In his book El arte de amar , Erich Fromm reflects on the difficulties we find in relationships, among other reasons because we do not consider love as an action (an art, according to him) that requires previous learning).
We become entangled in tortuous and toxic relationships that end up producing more pain than well-being because no one ever taught us how to behave within the couple. How to manage the whirlwind of emotions that our body generates when we fall in love , how to give the other person space when what we want most is to be by their side 24 hours a day, how to manage the fear of breaking up or of being cheated on… in short, how to manage to love healthily, and not madly as society teaches us to do.
It only takes a couple of random songs to realize that the messages we receive regarding love are tremendously harmful, and they make an apology for dependent, symbiotic and sickly love. If we take, for example, The Police’s song “Every Step You Take” and read it instead of singing it, we’re likely to be diagnosed with obsessive affective disorder or labeled as a stalker:
Every day, every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
I’ll be watching you
Can’t you see that you belong to me?
How my poor heart hurts with every step you take?
Emotional dependence and pathological love
Considering that Hollywood movies, books or TV series also encourage this pathological love, it is normal that we get involved in unhealthy behaviors of attachment and dependency that take away all sense of being in a couple. We should aspire to a free love, for our psychological health and that of our partner, and because the only way to be happy is to get rid of fear.
Relationships move in the realm of uncertainty, and not accepting or wanting to see this reality inevitably leads to fear, suffering and frustration as we try to control the uncontrollable. If we want to enjoy our loved one in a healthy way, we have to be willing to lose him or her, no matter how much this thought hurts.
Affective dependence is not “excess of love” but excess of fear . It is an addiction in which the individual feels literally incapable of living without the other (which is also well seen in our society, we have all heard phrases like “you are everything to me”, “I don’t know what I would do without you”, “without you I am nothing…”) and possesses all the components of any other substance addiction: the urge to “use” our drug linked to love, withdrawal symptoms when we are without it, irritability, compulsion, feelings of incomprehension around us, stopping doing things we used to enjoy to be alone with our “drug”.
According to Walter Riso , the central scheme of all attachment is emotional immaturity, understood as a “naive and intolerant perspective in the face of certain situations of life, generally uncomfortable or aversive”. The most important manifestations of emotional immaturity related to affective attachment would be low thresholds of suffering, low tolerance to frustration and the illusion of permanence, that is, the inability to imagine the end of the relationship. The emotionally immature person (who may be mature in other areas of his or her life) requires the care of his or her loved one just as a child requires his or her mother. Without her protection figure she feels lost, scared and unprotected .
How do you learn to love healthily?
The first step is to be aware of love as a verb and not as a noun , as an action and not as a feeling or a thought. Loving is a behaviour that we carry out when we perform actions that affect the well-being of the other, when we rejoice in their achievements, when we respect their motivations, when we give them space to grow.
Since we are usually more focused on being loved than on loving, we live by our partner’s demonstrations of love or lack thereof. This is totally unproductive, as we cannot get under each other’s skin and behave in a way that meets our expectations. It is advisable to abandon the receptive orientation and begin to have proactive behaviors.
Instead of complaining because our partner is not affectionate, we should be the ones to initiate the rapprochement, instead of complaining because she is not detail-oriented, we should have some detail with her. Deep down the best way to start receiving is to start giving .
To begin to heal our relationship we must break away from the old patterns of pseudo-love that many of us carry within us and that prevent us from enjoying relationships to the fullest. To move from emotional dependence to emotional autonomy.
Achieving emotional autonomy
What is sought with affective autonomy is not indifference or coldness, but a healthy way of relating independently, not possessive and not addictive .
Autonomy promotes anti-attachment schemes and produces healthier ways of relating, as well as greater individual well-being. Autonomous people acquire more confidence in themselves when they see that they do not need anyone to resolve their issues, thus increasing their sense of self-efficacy and therefore their self-esteem. They become more emotionally mature and manage loneliness better, losing their fear of it.
It is worth learning to enjoy the times we spend alone as much as the times we spend with our partner , and not to remain in a mummified state every time we are separated from her until we see her again. To maintain the life that is beyond the couple: one’s own space, one’s own friends, one’s hobbies, one’s moments of solitude. In a relationship it is much healthier to miss than to “miss too much”.
You don’t have to be weak to be loved. If the couple loves us in a healthy way, they will be willing to help us develop an independent personality, which does not mean that we love them less, but that we love them better. People who have found their vocation and their own way of living life become immune to emotional dependence. The most positive thing is to focus on cultivating and caring for other areas of our lives. The key is always balance .