Dysfunctional Definition of Love
Written by Robert Burney, author of Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls
As long as we believe that someone else has the power to make us happy then we are setting ourselves up to be victims. ~Robert Burney~
One of the biggest problems with relationships in this society is that the context we approach them from is too small. We were taught that getting the relationship is the goal.
It starts in early childhood with Fairy Tales where the Prince and the Princess live happily-ever-after. It continues in movies and books where “boy meets girl” “boy loses girl” “boy gets girl back” – the music swells and the happy couple ride off into the sunset. The songs that say “I can’t smile without you” “I can’t live without you” “You are my everything” describe the type of love we learned about growing up – toxic love – an addiction with the other person as our drug of choice, as our Higher Power.
Any time we set another human being up to be our Higher Power we are going to experience failure in whatever we are trying to accomplish. We will end up feeling victimized by the other person or by our self – and even when we feel victimized by the other person we blame our self for the choices we made. We are set up to fail to get our needs met in romantic relationships because of the belief system we were taught in childhood and the messages we got from our society growing up.
There is no goal to reach that will bring us to happily ever after. We are not incomplete until we find out soul mate. We are not halves that cannot be whole without a relationship.
True Love is not a painful obsession. It is not taking a hostage or being a hostage. It is not all-consuming, isolating, or constricting. Believing we can’t be whole or happy without a relationship is unhealthy and leads us to accept deprivation and abuse, and to engage in manipulation, dishonesty, and power struggles. The type of love we learned about growing up is an addiction, a form of toxic love.
Here is a short list of the characteristics of Love vs. toxic love (compiled with the help of the work of Melody Beattie & Terence Gorski.)
1. Love – Development of self first priority/ Toxic love – Obsession with relationship.
2. Love – Room to grow, expand; desire for other to grow/ Toxic love – Security, comfort in sameness; intensity of need seen as proof of love (may really be fear, insecurity, loneliness)
3. Love – Separate interests; other friends; maintain other meaningful relationships/ Toxic love – Total involvement; limited social life; neglect old friends, interests.
4. Love – Encouragement of each other’s expanding; secure in own worth/ Toxic love – Preoccupation with other’s behavior; fear of other changing.
5. Love – Appropriate Trust (i.e. trusting partner to behave according to fundamental nature.)/ Toxic love – Jealousy; possessiveness; fear of competition; protects “supply.”
6. Love – Compromise, negotiation or taking turns at leading. Problem solving together/ Toxic love – Power plays for control; blaming; passive or aggressive manipulation.
7. Love – Embracing of each other’s individuality/ Toxic love – Trying to change other to own image.
8. Love – Relationship deals with all aspects of reality/ Toxic love – Relationship is based on delusion and avoidance of the unpleasant.
9. Love – Self-care by both partners; emotional state not dependent on other’s mood/ Toxic love – Expectation that one partner will fix and rescue the other.
10. Love – Loving detachment (healthy concern about partner, while letting go.)/ Toxic love – Fusion (being obsessed with each other’s problems and feelings.)
11. Love – Sex is free choice growing out of caring & friendship/ Toxic love – Pressure around sex due to insecurity, fear & need for immediate gratification.
12. Love – Ability to enjoy being alone/ Toxic love – Unable to endure separation; clinging.
13. Love – Cycle of comfort and contentment/ Toxic love – Cycle of pain and despair.
Love is not supposed to be painful. There is pain involved in any relationship but if it is painful most of the time then something is not working.
There is nothing wrong with wanting a relationship – it is natural and healthy. There is nothing wrong with wanting a relationship that will last forever – expecting it to last forever is what is dysfunctional. Expectations set us up to be a victim and cause to abandon ourselves in search of our goal.
If we can start seeing relationships not as the goal but as opportunities for growth then we can start having more functional relationships. A relationship that ends is not a failure or a punishment – it is a lesson.
As long as our definition of a successful relationship is one that lasts forever – we are set up to fail. As long as we believe that we have to have the other in our life to be happy, we are really just an addict trying to protect our supply – using another person as our drug of choice. That is not true love – nor is it loving.
This is the second in a series of four articles by Robert Burney, codependency therapist, spiritual teacher, and author of Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls, about the ways in which romantic relationships in our society are set up to be dysfunctional. These articles explore the dynamics that are a normal consequence of relationships between people who have been raised in an emotionally dishonest and repressive, shame based culture.