define love as they had experienced it .
- attraction, passion & romance
- unconditional love
- sex & fun
- friendship & spirituality
- a permanent commitment
- separate people, separate lives
Robert Sternberg famously created his Triangular Theory of Love. Identify where you are currently on the triangle.
Imagine a triangle. Intimacy Is at the top of the triangle, passion and commitment make up the sides. Liking is at the top point of the triangle because it involves intimacy only. Love of this type is characterized by a feeling of closeness and trust, like a basic friendship. Infatuation is at the left point of the triangle and involves passion only. It’s characterized by physical attraction and sexual arousal. This type of love often occurs at the beginning of a relationship.Empty love is the next type of love. It’s at the right point of the triangle and is characterized by a strong commitment to maintaining the relationship. Empty love lacks emotional closeness and sexual attraction. Romantic Love is located on the left side, between the intimacy and passion points. It is characterized by the presence of both sexual passion and emotional intimacy. This is the type of love that a couple feels when their relationship is blossoming. Companionate love is on the right side of the triangle, between the intimacy and commitment points, and is characterized by the presence of both commitment and emotional intimacy. Fatuous love is located on the bottom of the triangle, between the passion and commitment points. It is characterized by the presence of both commitment and sexual passion. Fatuous love is also called fantasy love because it’s almost like the couple wants to be in love, but has no real emotional bond.
Think about how the word “love” was first brought into your relationships (past and present) . I bet you were very considered when deciding to bravely risk stating this word. You wondered : should I say it first, or wait for this person to say it; do I risk rejection by saying it out loud? Once said am I obligated to reciprocate? If i don’t immediately reciprocate, will this be the end of the relationship? What obligations and commitments come with this word “love”? Does it mean we are in a significant exclusive relationship now? What if i don”t feel the “love” I am supposed to feel or have felt previously?
The word Love is so heavily loaded. I want you to keep unloading it. First of all lets remove it from the binary of either I am IN Love or OUT of love. You are more likely to continually be on the continuum , or on the Sternberg triangle, running from extreme heart pumping in joy and lust and kindness to heart constricting in pain and confusion.
Here is your list of toxic love: This is the opposite of healthy dignified love. You may well be defining this as Love”, normalising it as “love”. Perhaps you justify staying in an abusive unhappy unhealthy relationship because you believe theses toxic feelings represent “love”. I want to unburden you from this illusion. Tick off how many of these emotions you feel:
- dominant emotions of insecurity and anxiety
- feel unsafe
- anxious that your needs will not be met
- when apart , you feel anxious and need ongoing connection
- worry about the future of the relationship
- give up your own life and commitments to be with partner
- feel empty and anxious when not with partner
- make excuses for partners disrespectful behaviour
- become less functional in life
- consumed with getting whatever you need from the other person .
These feelings are born out of a deep insecure and/or anxious attachment that began for you from birth. Being raised in a family in which there was neglect, abandonment and /or abuse sets you up for believing these above mentioned gut wrenching feelings for an-other, is real love. Which is why you tolerate misogynistic, cruel, disrespectful behaviour towards you. Your need for care, safety and affection override red flags and screams of caution. So you rationally can tell your tale of relationship neglect, abandonment and abuse and then automatically drop in … “but I love him./her/they”.
Remember this is not love, only an old childhood attachment injury that needs healing. Replace the word “love” with “attachment” and perhaps it will be easier for you to detach from the fantasy of love and the burden of pain.
You may be someone who has been raised in a very healthy and secure family , enter the adult world of dating and love , and still get stuck in an unhappy unhealthy relationship that gets you saying… “but I love him/her/they.” Its because you are living off memories of the early days of courtship when all stars were aligned and through a fog of alcohol, cocaine or opioids , you fell in love. The memories reside deep inside of you and it is this memory of of this brief magical period that, despite disappointment, frustrations and serious disillusionment , is what you mean when you say .. “but I still love him/her/they”.
In summary, when you need to justify staying with someone with a “but..”, someone who disables your happiness, visions, dreams and physical and emotional safety, know it is not pure “love”. It is an attachment disorder . It means you are love sick. I recommend you seek advise from a professional sangoma or love doctor.
Contact me for more info on Love.