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Women who love too much - Robin Norwood. It could have been written about me...anyone else identify with it?

(64 Posts)
msshapelybottom Sun 28-Jul-13 09:23:24

I have seen this recommended so many times and I've always thought "that's not me"!, but for some reason I bought it last week and read it in 24 hrs.

It was uncomfortable reading at times because I could see patterns of behaviour that I recognised but it was actually very comforting and illuminating too, to know that my childhood was, in fact, totally fucked up! I've always denied that things were too bad growing up (with an alcoholic, wife beating father and a cold, controlling religious mother, who I would guess borders on narcissistic).

Reading this book is helping me to start unravelling my own attitudes to men and relationships. I've been married twice, the first time to a man who was a misogynist and who was emotionally and physically abusive (but who had a dreadful childhood himself) and the 2nd to an alcoholic who was emotionally distant. He also had a traumatic start in life.

I've had a number of flings in the 4.5 years since me and exH separated, always with unsuitable men. I think now that it was deliberate so that I could avoid intimacy. I even posted a few weeks ago about not wanting a traditional relationship but I wonder now if that is because I just cannot relate to what a normal, healthy & loving partnership would be like?

Thankfully, for the past 11 months or so, I've been sworn off men, because I realised that I was just going to keep repeating the same old routine, and I have been working hard for a few years on developing a good spiritual/inner life and learning to love myself. I am a lot more grounded, but still scared of getting involved with someone incase I choose another "broken" man!

I'm terrified that I'm passing on the same issues to my 3 kids, but deep down I think I know that I am different to my mother.

Can anyone relate to this book? How have you started on the road to healthy relationships? It would be really great to chat with any other women who are affected by this.

Change2013 Sun 28-Jul-13 16:08:35

I read the book a long time ago and need to read it again. I had what I can now see was a very dysfunctional long term relationship partly because I didn't have an example of a healthy relationship from my parents.

Like you, I've spent the last year working on myself, my weight, fitness, self-esteem, spirituality. I was sleepwalking through a lot of my marriage and had forgotten who I am. I haven't been involved with any men and am not sure whether I have the courage, though I would like to think I could have a healthy relationship one day.

I know there are good men who also get badly treated but the number of seemingly lovely women on MN who are treated badly, cheated on etc makes me despair.

msshapelybottom Sun 28-Jul-13 17:07:03

I found it comforting to read the steps that were described in the 2nd half of the book towards wellness. The writer said that every woman who followed her recommendations found they could break the old habits. I hope I can be one of those! It sounds as though you are naturally trying to work on yourself too. That's really positive smile

I know what you mean about all the women who get treated badly on MN. It makes me wonder sometimes about how many truly healthy relationships there are out there. I was so sure that I was not affected by my upbringing, and there I was following the exact pattern written about in the book. How do we know who the good guys are? I have always been attracted to men who give me that "butterflies" feeling, which I have mistaken for love/lust, but which was probably my body saying "run"!

I know what you mean about not knowing whether or not you have the courage to get involved with someone. I feel exactly the same. I don't know how to trust the right kind of person. I think I need to spend a lot more time alone. I just don't want to make the same mistakes over again!

RockinD Sun 28-Jul-13 18:14:10

I bought this book in 1991 and couldn't read it - it was just too painful, but I went back to it eventually and it probably saved my life.

Happily married ten years now to a man who is not emotionally unavailable, gay, violent, addicted, in thrall to his mother.

mcmooncup Sun 28-Jul-13 19:00:55

Marking place sad

MoreThanWords Sun 28-Jul-13 19:15:27

This could be my summer read while my counsellor is on holiday!

msshapelybottom Sun 28-Jul-13 19:42:03

Rockin, I'm glad that you have found a way through it and that you are enjoying a healthy relationship...that gives me great hope!

mcmooncup, have you read the book? You're definitely not alone if you think you might be able to relate to it.

MoreThan, I'm so glad I read it - I've read countless self help/spiritual books, and this one is the one I least wanted to read, but it actually holds all the answers of "why". I'm sure you will find something helpful in the book.

