What’s love got to do with it?

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and I have a few musings about romantic love. In particular how it can trap us in abusive relationships, and fool us into being compliant, and putting up with stuff we normally wouldn’t.

When you first fall in love, isn’t it marvellous? Best feeling in the world. You want to be around that person all the time. Add sex in, and you want to touch them most of the time. This may play out in different ways for different people, but it’s always very sweet. Lovers initially are kind to each other, think constantly about each other, and look out for each other.

But there’s this thing that romantic love does, depending on who we are. In a monogamous relationship, there is always somewhat, even to a tiny degree, an imbalance based on need, and expectations. One person will love the other slightly more, or slightly less. Some people are just more guarded with themselves, even with the person they are infatuated with. Some people give more freely of themselves. We all express romantic love differently, and we all have a way we need to be loved, or ways of being loved that we respond to the most. Some call this a love language.

And how we are loved as children, in my opinion, feeds very much into this, and can act destructively if the way we are treated is very poorly – physical, emotional, verbal abuse. If we have suffered any of these as a child, our view of romantic love is likely to be a bit off. What we expect will be set by how our whānau/parents/caregivers have treated us. How they have loved us, or not.

So we fall in love. This bit may last a wee while or not for long. On average, it is thought that if someone is controlling – ie exhibits signs of being abusive – it will take a few months for this to kick in. It will have been there from the start, it’s just that infatuation with that person masks it, and by the time they start showing who they really are, if you’re still there? Then that’s set the pattern.

There are, of course, different ways of being for people who seek to wield power over you, and different motivations. Let’s remind ourselves of what the wheel of power and control looks like.

There are also different models for what constitutes healthy behaviors for equality in a relationship.

The difficulty with abusive behaviours are that they most often don’t start until one is well ensconced in a relationship, or one is too infatuated to notice them eg jealousy can be coded as “cute”. (It is not.)

By the time most of the controlling stuff starts, as I said, you’re usually well embedded in your relationship with a person. Because they know they’ll get away with it. The first time will never be major – it’s a test. The person doing this may not realise it is, but it is. And each time, it may escalate to a level (verbal, emotional, psychological, physical) that’s deemed acceptable by one or both parties. Sometimes the abuser shocks themselves, and we can’t believe what’s happened. They may apologise, usually apologise, and promise they won’t do it again.

But we stay because we love them. Or we love the idea of them. We love the them they are when they’re not being awful to us. Some days, we say: it’s okay, I don’t like him/her/them all the time. But I still love them.

Love, you see, can be a trap.

And that’s why, today, I don’t celebrate the idea of love, the commercial “how it’s supposed to look” love, but the reality that it can become. Healthy care and consideration between people. Butterflies in the tummy, sure, but much more than that. Equality and compassion, and just wanting to be with someone who gets you. In a good way. Wanting the best for each other, and figuring out how to make it happen. That love is SO SEXY. I love that love. I’ll celebrate that, any day.

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