Love can be a beautiful thing, especially when we understand it and how it works. Since love is experienced on an emotional level, however, it can confuse us as all those feelings tend to cloud our thinking. What if we believe it is love but in actuality, it is an imposter?
Though it is very often unintentional due false ideas of love, it is only when we take a closer look that we are better able to see what might really be happening. Here are five destructive behaviors masquerading as love.
1) Codependency: “I’ll fix you because I love you.” Parents may unintentionally fall into this trap believing it is “for the child’s own good.” Another great example is spouses that reflect a more parent-child dynamic, rather than adult-adult. Unfortunately, such behavior indirectly sends harmful messages, telling the other person that they are not strong or capable. While it is good to offer help to our loved ones, the key is to be sure the assistance is solicited. If one person is working harder than the other person to improve their life, then it is not working.
2) Avoiding confrontation: “It’s noble to passively avoid anger.” Conflict can be painful and ugly, so avoiding it might feel like a loving choice. You may even believe that passively refusing to engage with anger is a self-sacrificing and loving decision. However, nothing could be further from the truth. It is unhealthy to deny parts of our emotional experiences, even if they are negative. Ignoring your own anger will lead to a steady buildup of emotion that is eventually impossible to contain. Meanwhile, refusing to acknowledge someone else’s anger deepens feelings of rage, as it can be deeply invalidating when feelings are not heard. The trick is to learn how to manage conflict in a healthy way. Take a deep breath, face the issue, and find productive solutions.
3) Misuse of anger: “I’m just doing what’s best for you!” On the other hand, certain expressions of anger can be very destructive. Parents and spouses may use their anger to manipulate others, once again describing this control as something that is in the other person’s best interest. In truth, using anger in this way merely incites fear, shame, and low self-esteem, rather than lasting and meaningful self-development. As parents, this approach may be needed but should be kept to a minimum. In a spousal relationship, it is vital to communicate as equals.
4) Lack of boundaries: “Good relationships don’t need boundaries.” There can be a sense of guilt associated with the idea of setting boundaries in close relationships. However, healthy boundaries are essential to any strong, loving relationship. It is dangerous to imply that a lack of boundaries shows more profound love. Just as we need boundaries in our younger years, if we don’t have them in adult relationships, we can experience resentment and fail to feel safe. Good relationships involve respecting each other’s limits and honestly discussing what might feel like over-burdening and/or draining to the other person.
5) Waiting for others: “I’m not responsible for how my life turns out.” When we wait for others, we give up our power to direct our lives towards happiness and satisfaction. This lack of responsibility can feel like love in that it may seem like a key element of having faith in our spouse, in our parents, or even in God, but it tends to be more of a passive way of neglecting our life. By refusing to be accountable for our choices, we are victim to any results. Even St. Augustine said “Pray as though everything depended on God, work as though everything depended on you.” When our love is authentic, being genuine and forthright about the positive and negative aspects of our lives leads to a sense of safety. True empowerment comes when we take responsibility for our life.
Falling in love taps into the emotional part of us that seeks connection with others. However, what might look like love can really be emotional manipulation and control. Often these patterns are unintended because we really do believe we are loving the other person. If you have fallen into any of these traps in one way or another, the good news is . . . you can change it. Become aware of the patterns, talk about it with your loved one, and be open to solutions. The more open you both are, the more you will actually reach the deeper levels of love you are seeking.