Is It Love Or Obsession?

Obsession or love? We often can't tell by just looking.

With so many chick-flicks, and love-songs battering our subconscious on every side, I’ve come to the conclusion that many of us may have become addicts or junkies. What is it that consumes us? An idea about an all-encompassing, all-consuming, larger-than-life love, for which we will climb any mountain or delve into any valley; this occupies many of our waking (and sleeping) moments. Lest you think I’m some jaded, jilted, pessimist, nothing could be farther from the truth. I, in fact, count myself as one of those true-blooded romantics, baptised in the fires of traditional Mills and Boons and Harlequin Romance novels which fed us girls a steady diet of romantic expectations. But I am getting a bit ahead of myself.

In fact, I can say without the shadow of a doubt, that, I do so believe in love. I also think that there is a fine line between the type of love that springs form a healthy sense of self, and the obsession or infatuation which characterises many of our modern romances. Yes, as human beings designed for deep connection and intimacy, we all have this driving need to find that special someone. This I believe is instinctive and entirely necessary for the survival of the human family. Such love can be huge, all-encompassing and even self-sacrificing; and this is all well and good when such proceeds from a place of wholeness.

Our individual stories however, can greatly impact how we are able to process this need. Failure to deal with experiences of parental abandonment, rejection, low self-esteem, childish romanticised expectations, independence and identity issues, can all result in a misconstruction of this thing called love. What often results is a series of “false-love” behaviours which are more characteristic of an obsessive infatuation, than of a healthy love. Whether or not these infantile emotional responses can mature into a real adult love; will be contingent upon things like, introspection, reflection, openness to counselling and healing of painful emotional memories.

While the following lists are not exhaustive or prescriptive, they are intended to shake up our thinking in this area called love and romance. Perhaps this will lead us towards redefining certain elements of our intimate relationships as we seek to emerge a greater sense of balance in the way we choose to “live out” our love lives as we move into a new year.

INFATUATION/OBSESSION LOVE
  • Your personality becomes subsumed in your “love-interest” to the extent that you lose your sense of identity and individuality
  • You fear angering/displeasing your partner so much that you will not voice your personal opinions or convictions
  • Thoughts of your girlfriend/boyfriend ONLY, occupy your every waking moment
  • On a daily basis, you are unable to function unless you have heard your partner’s voice or seen him or her
  • You are disinterested in events/activities if your love-interest is not there or involved in such events
  • Your love’s interests/hobbies must become your interests and vice-versa
  • Your love’s personal beliefs and convictions become your own
  • You feel insecure if your partner makes new friends, especially of the opposite sex
  • You develop “show and tell” rituals like kissing or saying “I love you” in public, to stake your claim on your partner as opposed to these things being real, spontaneous demonstrations of love
  • You are deeply dependent on your partner for a sense of fulfilment or wholeness; without him/her, you feel like nothing
  • You have a deep-seated, often unspoken fear, that your partner will desert you for someone else and this influences several of the above mentioned behaviours
 

  • You can appreciate your lover’s unique personality but treasure dearly your own
  • You are sensitive to your partner’s feelings but can still hold to your personal beliefs even when they differ from your partner’s
  • Your love is more often in your thoughts but so are thoughts of other friends and family to whom you are also committed
  • You do appreciate the assurance of hearing from your boyfriend/girlfriend but can remain focussed on work or personal tasks even if you have not
  • If your partner has a special interest or hobby you don’t feel obligated to try it but can pursue your own interests independently
  • You probably share core values and beliefs but there is no compulsion to adopt your love’s every personal belief or conviction if they are not currently your own
  • You feel free to mingle with other friends or even to hang with friends from work/school periodically even if your partner is not there, (while preserving appropriate boundaries of course)
  • Demonstrations of love, whether public or private, are meaningful and innocently done to display love to your loved one and not to “show off” to friends and family
  • While you love your partner dearly, you know who you are and do not “need” them to feel whole or complete
  • You are secure in the fact that you are special, you believe you deserve to be loved and you trust your partner to lov

