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Can't Live with 'Em, Can't Live without 'Em
By STEPHEN F. ARTERBURN DAVID A. STOOP
W Publishing GroupCopyright © 2007 Stephen F. Arterburn David A. Stoop
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLoving the One You Hate; Hating the One You Love
Almost everyone has at least one-a person you deeply love and care about while at the same time you deeply resent and hate. The June 9, 1988, Issue of USA Today featured a cover story with the headline, "He Loves Her, He Loves Her Not." It is a story about the marriage of James Brown, the "Godfather of Soul." The article states that "he'd stomped on her foot so hard it left a boot mark. He's hit her, bruising her badly enough to send her to University Hospital. When she tried to escape, he'd grabbed a pistol and shot at their white Lincoln." That's what his wife told the police. But they still live together.
When he was interviewed, Brown said, "'I love her. She's my sugar-wuger.' The next minute, he says he's going ahead with a divorce." When his wife was interviewed later, she said, "We're fine. We're not going to get a divorce. We are still one soul. We are still in love."
Most love-hate relationships don't make the newspaper. They are more insidious than that. They don't seem that dramatic most of the time; but the end result is the same-love and hate.
SARAH: BUCKS, BOOZE, AND A BROKEN HEART
For Sarah, her love-hate relationship was with her father. Dad had always been able to make a lot of money, and his love for that money was surpassed only by his love for alcohol. As an adult child of an alcoholic, Sarah has struggled with the expression of her own emotions for a long time. She feels totally confused within. So she has tried to learn not to feel emotions at all. The more her dad continues to drink, the more Sarah can't stand to be around him. But she can't stay away from him either. At the core of her dilemma is a father who will not provide Sarah with what she wants most-the emotional closeness that has been denied her.
Growing up, Sarah's family life was like walking on eggshells. Mother was there, but she was preoccupied with Dad, trying to keep his drinking under control. Any problems that arose could usually be solved with money. As a result, Sarah got everything she wanted materially. And when, as an adolescent, she created trouble, money put out the fire.
It was during this time that Sarah starting looking for emotional closeness elsewhere. Most of the guys she went out with were older, and it didn't take long for her to end up in their bedrooms. But these relationships didn't last very long, for as soon as Sarah did begin to get close to someone, she would just as quickly walk away.
Sarah is only twenty-six, but she feels as though she has lived a lot more years than that. Several times, the feelings of isolation have become so intense that she has made a serious attempt at suicide; but those attempts only led to big emotional battles with her dad in the hospital. After feeling his anger and rejection, she'd grit her teeth and swear she would never see her dad again, only to find herself several weeks later bringing a new boyfriend over to meet her parents.
Sarah's friends can see the torture she is putting herself through, but they have given up trying to make her see the pattern. Sarah is blind to the dynamic of what she is doing. She's caught in the double bind of loving and searching for something she cannot have-at least not from the person she insists on having it from. She hates the one she loves and idolizes.
All of her relationships suffer. She limits herself, partly out of the fear that she will be rejected and hurt by others, and partly out of the feeling that she is not really good enough for anyone to really care about her. Sarah knows a lot of people; but down inside she is convinced that everyone knows what a worthless person she is. When others compliment her on anything, she is quick to point out her flaws. As a result, she feels so misunderstood and unacceptable that no one is able to make her feel okay-no one, that is, except Dad. And he won't.
People like Sarah often feel they are so needy inside that it is impossible for all of these needs ever to be satisfied. This leads them into a vicious cycle of depreciating love and caring from others because "it's just not enough." Almost every relationship Sarah has been in has eventually felt empty; it "wasn't enough."
One doesn't have to have an alcoholic parent to feel like Sarah. Children who are raised in abusive family situations often find themselves in the same trap of seeking love and approval from a hated parent. To those not raised in that kind of family environment, it seems incredulous that anyone would seek love and approval from an abusive parent; but we do. It seems that the less love we experience, the more we seek it from the person who can't-or won't-give it.
MARY: ABANDONED IN RAGE
Mary, a friend of Sarah, understands what Sarah is struggling with. She has many of the same feelings. While Mary's mother was pregnant with her, her father left; he literally abandoned both his wife and daughter. It wasn't until Mary was an adult that she was able to look for her dad. Her mother had remarried, and Mary was fortunate to have had a wonderful stepfather. But there was still a hole inside Mary that only her real dad could fill. She was filled with rage at this unknown father for abandoning her; but she also longed deeply for his love and approval. And while she both hated and loved her absent father, Mary also searched for assurance that her mother's devotion to her was genuine.
