During the past few years, hundreds of thousands of people across America have been exploring the painful reality of their addiction to love. Both men and women are reading psychologically oriented and personal-growth books on addictive love, watching television talk shows devoted to relationship problems, and forming self-help peer groups to escalate their recovery. Individually and together, these people are creating their own answers to painful problems that once seemed to escape resolution. You may be one of them. Or you may be just beginning your search. In either case, I wrote this book for you.
I am not a therapist or health-care professional. I am simply a woman like you, one who found that her painful patterns in relationships were playing havoc with her life. Fortunately, I found help, and you can, too.
For the last two years, I have been the facilitator of an addictive-love recovery group, where fifty to sixty women meet weekly to explore their difficulties in having healthy love relationships. I know from my own experience, as well as from the experiences of others, that addictive love can cause great unhappiness in one's life. About three years ago, I, too, was trapped in a hopeless relationship. I kept trying harder to please the man in my life, to help him, and to change him into the man of my fantasies. Instead, my relationship became more tense and more hopeless. I thought I was loving. Now I know I was loving too much.
I had read Robin Norwood's Women Who Love Too Much, and although I had never been in love with an alcoholic or a drug addict, many of the points she made about women in such relationships were also true for me. I knew the pain of watching myself make the same mistakes over and over again. I knew the emptiness she described.
I realized at the time that in order for me to recover from my problem, I needed to be around other women who felt trapped by patterns of the past but who wanted very much to change. I was lucky. I found one of the support groups inspired by Women Who Love Too Much and began attending.
Here were forty women—different in age, interests, and professional positions—who shared the same deep-rooted dilemma. In childhood, in work, in our adult relationships, we had automatically placed the needs of others before our own. In romantic relationships, especially, we had made whatever sacrifices we felt were required in order to avoid emotional abandonment. The results in our daily lives had been devastating.
Some of the women in the group had been mentally and physically abused. Others had devoted years to a series of destructive relationships with men who appeared to be incapable of intimacy. Others had allowed themselves to become so emotionally dependent on men that they were unable to envision independent survival. And a few had lost their self-respect to the degree that they had attempted suicide.
The first afternoon was a turning point. As I told my own story in vivid detail, I realized I could never go back to my boyfriend, John, or to my old way of being in relationships with men.
For a time, I felt enraged with my lover and what he had done to me. Then I felt enraged with myself and what I had done to me. Soon, that anger gave way to other feelings. I could see that John and I had lied to each other—and to ourselves— about who we were, what we wanted, and why we were together. Ultimately, it wasn't just these pretenses that I had to face, but the carefully assembled pretenses of a lifetime.
For months thereafter, I religiously attended the hour-and-a-half support-group meeting every Saturday. I heard the same stories from women who had been married for thirty years and from women whose longest relationships had lasted three months; from professional, highly fashionable women and from battered wives who were living in shelters. I really listened to those women. I learned, and I started to heal.
I learned that my extreme "generosity" was not always motivated by noble intentions. Often, I gave to others to gain their approval and acceptance and to boost my self-esteem. I learned that part of my need for privacy and for a sense of self-containment was generated by my poor self-image: I just didn't want anyone to become aware of my typical human flaws. I learned how my unwillingness to let anyone see me as I am had locked out the possibility of genuine intimacy. No one can love someone he doesn't know—and no one knew me. I had made sure of that.
I learned that my over involvement in my lover's life, my worrying about his problems and feeling his pain, was not merely due to my sympathetic nature. It was a way for me to avoid getting my own life together, to stop focusing on my own needs and feelings. Loving him too much meant not loving myself enough.
With the help of the group, I made the decision to begin to learn the truth about who I was and why I behaved the way I did. I began to see that personal discovery doesn't come from simply understanding concepts about self-healing. Rather, it comes from applying that understanding again and again in one's daily life. Real, lasting recovery comes from changing painful patterns and choosing healthy relationships. Once I began to change these deep patterns and make new choices, I began to grow into a woman who could choose to be either intimate with a man or happily on my own.
Developing the Capacity for Smart Love
You, too, can make the transition from hurting to healing and to living a better life. This book is designed to help you develop a healthier self, to move from feelings of pain and emptiness to a sense of wholeness. As you read the text and complete the exercises, you should experience a new level of self-awareness about how you think, feel, and behave in intimate relationships.
This is a book about "smart" love, as opposed to addictive love. When love is smart, you get your sense of self-worth from within. When love is addictive, you seek it from the approval of others. When love is smart, you're involved in a pleasurable give and take; when it is addictive, you give until you're empty. When love is smart, you empathize with your lover's feelings; when love is addictive, you become consumed with his feelings and lose touch with your own. When love is smart, you refuse to allow others to abuse or misuse you; when it is addictive, you may become the victim of others' needs.
Smart love is not about finding or forgetting a man. It is about finding and forgiving yourself. There are healthy people involved in intimate relationships, and there arc healthy people who are on their own. But before you can make such a choice, you must first choose to be healthy.
This book is for:
Those in support groups working together toward healthier love relationships. This book can be used in a group setting to enhance the transitions involved in personal change. The exercises can be done before, during, or after meetings. Discussions can be easily structured around the exercise material.
Those in support groups who prefer to do the exercises privately.
Those who don't have access to groups or don't wish to attend one. Again, you can use the exercises in this book on your own. They make up a personal program for awareness and recovery that is gentle and profound.
Those in psychotherapy. It can help focus your insights on relationship issues or help you move out of a "stuck" place.
Others Who Love Too Much
As a support-group facilitator, my experience has been primarily with women's groups; therefore, I have directed this book specifically to women in relationships with men. However, I do not wish to imply that only women are involved in addictive relationships. A man may also engage in obsessive patterns in his romantic relationships, especially if he is from a dysfunctional family.
Addictive love patterns can be seen throughout all types of relationships: women with women, men with men, and parents with children. As you read this book, supply the pronoun appropriate to your particular situation.