Sabotaging the relationship you want
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series. This is from “The Best of Neil Rosenthal.”
Do you have a pattern of choosing an emotionally unavailable intimate partner — a person exceedingly difficult to get close to, someone who is emotionally protected, insulated or standoffish — while rejecting the people who are available, caring, responsive and who are easy to be close to?
Do you reject the right person to be emotionally involved with and give everything you have to the wrong person? Do you have a history of sabotaging the intimate relationship you desire?
This pattern typically originates in childhood. If love or approval by at least one of your parents was conditioned on you having to earn it, then you may have grown up feeling that you didn’t deserve approval or love unless you had put forth Herculean effort and had proven yourself worthy of it.
So as an adult, if I’m given approval, affection and love without having to do a lot to earn it, very often I won’t value it. I value what I put a lot of effort into, so typically I will chose an intimate partner who isn’t prone to offering his/her heart, and then I will do just about anything I can to win his/her acceptance, approval and love.
If I then enter a relationship with a woman whose heart is easily won over, without me having to prove myself, I won’t value her and I won’t trust it. It was too easy, so I assume something must be wrong with her. She must be very needy and probably desperate, so I will reject her. But inside I desperately want what she’s offering. I want it, but doesn’t she know I haven’t proven myself worthy of it yet? What’s wrong with her? The problem — and this is a big problem — is that I will reject anyone who freely offers me her heart, her love and her loyalty.
In truth, an intimate partner gives me her heart not because I win it, but because she’s ready and able to give it. We don’t actually earn anyone else’s love, regardless of what you may think. Love is an emotion freely offered, like a gift. It is not possible for me to actually earn your love — you have to make the emotional leap of faith all on your own, and give it to me.
So I am sabotaging what I most want, because I’m not giving me a fighting chance to have what I most desire. In reality, I haven’t dealt with the issues that stem from my childhood: I’m afraid of being close, exposed and vulnerable, and I don’t feel worthy of someone else’s love and approval.
What could I do to change this pattern? I need to challenge myself to enter a relationship and resist the urge to sabotage it. I need to improve my low self-esteem, so I may eventually feel worthy of someone else’s love. I need to learn how to befriend myself (and offer myself support and guidance), so I’m not so prone to subverting my own goals and desires.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 24th year of publication and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777, or email him through his website at http://www.heartrelationships.com. He is the author of the new book “Love, Sex and Staying Warm: Keeping the Flame Alive.”