 

When all is said and done, there is admittedly, a fine line between love and obsession. From Jordan Sparks’ “No Air” to Beyonce’s “Halo”, popular music has been masquerading obsessive, dependent emotions as true love. When we marry these notions with the reality of our dysfunctional pasts, is it any wonder that we have jaded ideas about what love really means?  Whatever the case, I am in no way suggesting that those of us with a pre-dominance of column 1 traits, are entirely hopeless. Even in the midst of “infatuation” the tiny seeds which CAN LEAD to a more mature love have hopefully been planted. When this has not been the case, however, there is absolutely nothing wrong with letting go a purely obsessive relationship. Sometimes a relationship is wrong because emotionally and spiritually, we are just not ready.

Individuals who are caught in the throes of ‘losing themselves’ need therefore to carefully reassess why they may feel, act or think the way they do. It may mean opening up to a trusted mature friend, counsellor or Pastor who can guide them towards self-discovery and spiritual healing. Sometimes this may also involve letting go of childhood pain, past relationship disappointments or may even include forgiving a parent or past partner for their rejection. Yes, emotional baggage is the stuff obsession is made of! We therefore need to be bold enough to confront unhealthy behaviour which we recognise in ourselves or our partners. Ultimately, the true love for a lifetime which we all crave, is a well, thought-out decision, which should proceed from a place of completeness.

Seven Relationship Red-Flags

As we stand on the threshold of a new year, we are presented with a great opportunity to review our significant relationships. This is necessary in order for us to see what we may need to change and adjust, if we are to be happier more fulfilled people in 2012. Over the past year, there may have been some glaring signals which have been demanding our attention for some time and now might be a good time to take heed.

Relationship change, nonetheless, may not be as simple as it sounds. The fact is that some of us are so much in love with love, that we will do anything to have a relationship. This includes sacrificing our own expectations, our sense of personhood and even our dearly held values. But the truth is that no relationship should mean so much to us that we ignore that gut-instinct which tells us that something is not quite right. Most of us possess an in-built survival instinct which sends off a radar when a relationship is not what it should be. For those who may be dwelling in denial, it may be instructive to reflect on what I call common relationship red flags.

What exactly is a red-flag? A relationship red-flag is any behaviour displayed by a boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse, or love-interest which serves to threaten the individual or the greater good of the relationship. As a literal red-flag serves to tell us to exercise caution when driving or approaching a particular area, a relationship red-flag also warns us that we need to exercise caution before proceeding in a particular relationship. If we are already partnered, as in a marriage, the “red-flagged” behaviour should let us know that everything is definitely not right and that some intervention is necessary. If we have not yet made that marriage step, then the red-flag may tell us to rethink, postpone or re-evaluate where the relationship is headed.

Red Flag 1: Possessiveness and control

This red-flag is characterised by behaviour that is overtly possessive and controlling. While this is often exhibited by men, women can also display this trait. This individual will obsessively monitor their partner’s every move including phone-calls, visits to friends, e mails, regular mail and will seek to influence even personal choices like hairstyle, make-up, or basic apparel. The “victims” in these scenarios are not free to be who they want to be. They may also be “kept away” or cut off from friends and family and may be discouraged from making simple daily decisions without first consulting the controlling partner.

Red Flag 2: Secrecy

When a partner attempts to lead a secret or private life while still claiming to be a part of a couple, something is most definitely up. This individual will hide e mail accounts or even social networking identities like Facebook from their partner. They may spend inordinately long periods on the computer in chat rooms developing secret liaisons which they lie about in order to keep hidden from their spouse or partner. Secrecy may also extend to issues like a secret stash of money, secret bank or credit card accounts or even hidden debt. Because of the nature of this red-flag, it may, however, be difficult to discern by the clueless partner. Secretive behaviour is nonetheless possible to spot and an evasive attitude, so-called “white lies” and any late-night clandestine behaviour should alert the other partner that there is something amiss which merits investigation.

