‘Women who LOVE too Much’, Robin Norwood

Relationship addiction does not mean that you are addicted to relationships or that you continue to seek out new or other relationships or to fall in love, it means that you fall for men who are emotionally damaged and that are not capable of real intimacy and with whom you feel the uncontrollable urge to care for him and to love him on order to change him so he will, in return, will give you all the love, attention and acknowledgement that you lacked in the past.

When this does not happen, and you are treated without love and respect, and are even treated violently you are not capable of breaking free of this relationship, but instead have the need to be with him even more.

You cannot stop to be involved with him or stop having thoughts about how you could solve the issues in the relationship or gain some control over the situation. Your relationship has become an obsession. You confuse love with obsession. Your whole life, your behaviour, your emotions are controlled by the relationship, even your physical health suffers.

You downplay his faults (‘He doesn’t mean it’) and take an unbalanced amount of responsibility for the problems. You think the relationship would be better if you had tried better or do try better. You take his irritations, moods, indifference, his putdowns and disrespectful comments and say they are a product of his unhappy upbringing. You try to help him and try to get him to help himself to work on his issues in the hope that he will change and that all will be well. In the mean time, the problems and the pain get worse.

You might have grown up in a family in which there was alcohol or drug abuse, gambling addiction, emotional, verbal or physical violence, sexual abuse or other problems. In any case problems that have caused severe emotional pain and that were not discussed in an honest, open and effective way. The situation and your feelings were denied, trivialized, ridiculed or judged, which made you deny your feelings, hide them and pretend they did not exist. Because of this, you lack the ability to get in touch with your feelings and inner voice and use these to make choices and protect us from new problems. You feel attracted to people that deal with feelings in the same, destructive way as you have learned (the way that feels most comfortable) which leads to more pain.

You walk around with an enormous amount of unhealed pain, sadness, loneliness, frustration, powerlessness, anger and an even greater, almost insatiable need for love, acknowledgement, appreciation and attention.

Therefore, you’re easy prey for and become dependent on people who are a even the slightest bit kind to you and give you some attention even though their intentions might not be sincere.

At the same time your are frightened to experience real love and to have real intimacy with another person. You have never learned to experience this or how to deal with it. To receive love is an outright threat to the way of life you have created for yourself and brings about all the pain and anger that you have safely stowed away in your subconscious.

In order to heal from your relationship addiction you need to learn a completely new way of living. You need to heal the wounds from your childhood and more recent wounds and you have to learn how to treat yourself and to deal with your feelings (and others) in a loving, respectful way. You have to learn to love yourself and become your own loving father/mother figure and to get in touch with your inner voice and to learn how to trust it. To become responsible for your own life, well-being and to be self reliant, so that you are not an easy prey for all kinds of (well meaning) people around you.

Essentially, “women who love too much” are those who are always seeking love and affection from partners who are unavailable.

Their unavailability may stem from such problems as their alcoholism, narcissism, fear and avoidance of intimacy, rage, inability to form lasting attachments and any other of endless numbers of personality problems that make them unsatisfactory partners for anything like a permanent and happy marriage.

Yet, as Norwood points out, there are certain types of women who pursue men who will never make them feel happy. The reason for this unhappiness is that they are forever pursuing love from someone who cannot or will not gratify their needs and wants for love, safety and security.

In fact, some of the men they pursue are abusive, rejecting, cold, distant, sadistic, ungiving and emotionally unresponsive. Some of these men even make themselves physically unavailable for weeks or months under one pretense or another. Yet, the woman continues to pursue.

In fact, ‘why do they become obsessed with these men?’

All the evidence points to the fact that these women repeat the pattern and seemingly learned nothing from their prior unhappy experiences.

Norwood provides many explanations for why and how these unhappy women repeated trap themselves in unfulfilling relationships.

Basically, what she points to is the fact that these women are seeking the love that eluded them when they were children.

