“You will need to learn to live without all the excitement of the heated battles, those time-consuming, energy-draining dramas in which you’ve been co-starring.”
That is one of the lines in Robin Norwood’s bestseller, Women who love too much.
It’s a must-read for anyone who wants to understand why women stay in unhealthy relationships.
There are two sides to our lives as women.
On the one hand is the private, relationship side and on the other is the public side involving whatever role we choose to play in society from career to business and being a housewife.
The two are often treated separately by society.
A woman is encouraged to discuss the challenges she encounters in business or elsewhere and yet divulging abuse or other relationship problems is considered distasteful and not fit for public consumption.
It’s seen as washing one’s dirty linen in public.
There are seminars and conferences on every conceivable business topic and none on women and their relationships.
This just serves to fuel what Elizabeth Lesser termed the “Open Secret” in her book titled Broken Open.
We are so busy giving each other the bright, smiling facade and little if anything about the “underbelly” of our lives.
So prevalent is this pretentious behaviour that left asking themselves that “what really is wrong with them”.
That’s precisely because everyone else seems so happy and in charge of their lives.
What is fascinating about Norwood’s book is that even though it’s based on her work with hundreds of women in the United States, the stories are so similar to our own in this part of the world.
Loving too much is not to be confused with deep, genuine love for someone.
Rather it is a situation of “When being in love means being in pain,” and “It means measuring the degree of your love by the depth of your torment.”
One often hears women say “I am staying for the children; I don’t want them raised in a broken home”.
They don’t realise that the home she is protecting is already broken, regardless of the longevity of the marriage.
Norwood found two main reasons why women stay and remain in denial.
“We all need to deny what is too painful or too threatening for us to accept,” she writes.
There is also a tendency to look at other women and think their situation is worse than ours.
One woman didn’t do anything about spousal abuse because she didn’t want anyone to know she allows herself to be treated that way.
Other women found it hard to taint the rosy picture they had projected to the world, and continued pretending that all was well at home.
The author recommends acceptance of one’s situation.
No, this is not acceptance in the long-suffering way that women often accept their lot.
Acceptance is the recognition of the reality, the realisation of how dysfunctional things are and is the foundation for taking action.
The other reason she cited is control. Trying to change someone’s behaviour through incessant lecturing and other manipulations is a form of control even though a woman may appear weakened by what is happening in the relationship.
I agree with Norwood that women have the ability to be happy and fulfilled but often fail to claim this happiness because it is often externalised.
It appears that if only he would change then they would be happy.
Even though she wishes he be different she has to respect his right to be who he is. As she develops her own interests and abilities, she may realise that she is fulfilled enough to stay and appreciate those qualities in him that she does like.
She may also choose to leave the relationship upon realising that her love is unrequited and continued commitment is pointless.
The issues are many and complex, often stemming from what women experienced as children themselves.
The point that society often ignores is that the long-term effect of turbulent relationships on children, which manifest in adulthood.
“Many women make the mistake of looking for a man with whom to develop a relationship without first developing a relationship with themselves,” writes Norwood.
All is not lost however, as she outlines the 10 steps to healing. “If you choose to begin the process of recovery, you will change from a woman who loves someone else so much it hurts into a woman who loves herself enough to stop the pain.”