It would be easy to presume that when we think of love, we all think of the same thing— this could not be further from the truth.
In previous chapters, we learned about love.
If we were to think of one word to describe love, what would it be? Beloved, romantic, caring, intimate, devoted, adored, passionate, desired? For many of us, these are the words that come to mind. But what about these words: disappointed, hurt, abandoned, abused, betrayed, deceived, lonely, unreliable? Are these the words we naturally think of when we think of love? For some of us, yes. This is how love was modeled for us.
Our view of love, like everything else, is shaped by experience. There are many variables that influence our expectation of love: our biology, family of origin, attachment, trauma, emotional intelligence, and more. We can’t possibly discuss everything that played a role in our love-learning process, but there are several factors that are key contributors. Understanding how they impact our view of love is vital to our healing.
I can’t understand why men treat me poorly, even when I try to do everything for them. This had been a pattern in many of my relationships. In my current relationship, with José, I work hard to appease him, yet cry myself to sleep night after night.
When I got pregnant, José asked if I really thought we would be together forever. He demanded that I abort our unborn child, called me names that cut through my soul, then blocked my number on his phone. The day I decided to move closer to my family so they could help me raise my baby, José reached out. If I was going to have his baby, he wanted to be involved. I was so excited! I quickly moved in with him and worked harder than ever to keep the peace. I let him take control, making all the decisions, hoping to avoid any conflict. I thought, This will make him truly love me.
When our baby arrived, I spent tireless evenings alone with the baby, then would get up for work. So sleep-deprived, I began to feel crazy. I loved my daughter more than anything but also recognized that I needed a break. José went out with friends all the time, so I didn’t think it was a big deal when I wanted to go out with friends, without the baby. José should stay home with HIS daughter. To make things easier on him, I made sure our daughter was sleeping when I left. While I was out with friends, I received a stream of manipulative texts:
You are a horrible mother for leaving your baby.
If you wanted to party then why did you have a kid?
I’m leaving you.
When I came home that night, José had moved out of our room. I cried myself to sleep, wondering why this continued to happen. Over the next couple weeks, I kept quiet, did extra loving things for José, and everything went back to normal. I didn’t want my daughter to come from a broken home.
Three months later José got sick. I was sure it was allergies—everyone around me had been suffering from allergy season—but José insisted it was my cat. This didn’t make sense; the cat hadn’t bothered him in the two years we had lived together, so why now? I’ve had the cat for 15 years. It gave me so much joy to see my daughter playing with the cat.
I pleaded with José to give it time, to see if he was just experiencing a common cold or allergies. Within a week, José had all of the cat’s things by the door and told me not to come back with the cat. He again moved his things out of our room, into the second bedroom. I desperately wanted this relationship to work, for me and my daughter. With a broken heart I took the cat to my mom’s house, until I could find him a good family.
I just don’t understand why José continues to treat me poorly when I do everything to make him happy. I wonder what I should say or do differently to avoid all the conflict with José. All I want is to make José happy with me again— make him love me again.
In chapter 6, we learned about our attachment style and how it contributes to our ability to form relationship—how it trained us to be in relationship. Of the four attachment styles discussed, only one type developed a secure attachment. The other three developed an insecure attachment style.
If we were not raised to understand relationship—to understand love—we will continue to struggle in relationships, making the same mistakes over and over again, and still never recognize what went wrong.
For many of us with an insecure attachment style, when we begin a new relationship, it becomes our only focus. It becomes our world. Let’s say we meet a person, a potential love interest, and then start dating that person. We are enamored. We quickly become emotionally attached to this relationship—not just to the person, but to the relationship. We clear our calendar so we’re available to this person. We minimize our other relationships to make this new relationship a priority.
We spend endless hours fantasizing about how the relationship is going to develop “perfectly” and how this person—the love of our life—is going to make us eternally
happy.129 We neglect our other responsibilities. We become consumed by this relationship. We convince ourselves that this person is going to love us forever—they hold the key to our happiness.
Now an emotionally healthy person—a securely attached person—recognizes that personal happiness is not solely based on another. However, a person who is emotionally unhealthy—an insecurely attached person—cannot comprehend this idea. In many ways, we have created a delusion around this relationship, attaching any hope of lifelong happiness on this other person. The “perfect” life we’ve created through fantasy, has been projected onto this unsuspecting individual.
Even when the relationship begins to deteriorate, we find ourselves clinging to the fantasy we’ve created in our mind, clinging to the relationship as though our life depends on it. We become desperate. We will do ANYTHING to keep the relationship, to keep the other person from falling out of love with us. We devote ourselves to the preservation of this relationship. We become codependently committed to the relationship. We become increasingly obsessed.
To make matters worse, as the other person pulls away, our grasp becomes tighter. We hang on with all our strength. We use manipulation. We use deceit. We are in complete denial. We hold on as though this person—the relationship—is our oxygen; and without it, we will die.
We are addicted. We are addicted to love. We are addicted to relationship.
When we struggle with love and relationship addictions these patterns are consistent, and not just in romantic relationships. This is how we behave in all our relationships. Why? Because we were never taught how to be in relationship. We immediately attach all our weaknesses, insecurities, hopes, dreams, and identity on to others. We make them responsible for our happiness.
This is why we are continually disappointed by love. We think that love is unreliable because it never turns out like we plan. From our perspective, we give and give to make others happy, but we can’t seem to find anyone else who “gives as much as we give.”
So many of our behaviors surrounding love, sex, and relationships contain elements of fear. We fear that no one will love us. We fear that everyone will leave us. We fear that we will be alone. The impact of fear in relationship is endless. To some degree, we allow our fear to control our behaviors, to control our relationships.
Although some of our fears have a basis in reality, many do not. So often our fears become our main focus, paralyzing us and making us ineffective. We are unable to move toward health when we are so consumed by fear. Our feelings of fear are generated in the limbic system of our brain (see chapter 2, lesson 2). In many ways, the enemy of our soul uses our fear against us—using our fear to keep us stuck in our addiction, using our fear to keep us in isolation.
When it comes to facing our fears and changing our behaviors, it starts with awareness. What fears are keeping us from cultivating relationship with God and others? Which of our fears are creating a prison from where there is no escape?
Then, how would we prove to ourselves that our fears are irrational or not based in reality? How do we convince ourselves that change is needed? What steps will we take to move from living in fear to living in freedom? 226
The only way for this to happen is through new experiences and support of scripture. We cannot get beyond ourselves if we don’t know who God has called us to be. We have to change our thinking. We have to change our core beliefs and the way we see ourselves so we can understand the way God sees us. We have to allow God’s Word—His personal promises to us—to permeate our limbic system, diffusing our fears. This is how we will discover lasting freedom.
This week, use the following table to identify some fears that are keeping you from moving toward health. Complete a double bind exercise. This is one of the best ways to face your fears and evaluate what change is needed. Then, find a Scripture that supports God’s personal promise to you, combating the fear. This is how to create practical, lifelong healing from the inside out.
Remember, you can’t change everything at once—lifelong change takes time. Be patient with yourself as you practice relieving the fear in your life.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.
The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
Many times, change requires that we face our fears—face the consequences if we don’t change and also face the unknown if we decide to change. Embracing change may be one of the most challenging and most rewarding things we choose to do. Be brave. Let the women in your group support you through this change.
Complete the FASTER Scale, Group Check-in, Self-Care lesson, Thoughts/Feelings
Awareness Log, and Change & Growth Analysis in your Unraveled: Weekly Tools before
the next group meeting.