Thursday, October 20, 2011

Love is NOT an excuse.

Growing up I would hear "it's just because I love you!" while my mother enforced a rule, made me eat broccoli or had a doctor give me a shot.  She was often singing this out in self-defense while I glowered and sulked. It made her feel better, I am sure. It reminded her of the reason she was willing to incur my petulance.

Teaching me personal responsibility, discipline and good eating habits (and inoculating me from polio) were loving acts on her part. The problem is that soothing a hurt with a declaration of love can set up a troublesome dynamic.

Now let's look at a relationship between two adults where one is causing the other pain (emotional or otherwise).  Perhaps it is a friend who betrayed you. Maybe it's a boyfriend who regaled his buddies with stories about your sex life, or a husband who slept with his colleague on a business trip, or screamed at you when you loaded the dishwasher in a manner contrary to his preference.  Let's look at the typical responses, shall we? I'll offer my translation of what is really being said below.

Backstabbing Friend: I'm sorry. I was jealous of you. I love you.
Translation: I'm sorry you found out.  What I gained was more important than you. You have to accept my apology because I love you.

Lockeroom Boyfriend: I'm sorry. I was just bragging because you're so awesome/sexy/pretty. I love you.
Translation: I'm sorry you found out.  What I gained from having trashed you held greater sway on my actions than my love for you. You have to accept my apology because I love you. 

Cheating Husband: I'm sorry. It/she didn't mean anything; I LOVE you. 
Translation: I'm sorry you found out.  What I gained, socially, personally and sexually from cheating on you was more important than you. You have to accept my apology because I love you.

Abusive Husband: I'm sorry. I just love you so much you drive me crazy sometimes!
Translation: It's your fault.  I resent that I love you because it makes me feel vulnerable, and I must therefore tear you down constantly, in myriad and unpredictable ways so that you won't guess my weakness. Therefore, you must accept my apology..

The spoken responses tap in to that old dynamic: a person who hurt you is soothing themselves by reassuring you that they love you, notwithstanding their atrocious behavior. Full stop. This has nothing to do with you. They may love you, but pettiness, pride and selfishness were driving their behaviors. When you detach long enough to dismantle the argument, you can see it for what it is: a person has chosen to hurt you even though they love you, not because of the love. Now they want you to forgive them because they "love" you.  Red Herring Alert!!! There is no connection between love and an unloving action! Read that sentence again.  Again. Once more for good measure.

Here's the catch: we're wired to believe the people we love.

"Attachment relationships - those held together by strong emotional bonds - serve as mirrors of the inner self. We learn how lovable we are and how valuable our love is to others only by interacting with the people we love." - Steven Stosny, Psychology Today

So consider that the hurtful action is automatically going to make you feel less lovable, and then add to that the fact that the perpetrator of the hurt is offering up "love" as a salve, and you have just shot up your ego with a veritable 8-ball of identity. It's also the emotional equivalent of the cessation of pain feeling pleasurable.  That's not real pleasure; that's not real love.

I have tended to believe lovers who did something hurtful and came back with an "I love you." I was in familiar, seemingly safe, territory. I filled in the blank with "This must be what's good for me." That's where they've got us! The partner who hurts you--notwithstanding his love for you--is not your mom. You may not be safe. You are not obliged to believe in his altruism. Your next meal doesn't depend on him (I promise!).

Maybe he lacks personal discipline. Maybe he is an addict. Maybe he doesn't know what love is, having never experienced it. But a discussion of his love for you after he has hurt you is emotional masturbation on his part. 

There are three relevant topics for discussion between the perpetrator and betrayed after a betrayal (if the harmed party wishes to discuss it at all) and they are:

(1) the perpetrator accepting full responsibility for his actions,
(2) the perpetrator acknowledging, specifically, the damage done to the betrayed and the resultant pain it caused, and
(3) reparations: the perpetrator's, made to the betrayed. 

Once the offender has acknowledged fault and damage, and made reparations (translation: he has demonstrated love, as opposed to rambling on about it) you can move on to discussing his love for you, if you want.  (But do you really want to at this point? It's sort of a dull topic: "Oooh! I love you so much! I'm a lover! I'm so great at loving!" Bo-ring. It's like talking about sex versus actually doing it: OK for a warm-up or for fine-tuning technique, but not very fulfilling.)

Now IF the offending party has satisfactorily addressed the necessary 3 steps to repair the damage they did, you still have a choice to make: do you believe that the relationship is a "safe" one?  Is this person likely to re-offend in the same manner? Are you able to trust him? He may be genuinely sorry but do you believe that he will change his behavior in the future? Do you have the personal resources to survive if he relapses? Are you willing to teach him how to love you? Do you have the patience and energy for this?

It's up to you to decide whether the hurtful friend or lover is worth a second chance, but I promise you this: his love has nothing to do with it.

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