Love is often counter-intuitive. You may behave in ways that seem “natural” and “normal,” but are actually the result of a flawed mindset. For example, too many women adhere to the following dangerous false belief:
The more I do, the more love I will receive.
Yesterday, I introduced you to Deidre and Mac—the couple who broke up on the eve of their wedding. I asked Deidre if she noticed any negative patterns in their relationship. She related all the ways she helped make Mac’s life better. With his breakup by text, she now felt “used” and “discarded.”
Deidre was the classic over-giver. In the first few months of their relationship, Deidre would cook Mac a homemade meal once a week. A gourmet chef, Deidre could whip up oven-roasted salmon with garlic mashed potatoes in a moment's notice. Mac swooned over her culinary flair. When he knew he was getting one of Deidre’s home-cooked meals, he brought flowers and wine to go with it. His gratitude filled her heart with love and happiness.
Since Mac relished her cooking so much, Deidre thought, she should cook for him more often! She went from cooking Mac a meal 1 day a week to 6 days a week. She skipped yoga class. She missed her book club four months in a row. Her girlfriends asked if she had fallen off the face of the earth. She poured herself into her relationship with Mac and did everything short of picking her own crops and fishing on the dock for their dinner.
Not surprisingly, the flowers disappeared. The wine did, too. One time, Mac had the nerve to complain that his entree seemed a little dry! They hadn’t had a proper date in months. Why go out when Deidre’s kitchen was as good as any 5-star restaurant? Deidre was busy shopping, chopping and cleaning - acting as chef, hostess and server. And, like an unwatched pot on the stove, she was simmering with a boiling rage.
Deidre’s vivacious and free-spirited personality dimmed. In its place, a mothering, passive-aggressive personality took hold. She wondered out loud—with a sneer—where had her prince, Mac, gone? Who was this ungrateful monster in his place? She still did a variety of things to make Mac happy, but they were now performed more out of obligation than sincere love.
When I begin working with a client, I first ask about their relationship history. Then, I ask about their family history. A client’s unsatisfactory love life usually mirrors a dysfunctional childhood.
In Deidre’s case, her mother was emotionally volatile. Her mother’s moods swung on a pendulum and it was impossible to predict what would cause a change in temperament. Deidre’s father dealt with it by “disappearing” for long periods of time as a workaholic. Deidre walked on eggshells—careful not to set her mother off. Deidre did her best to be “perfect”—not asking for much and over-performing in hopes for affection. Deidre got straight A’s, cleaned the house, and took care of her siblings. Deidre never felt self-worth for who she was, but only what she could do.
Now as an adult, she naturally prioritized her partner’s needs above her own and over-gave in her relationships with the subconscious expectation that she would “earn” love and affection. When affection diminished in reverse proportion to her over-giving, she grew resentful and angry—an unintended by-product for her own lack of self-care and boundaries!
Women who are “needless” and “over-give” tend to attract emotionally immature partners—“manolescents,” as I like to call them—who do not have the ability to reciprocate or assume responsibility. If they do attract a stable partner, their mothering behavior is a huge turn-off.
Today’s rule is simple: Love doesn’t require DOING, it requires BEING. So, expend the majority of your time BEING your best self.
If you’re prone to over-giving, here are a few mindful tips:
1. Awareness is key. If you’re an over-giver, make diligent efforts towards a new way of relating. Over-giving signals low self-esteem. It often invites disrespect and bad behavior.
2. Watch for reciprocity. When chemistry is sizzling, you’ll want to over-give even more. But, go slow. Watch for mutuality. Pull back when the balance is far from 50/50. Stay observant. Is your partner interested in meeting your needs?
3. Focus 75% of your efforts on yourself. Relationships are a part of your life, not your whole life. Stay diligent about achieving your own goals. Ambition, self-improvement, and focus are extremely attractive to secure and stable partners.
4. Worthy partners don’t want a free ride. Healthy partners assume responsibility and are interested in meeting your needs. If your partner wants to receive, but is reluctant to give, you may be dating a “user,” “freeloader,” or “manolescent.”
To assess the situation, step back and focus on your own life. Some partners simply need a little time before they “get” it. Others, however, will disappear when it’s time to contribute in a meaningful way. If it’s the latter, be thankful you dodged a bullet.
5. Be selfish. Looking out for your own best interest, especially in matters of the heart, is a good thing. Pay close attention to how you feel. Say “no” to any request that doesn’t feel good. Be wary of playing house with someone who hasn’t given you a real, substantial commitment. Girlfriends don’t perform wifely duties. Not without, as Beyonce sang, putting a ring on it.
Next, we’ll delve into Mac’s family upbringing and how it contributed to the dysfunctional patterns within this relationship.