Sometimes a parent can be too caring for the child, and the loving attention can seem fake. The overprotective or the overcontrolling parent often leaves the child with a hollow feeling that the caring parent is not really that caring. Help or gifts that come even before they are needed begin to feel automatic, like the response of a robot. We wonder what the parent really feels down inside. Are they doing this because they have to? Do they really care? It's almost too good to be true, so we end up not trusting it. Then we set about searching for affirmation that the parent really does care about us and love us-a task that sets off the same vicious cycle Sarah experienced with her alcoholic father.
In each situation, the person is trapped in a cycle that alternates between loving the parent and hating the parent. Mixed in is a lot of guilt for being unable to resolve the dilemma. Sarah and Mary had decisions to make.
JOE AND BETTY: PERPLEXED PARENTS
Sometimes the problem goes in the opposite direction. Joe and Betty feel like giving up. Their fifteen-year-old son has embarrassed and disgraced them so many times they have lost count. He wears some of the strangest clothes-they look like they were used in a horror movie. All of his friends-that is, the few he has left-dress just as he does. Their hair changes color weekly and usually sticks straight up in greased-together spikes.
Until recently, Joe and Betty had tried to accept Daren's behavior, thinking it would pass. They insisted that he eat with them in restaurants and come with them to family outings. But his obnoxious and rude behavior had become more than they could tolerate. The last time they took him to a restaurant, his behavior was so awful they left without eating.
Whenever they tried to talk with Daren, they usually ended up in an angry confrontation, with Daren screaming that he wished they were dead. The last confrontation had actually frightened both Joe and Betty; they came seeking counseling.
At their first session, which Daren refused to attend, it was obvious that the parents wanted a quick fix for this out-of-control problem. But when they came to understand there was no easy answer to their dilemma, they kept coming to therapy-for themselves.
As they explored their own feelings about their son, they became aware of their own frightening wish that Daren was dead. They were overwhelmed with guilt over these feelings. And of course Daren took advantage of their confusion to pit his parents against each other and ultimately get what he wanted. In these situations, one parent became overwhelmed by anger and even hatred, while the other parent was overwhelmed by guilt mixed with love. In one confrontation one parent would be angry; in the next confrontation the other parent would take the angry-parent role. Joe and Betty alternated in and out of their love-hate/guilt-anger roles.
As is so often true in a love-hate relationship, one person uses the mixed feelings to manipulate and get what he or she wants from the other. In this situation, Daren never needed to look at himself. He could blame everything on his parents and the messed-up system.
Joe and Betty realized that the harder they tried to fix Daren, the worse his behavior became. Because they didn't know what else to do, and didn't seem to have the power to change Daren, they ended up feeling helpless. Joe and Betty are experiencing a confusion between helplessness and powerlessness. There is an important difference. In the course of therapy, Joe and Betty learned they are truly powerless in their efforts to change or control Daren's behavior. But they are not helpless. There are some important steps they can take, and they had already taken one of them-they sought help from someone trained to give it.
They can also change their expectations for Daren and limit the public contact they have with him. They can learn to ignore some behaviors while consistently and together confronting other more important issues with Daren. Joe and Betty may be powerless; but they are not helpless in their love-hate dilemma. There is a decision for them to make.
DAN: TROUBLED EMPLOYEE
Dan faces a different dilemma. His love-hate relationship is at work. Dan started with his company right out of college. Within five years he was a senior vice president with the firm. His rapid success was largely due to his boss, who was moving up ahead of him in the company. He opened all the doors for Dan.
It sounds like the ideal situation-except that Dan's boss was a power monger. He wasn't satisfied with his success; he wanted more. As a result, he couldn't share any accomplishments with Dan or anyone else. The boss even expected Dan to give him credit for the things Dan really did on his own.
The boss held Dan's success over his head. He frequently reminded him of why he had been so quickly promoted. Dan really appreciated everything his boss had done to help him, but he also felt a growing resentment toward his boss. These feelings grew within him to the point that he actually began to dread going to work. When he was at the office, he avoided his boss as much as possible. He felt trapped. He couldn't leave; but more and more he felt that he couldn't stay either. Dan came for help when he had a series of dreams, each one ending with his killing his boss in a different way.