I feel funny today after finishing the book (at 4am!)...I know now what has been behind the choices I've made and it's difficult to acknowledge that I have no idea what a good relationship is like and that I still have a lot of work to do. I feel sad for my parents, too, because I know they both did the best they could with their own "stuff". I am hopeful now that I can break the chain for my own kids and myself.

ParsleyTheLioness Sun 28-Jul-13 20:33:59

I read it a long time ago, and related to it. I too had a dysfunctional childhood, so I had funny ideas about love and duty and responsibility, and am divorced twice...I was on my own for about 18months, didn't jump into anything (unlike last time) and have recently started seeing someone who so far seems a really nice chap!
He is not someone I would have 'gone' for a few years ago. If I say that he seems really straightforward, uncomplicated and nice I mean it as a compliment. Its early days yet, but I see it as an indication that I have moved on from the shallower motivators of my past.
I think/hope that I have learned, and want/expect to be treated well now, rather than just have mainly sexual attraction with someone, that I mistook for more of a connection, who from the start would treat my feelings more dismissively, and it only got worse rather than better.

Woodlicence Sun 28-Jul-13 21:07:34

I am just reading this after nearly throwing away my first really good relationship. It has already seriously opened my eyes to my behaviour. Basically I was always looking for a relationship that mirrored those that I had early on in my life which were a bit crap and unless men were crap I was uninterested and I didn't fancy them!
I had come across the book before but didn't read it as the title didn't really sound like something that could help me, bit misleading I think.

Also was looking into a support group or something similar I could go to, I think that could be really helpful, haven't found anything so far except group counselling. Has anyone come across any women's support groups?

msshapelybottom Sun 28-Jul-13 21:13:14

Parsley, that's so encouraging to hear smile I hope your new found wisdom will take you far!

It's funny that you mention you are now seeing a guy you wouldn't have been interested in before because I've never been the slightest bit attracted to the nice, normal chaps. I always thought they were utterly boring. I go weak at the knees for the ones with brooding eyes and a bit of passion about him. Sometimes the bad guys pretend to be normal and I get fooled (probably cos I got confused with good sex and reading more into it - gak!) I thought you had to have a "spark" with a guy for it to mean something. I know better now, (in theory!). I think the feeling I mistook for chemistry was actually stress and fear.

Did you find that the 18 months you spent by yourself was helpful? I think I will be on my own for a while yet, I think I'm only just scratching the surface of who I am and what makes me tick.

I wonder if just being made aware of the "loving too much" dynamics is enough to stop the process in its tracks?

msshapelybottom Sun 28-Jul-13 21:18:48

Woodlicence, crossed posts! Snap on the fancying the bad guys, I don't know how to undo who I am attracted to.

I too, am curious about support groups, it seems to be integral to the process of recovery (doesn't that word sound serious!) but I have no idea what is available in real life. I have found an online group, I wonder if that would work as a substitute?

I agree that the title is misleading. To me, it's more about hating yourself than loving someone else too much, although I do understand where the author is coming from. Until recently, I've only ever known how to hate myself, so I'm not sure that any of my relationships (even when I was married) have been based in genuine love.

mcmooncup Sun 28-Jul-13 21:41:41

Yes, same for me as you guys are describing.
I thought my childhood was normal and nice, however after my abusive marriage failed I started to realise that I had totally mirrored the bad relationship model from my parents. My dad was an EA possible narcissist and I have subjugated my feelings all my life. Literally no demands on anyone ever - total co dependent. I always thought I was "easy going" but actually was just totally devoid of any esteem in asserting myself as my emotions and feelings and needs had been crushed all my childhood.

I sometimes think even now as I have had the last 2 years single-ish, that what the hell am I on about...everyone has their stuff going on......and have to remind myself that I ended up in an abusive marriage so it is pretty bad stuff.

I have dated in the last 2 years and only once have I nearly fallen for a bad un again. It was so hard because he LOOKED like my dad, acted like my dad, treated me so badly emotionally in the exact same way as my dad did and I was intensely attracted to him. But I managed to walk away. Just.

