To be human is to love. We love our parents, whether we want to or not. We love our children if we have them. We love our friends, our pets, our cars, our houses, and our hobbies. Everyone has someone or something that they love, probably one of each.
Love brings us joy and pain. Love can be a blessing, or it can be a problem. Usually love is both blessing and problem. With love comes conflict. Humans are never as vulnerable as when they love. We know this and we are afraid. We are afraid to be in relationships and instinctively protect ourselves from being close. We protect ourselves in ways that we do not realize.
There Are Four Major Conflicts That Come With Love And Relationships
1. The struggle over closeness and separateness:
The fear is that if I allow myself to be close to another, I will be engulfed and I run the risk of being abandoned. Engulfment means the loss of the self. Abandonment means death or intolerable levels of anxiety. Again, the struggle is based on the unconscious (and sometimes the conscious) belief that it is not safe to love and be close. Bad things come to those who let their guard down.
Gray grew up with a mother who was fearful and needy. His father traveled for work, and he was left alone with his mother during the week. He was expected to take care of his mother’s emotional needs all week. It took all his time and attention. When his father returned home on the weekends, his mother only had eyes for his father. He felt forgotten by his mother and father.
2. The struggle for emotional resources:
We begin to wonder, “Who will get his/her needs met and who will not? Will one person’s needs destroy the needs of others?” This struggle is played out against the assumption that it is not possible for both parties to get their needs met. There is an internal belief that there are not enough emotional resources to go around. This is especially true for those who come from a family where there were not enough resources, emotional or physical, where the parents were withholding or one member of the family demanded more than their fair share.
Cheryl had a sister who was anorexic. The family was focused on her sister’s life and death struggle with food. Every meal time was a war zone when her sister was encouraged to eat and she resisted . Cheryl was afraid but felt her parents had enough to worry about and did not feel she could ask for help.
3. The struggle for control:
Who will control whom? This is based on the belief that the only way to be safe is to control yourself, others and your environment. Without being in control, the vulnerability of closeness feels like it will be too dangerous. When you love someone, it does not feel like you are in control.
Jackie and Don had been dating about six months when she began to feel angry, resentful and hurt. Don was constantly late, usually 10 minutes or less. As the months moved on, that began to stretch from 10 minutes to as much as 30 minutes. His lateness began to wear on her. He had several reasons; anxiety that he had forgotten to lock a door or he forgot something. What felt like reasons in the beginning began to feel like excuses. She was feeling controlled and unimportant.
What she did not realize was that the opposite was true: the more Don cared about her, the later he became. It was his unconscious way of trying to make himself feel safe.
4. The Struggle to not lose your love object:
The fear of loss may be the greatest fear of all. A young mother told me that she was so thrilled when she found out she was pregnant. She had problems conceiving, was told she probably would never have a baby and was afraid her dream would not come true.
After the baby was born and the excitement of the birth and homecoming was over, she became depressed. This was not postpartum depression, it was fear of loss. What she realized was she now had something so valuable in her life – her child – that its loss might destroy her. She was defending herself from the fear of loss by being depressed. The depression stood in the way of her feeling anything else.
What is important is to remember that when the first excitement of a new friendship, a new interest, a new job, a new love begins to fade, there is going to be conflict. This isn’t because something is wrong in the relationship or the experience, but because there is something good. With excitement and love comes fear and vulnerability, the possibility of loss. Our unconscious mind will step in to protect us from loss and pain. When conflict and dissatisfaction begins, remind yourself something good is happening and ask yourself in which of these struggles are you engaged. Identify your fear and find a way to talk about your fear and get your needs met.
We cannot get everything we want but there is enough to get our needs met. Need help with struggles around closeness? Call me I can help. (919)881-2001