As Dan began to explore his relationship with his boss, he started to see that his self-confidence had been gradually eroded by the boss's behavior. He had been brainwashed into believing that if he left the company, he would be a failure, since all of his success was due only to his boss. He was paralyzed by his loyalty to his boss and the feelings of dependency that had developed.
Dan knew that his boss had helped him get ahead; but he also knew that he was good at what he did and his aptitude had played a significant part in his success. He felt trapped. On the one hand, he had a deep respect for his boss. But on the other hand, he deeply resented him for the way he expected Dan to behave. His loss of self-confidence had made it difficult for him to see any other alternative to his predicament. He had a decision to make.
SANDRA: SLEEPING WITH THE PAST
Sandra is a thirty-two-year-old mother of two boys, ages six and eight. She is a single parent. Her divorce was final two years ago, but it has been five years since Ray, her ex-husband, left to pursue a career in music. Ray is a classic example of the irresponsible husband who left his family to pursue his own dream. The years that Sandra and Ray were married were rocky and unstable times. Ray had left several times before, once with another woman. Over the years, Sandra had grown to hate him; but she never would have left or challenged the relationship.
When Ray made it clear the last time that he wasn't coming back, Sandra was relieved-and saddened, too. She hated his impulsiveness and irresponsibility, but she enjoyed his companionship. Now that he's really gone, she misses having Ray around and feels depressed and lonely. She's concerned now that Ray stays involved with the boys. "They need a father," she keeps reminding herself.
Although she is determined not to do it, each time he comes to see the boys (which isn't very often), he persuades her to let him stay the night and sleep with her. Every time, she awakes the next morning with a feeling of disgust. She struggles with her feelings of loneliness and her fear that if she doesn't give in, he will stop coming to see the boys. As she talks about Ray, there is still a spark of feeling as she remembers the good times of the past.
Sandra is caught on a treadmill of values that bounce between her hurt and anger at Ray's irresponsibility and rejection of her, her own needs and loneliness, and the intense fear that if she stands up for herself, the boys will lose their father. The more she struggles with her dilemma, the more she hates Ray for putting her in such an awful place.
Sandra knows that she needs to extend her life beyond Ray in order to feel good about herself; but every time he comes over, he begins to talk about the good times and she ends up giving in to his request to stay over. Sandra begins to feel that she is a victim: helpless, unable to do anything to change her situation. When she stops and thinks about it, she realizes she still has feelings of love for Ray, but she is so frustrated by the way things are, she feels resentment and hatred for him, too.
It's hard for a victim to make a decision, but Sandra needs to make one.
MARILYN: OH GOD!
Marilyn lived in a small town where everyone knew everyone else, and also knew everything about everyone else. She and her husband, Tom, had been married for eighteen years. Tom's job took him out of town often, and eventually it took him into a relationship with another woman. Marilyn and Tom struggled together in secret for over a year; but finally, Tom filed for divorce. As soon as the court record hit the newspaper, rumors started flying fast and furiously, and Marilyn was the focus of all of the town's gossip.
As is often the case, some people were downright cruel. Several stopped her at the store and asked her what she had done to drive "poor Tom" away. She was hurt, humiliated, and angry. She didn't want the divorce, but she was beginning to hate Tom for the problems he was creating for her.
About halfway through the divorce process, Tom suffered severe chest pains. Before the paramedics arrived, he had a cardiac arrest, and despite efforts to revive him, he was pronounced dead when they arrived at the hospital. Marilyn's anger went from her husband directly to God. How could God have allowed such a thing? How could He allow her to suffer the public humiliation of the affair and the divorce if Tom was going to die anyway? All she could think was one big WHY?
Now, two years later, Marilyn has not been inside a church since Tom died. In fact, she seldom leaves her home. She's still too humiliated to face any of the people in the town. Her love-hate relationship is with God, and right now it is mostly hate. She doesn't know how she feels about Tom. He was just a victim in God's strange, twisted plan-at least that's how she sees it.
Her love-hate relationship with God has infected all of her relationships. She finally came for help after an explosive confrontation with her daughter. She told the counselor that her daughter had given up on her and now she was left with absolutely no one. Tom had died on her. And God had betrayed her. And now her daughter didn't understand her.
Excerpted from Can't Live with 'Em, Can't Live without 'Em by STEPHEN F. ARTERBURN DAVID A. STOOP Copyright © 2007 by Stephen F. Arterburn David A. Stoop. Excerpted by permission.
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