Red Flag 3: Problems Establishing Boundaries

This individual is overtly flirtatious and may do so even in their partner’s presence. Partners with this trait make themselves emotionally available to members of the opposite sex in ways that are inappropriate and fail to preserve the sanctity of the union. This behaviour may or may not include inappropriate sexual touching or innuendo. It also includes sharing intimate details about the relationship with others in a way which disrespects or undermines the other partner. This red-flag is often glaring in instances where there is a trusted childhood or college best-friend, who is privy to all the background information about the individual.  While having a trusted old-friend is all well and good, it is necessary to establish certain emotional and obvious sexual boundaries which will set the primary relationship apart from all others.

Red Flag 4: “I” Behaviour over “We” Behaviour

While holding on to one’s sense of independence while in a relationship may seem valuable at first-glance, moving from a position of ‘I’ to ‘We’ is also necessary for defining couple-dom. This will obviously be shaped by the stage or seriousness of the relationship. Dating couples who have made no serious commitment are perhaps safer with holding on to greater levels of independence. When a relationship becomes established however or if there is marriage, the language used should also be changed. As independence moves to inter-dependence, then “our” instead of “my” should be used to define those things from money, to savings, to furniture etc. The individual who is totally self-focussed is unlikely to be willing to compromise, since everything must be done his or her way.

Red Flag 5: Lack of Integrity

If your partner cheats on taxes, steals from work, bends the truth to fit circumstances or cheated on someone else to be with you, then you may have a serious problem on your hands. If a partner lacks integrity in one area, it speaks to a weak character who is self-serving and who lacks the courage to do what is right. Failure to take a stand or a propensity to be dishonest is a significant character-flaw which points to an individual who is willing to lie, cheat or steal for his/her own selfish reasons. The chances of this behaviour being repeated with issues like infidelity or other types of lies in the relationship, are therefore also very high.

Red Flag 6: Poor Relationship with Parents/Sibling

A man who is disrespectful to his mother or sisters, or one who is still emotionally tied to his mother’s apron strings, is unlikely to be the best candidate for a husband. A woman who also has unresolved father-issues, and has a negative view of men, is likely to bring this baggage to her romantic relationship or marriage. Am I suggesting that we should all have perfect parent-child relationships before we can proceed romantically? No; that would be unrealistic. But it is necessary that we at least know and can identify where our individual challenges are. A partner who is very angry with parents and speaks about them only in negative terms, needs therefore to bring a sense of resolution or closure to unmet childhood needs, before he/she can be in a place to give and receive love in a healthy, adult, relationship. If these issues remain unresolved, one partner may continue to “pay emotionally” for what the other lacked in their growing-up years.

Red Flag 7: Physical and or Emotional Abuse

An individual, who berates, insults, is always unsupportive, embarrasses publicly or physically strikes the other partner, is demonstrating behaviour which is a glaring red-flag in any relationship. These behaviours point to underlying anger, rage or to self-hatred which are projected towards the other partner. These behaviours can be life-threatening, physically debilitating and emotionally destructive to the spouse on the receiving end and are an indicator that the relationship should be reviewed or even discontinued.

Interventions

Fortunately, a relationship red-flag need not always signal the demise of a relationship. While some behaviours indicated here may appear to be more threatening than others, they all suggest that change is critical for the relationship’s survival. Intervention strategies may therefore include loving confrontation by a partner, professional counselling or therapy, and behaviour modification strategies. If the offending party is uncooperative, however, or does not see the need for change, then this should signal that some level of separation may be necessary. In a marriage, this is especially so where there have been repeated acts of physical abuse and infidelity which are threats to health, well-being and even life. Other less-threatening issues may hopefully be worked through over time. These red-flags also provide a reference point for parties in pre-marital relationships, to re-evaluate their choice before settling into what should be a life-time commitment.