How to protect and not lose yourself when the desire for love leads to over-giving in relationships
Anyone close to me knows that I am a love bug.
At my deepest core, my primary need is to connect. I want to be completely engulfed in a relationship — to have a person hold me in their arms, to have a conversation that lasts 3 hours or more, to share a nice meal together. These desires are so powerful that they can feel like an intoxicating drug.
In my twenties, I would completely disappear into a relationship, feasting on the scraps thrown to me by my partners. Elizabeth Gilbert summarizes this impulse so accurately in Eat, Pray, Love: “If I love you, you can have everything. You can have my time, my devotion, my ass, my money, my family, my dog, my dog’s money, my dog’s time—everything.”
For me and my fellow love bugs, the payment to the love dealer requires us to lose more time and money than we have. We tend to forget our once treasured hobbies until our lives resemble something that we no longer recognize or have control over. Friends and family observe how much we’ve changed, how tired our face looks, and how much weight we’ve lost or gained. It doesn’t matter to us.
Just one smile or sign of affection from our beloved seems worth our sacrifices.
I remember one boyfriend who made far less money than I did at the time. He was incredibly resentful that I bought a new winter wardrobe for myself. The very next paycheck, I went out and bought him every single shirt, jacket, pants and pair of shoes that my money could buy (and maybe even a belt or two). Anything I could get my hands on to show him just how limitless my love was — no matter what it cost me.
Over-giving is usually a sign of not feeling whole or centered on the inside.
We truly believe that the more love we give, the more we will receive from our partners, and the fuller we will feel. However, as love bugs painfully learn, this isn’t usually the case. This certainly is a recipe for exhaustion and animosity for both parties. The pressure builds up over time, until inevitably one or both partners will call it quits, as the relationship has become unsustainable.
For a love bug, the end of a relationship is devastating. Even if the writing was truly on the wall, we will still bend ourselves into various pretzel shapes to try and make it work one more time. The end of my marriage was absolutely devastating. Although it was my decision, I was still suffering from the over-giving disease. Any promises to change, I believed. Any gestures of love, I received. It took every ounce of strength I had to finally walk away, to realize that I deserved better, and quite frankly, so did he.
After one too many heartbreaking experiences, when I began my next relationship I moved in the other direction. I was so afraid of once again losing myself into partnership that instead of over-committing, I chose hostility, withdrawing and near child-like behavior. Both responses are equally based around fear — fear of losing the other person or fear of losing ourselves. Neither option having anything to do with the one thing I claim to be seeking: Connection.
I found myself wanting dearly to achieve that rare jewel Buddha often spoke of: The Middle Way.
The turning point for me was realizing just how hard I was on myself and any potential partner who came into my life. A constant analysis of feelings, gestures and tones – both theirs and mine – finally became far too draining. As a coach, I pride myself on being able to practice what I preach. With this in mind, I knew that I needed help to steer the ship around. Asking for help is not something that I am very good at, although it’s what I invite my clients to do constantly. Nonetheless, I mustered the courage to enlist the service of a wonderfully supportive life coach who took my hand and guided me towards recovery.
As the sessions progressed, she pointed out just how much I was always wanting to ‘make things work’ – intimate relationships, friendships, my past in the corporate sector. At the end of one session, she asked me “How can you do everything you can to make you work?” This question woke me up like a lightening bolt. The time had arrived to start putting my needs first and to find out what I really wanted out of life, regardless of my relationship status.
Self-care is an incredibly useful tool to make sure we are standing on our own two feet emotionally.
Rather than relying on external stimulations to find a feeling of fullness, I now fill up my own cup from within. I’ve dived even deeper into my meditation practice, ensuring that I take time to sit in stillness each morning. I buy my own bunch of flowers from the local market. A few nights each week, I spend time with friends away from my beloved so that we can both have time and space on our own. I also make time to jog in the park to help clear out the cobwebs from my mind. The end result: By presenting myself fluffed up, recharged and centered, I am infinitely more appealing to my partner — and myself!
My cure for the love bug is to find that sense of connection you seek, first and foremost, with yourself. Find out what it is that you truly want from life, what brings you moments of joy — and trust that the rest will most definitely fall into place.