Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"Giving in" means "losing out"...

“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay down of my own accord. I have authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” John 10: 17-18

The application to above passage can only approximate Christ’s love in a secondary sense. Only Christ’s redemptive gift could have affected the salvation of the world. Laying down one’s life is representative of dying to selfishness, yet there is more if we look under the surface.

James Dobson expresses deep concern that sometimes within the Christian concept there lies an implicit tendency to “giving in” to others – to appear okay with life, hardly noticing or expressing offenses. We can sometimes unintentionally choose to close our eyes to wrongs and in this way shove down feelings that produce resentment and anger. We are quick to put up a false front of consideration and pleasantness. This false front is a time bomb, as the store of negative feelings boils over and ends up damaging relationships, because unexpressed feelings can resurface in forms of bitterness, disillusionment, low motivation, depression and many psychosomatic illnesses. Some medical doctors claim that cancer is the disease of such repression and sadness.

How do these wrongs begin? Usually one partner or friend begins to take the relationship for granted. He or she looks upon the other with dissatisfaction, measuring left, right and center comparing this person to some idealistic dream. When the love avoidant person pulls away, the other loses confidence and begins to panic. Dobson says that kind of insecurity builds a cage around love. It grabs and attempts to hold the retracting spouse or friend. The result is that the drifting partner feels more and more trapped and retreats more and more. As one partner loses confidence, the other loses respect. A spouse may never say these thoughts out loud but the following thoughts cross his or her mind:

“I used to think she was pretty… She gained fifteen pounds after the babies came. She just never looked right again… I don’t want the guys to at the office to see her. The house is disorganized. I do not think she is very bright either…”[or the wife may think] “Look at him laying down on the coach with his mouth open. Just look at him. The guy is going nowhere and he is taking me with him. You know. He has got no future. He doesn’t care. There is no romantic element to our marriage and I am stuck with this man the rest of my life.”

Counselors say that people who give in too easily are stuck in a developmental stage of emotional dependency and do not realize it. They even take responsibility for his or her partner’s abusive behavior. They think they somehow deserve ill-treatment. Even though withdrawal of any kind can be threatening in any close relationship, the Christian needs to look beyond his or her immediate reactions of panic or abandonment. Dobson says that we cannot build love relationships out of an obligatory kind of situation where there is no possibility of getting away – where we feel trapped or held together. This is referred to as “enmeshment”. The romantic-spark requires self-respect and at the same time enough security in oneself to give the other person space and freedom when he or she wants it.

Dr. Bryce Kaye says someone else's lack of love is by no means a reflection of our lovability and that appeasing behaviors are fueled by a misplaced sense of responsibility for a partner's happiness. We can only invite another person to explore love. However, if he or she doesn't want it, then we cannot hold on through desperation. Kaye writes, “One of the biggest myths about relationships is that most break-ups occur because partners can’t get close enough or because they can’t communicate. This makes about as much sense as saying that most people die because their brains stop working. The coincidence is accurate, the causality is not.

The paradox is that most break-downs in intimacy occur because partners are not sufficiently separate. By "separate’ I do not mean giving each other the cold shoulder or ignoring each other. I am referring to keeping one’s identity separate, valid, valuable, and whole without requiring the other partner to provide the missing pieces. If you feel unlovable and are too ashamed to admit it even to yourself, then you are likely to claw at your partner to restore your sense of worth. You will probably try to obligate your partner as if he or she were a parent, at the same time trying to change that parent. "If you loved me…" is a classic guilting maneuver in this fashion. Such intrusiveness, arising from enmeshed personal identities, is far more responsible for break-ups than mere communication problems. In fact, most communication problems in intimacy derive from enmeshment.

”Kaye further explains that it is unrealistic to love our partner all the time. "...this myth ignores the fact that feelings are transitory. It’s also an especially dangerous myth because it sets the stage for turning the feeling of love into a responsibility and that doesn’t work. Many couples have sexual dysfunction around just this issue. If a partner buys the notion that he/she "should" always be interested in sex, then interest will usually atrophy. If you buy the obligation for feeling love, then that too will usually atrophy as a hollow-feeling role takes its place. The reality is that some moments you feel love for your partner, other moments you don’t. There may also be fairly long spans of time when a partner is incapable of love because of stress. That’s natural, it’s real, and it can also be temporary especially if both partners understand the episodic nature of love.

"People who lose respect for themselves seek strength from gaining acceptance. They have little courage to express their own feelings and convictions and are easily intimidated by others. This accommodating tendency snuffs out the spark of love because self-respect precedes love. Self confidence has a lightness and an air of casualness and security that is unmistakable. Appeasing only produces a negative effect of repelling and never attracting others.

Troubled Reflector © 2008

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