In each case she cites, either one or both parents were unavailable to them. The unavailability may have been due parental personality problems, alcoholism and drug abuse, domestic violence or any number of other problems that interfered with parenting.

In a way, what Norwood is describing is an example of the old saying that, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” And, so, the pattern is set during childhood and they try and try again, forever repeating the same process.

There are many reasons that make us choose to stay in a bad relationship.

On a superficial level practical reasons, such as financial dependence, living arrangements, children, judgement from others and possible career problems could be valid reasons.

On a deeper level you will encounter thoughts that are internalised and that make it more difficult to end the relationships.

These are automatic thoughts that are learned, such as:

  • love is forever.
  • being alone is horrible.
  • you’re not supposed to hurt others.
  • you’re supposed to stand by your man.
  • women are caretakers.
  • I’ll never find someone else.
  • I’m not interesting or attractive enough.
  • if I try hard enough this relationship will work.

In my experience:

What always impressed me about these cases was the intensity of their obsessional symptoms and their inability to gain any understanding of what was causing their symptoms.

The sessions were filled with ongoing discussions of their current boy friend to the degree that it felt to me as though I was invisible. Actually, they were so preoccupied with these men that is seemed as though they were absent from the room.

Two of the most interesting characteristics of women who saw me for treatment was the fact that they rejected any “nice guys” they had dates with because they were “boring.” The boring men were available, interested and capable, but did not fit the pattern of their past experiences. The other characteristic was that they reported how terrific the sex was. Yet, they seemed to miss the point that, while sex is important, so are the other areas of relating.

In so many ways, these women seemed blind to themselves and to the men they were with.

Defense mechanisms:

Obsessional thinking is viewed as a defense mechanism that the patient is unwittingly using to hide something else. In other words, “if I think about this all day then I need not think about something deeper and more troubling.” So, what was being hidden by the obsessional thoughts?

The answer to that last question varies from one individual woman to the next. The deeper issue can be something like wishing to evade real intimacy out of the fear that she could reveal vile things about herself. In this case, there can be a deep feeling of not being lovable. Another possibility is that the obsessional thinking can hide a fear of being controlled and dominated by an authoritarian man who represents the controlling and rejecting parent of childhood. Other possibilities are that obsessions hide deep seated depression, anxiety, believing that life is meaningless and, the list can go on.

Norwood advises that the way to break this repeated pattern of relating is to enter psychotherapy and gain additional support from either joining or starting a women’s group for people with the same patterns.

  • When you are not happy in a relationship but aren’t sure to accept it the way it is, to do more to improve the relationship or to end the relationship.
  • You recognise a pattern of bad relationships but are unable to break the cycle.
  • You recognise yourself in the book ‘When woman love too much’ by Robin Norwood.
  • When you think you need to try harder to improve the relationship.
  • When you have come to the conclusion to end the relationship, but aren’t able to do so.
  • When you suspect that you are staying in the relationship for the wrong reasons, such as guilt or fear of being alone, and you are unable to deal with these feelings.
  • When you continue to enter into relationships or situations that do not make you feel happy.
  • When you feel attracted to needy men, men who have problems with alcohol or drugs, violent men, married men or men that are emotionally not reachable in one way or the other.
  • When you find it difficult to let go of an unhealthy relationship.
  • When you invest more into the relationship than you get in return.

An unhealthy relationship affects your entire being. It dissolves your personality, endangers your health and does not occur without consequence.

Because the issues are deeply rooted in personality problems, it is safe to predict that the therapy will continue for a long time. I would recommend psychodynamic psychotherapy with an emphasis on existential concepts.

What this means is that the primary focus of the therapy is on the relationship between therapist and client. It is in that therapeutic relationship that the unhappy patterns of behavior are repeated and the therapy provides a corrective experience. Insight or understanding is not enough for the client. She needs an experience whereby she can learn a different way of living. It is difficult to remove blinders from one’s eyes and see what is really happening.
What are your experiences, opinions and questions about this difficult issue?    


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