I am really starting to undo who I am attracted to. I really value kindness mostly. There is a guy I've been dating who I know is normal and I feel great when I'm with him, but I still get triggered by idiotic things, like he will take a genuine interest in my feelings and what I've been doing - no put downs and snide remarks - and I can't quite trust it is for real yet. One thing that has really helped me is to notice how different I am with men and women - so I have amazing friends, really trusting fun relationships, and would never ever let a woman treat me badly. So I try and take the gender red herring away from my male relationships - would I let a friend speak to me like that? Would I not believe my friend when she paid me a compliment? Would I expect my friend to ask how I am doing and how my big day was? etc.

The difference I have in relationships between men and women is so marked it is ludicrous and I am simply trying to get my male relationships like my female ones. Not sure if that makes sense to anyone else.

Change2013 Sun 28-Jul-13 22:02:49

Really interesting to read replies to this thread. Like others I've read a ton of self-help books and also saw a counsellor for almost a year. I like the idea of a support group, I wonder if there are any.

I was 20 when I met ex and had only had a handful of non serious boyfriends before that. I was the rescuer and responsible person in the marriage and was exhausted by the time it ended.

Trouble is that over the years it's ended up that I don't have any male friends and actually feel quite uncomfortable around men I don't know. I suppose I don't trust but I don't know how to change that. I'm quite happy for the moment being single (have two of my three children still living with me). But I really would like to eventually have a normal, healthy relationship.

MoreThanWords Sun 28-Jul-13 22:11:47

Parsley I can identify with so much that you have written above.

My counsellor thinks I have never had a positive male role model in my life (probably true) and this is hindering my ability to have a healthy relationship. Build in crap self-esteem and the tendency to jump into bed if I think the conversation is drying up and that's all I've got to offer, and bingo - not a recipe for a relationship based on mutual respect!

msshapelybottom Sun 28-Jul-13 22:13:46

mcmooncup, your post makes so much sense. How insightful that you have noticed a difference in how you relate to men and women...I don't think I would have even thought about that until I read your words.

It must be encouraging for you to be working through any uncertainty with the guy you are seeing. I am sure that awareness must make a lot of difference. I can only imagine how hard it must have been to let the bad one go.

I had a brief fling with a guy I felt the most intense attraction for last summer. Well, I thought I had fallen for him, but I think it was all just so familiar. I thought there was so much chemistry but there was no depth or indeed proper shared intimacy. He treated me terribly, and I kept going back for more. And yet, in my day to day, non dating life, I have high self esteem and wouldn't let anyone walk all over me.

Looking back to my early years, the thing which has affected me the most was when my mother would ignore me, yet at the same time, lean on me for support from a very young age. I still feel very uncomfortable asking for what I need (like you describe).

One thing I am getting better at, is making sure I don't hang onto any negative people any more. I have ended 2 friendships this year which were draining & utterly exhausting and I am proud that I was able to stop 2 relationships which were hurting me. Baby steps! I keep people around me who share my outlook. Sadly, one of the people I now keep at arms length is my mum. I actually live in a different country from her, and I think this has saved me from going completely down the pan, so to speak. Any contact is by e-mail only, which gives me time and space to sort my emotions out before I reply!

I wonder why we model our parents when their influence has been so damaging? I suppose it's the whole nature/nurture thing. We must be programmed by the behaviours we are exposed to so deeply that it takes years to unravel. I'm terrified that I am affecting my own kids, but I try every day to show them love & acceptance no matter what has happened between us.

Has anyone done the exercise from the book which involves writing down everything that we have had difficulty with, to try and trace back the behaviours and infuences? It sounds like a very time-consuming project but I think I am going to start on that, beginning with my parents.

It's so helpful to read everyone's views but it's painful to know that there are so many women who understand, in a way.

msshapelybottom Sun 28-Jul-13 22:21:40

Change - I find male friendships can be a minefield as a single parent, even without the trust issues! I'd love to figure that out too.

Morethan, how do we enter into a healthy relationship if we've never seen one? Is it something we can learn by instinct once all the crap is worked through I wonder?

Really interesting discussion. I would love to be able to relate to guys as friends without sex getting in the way. I tend to use my sexual energy as a tool to get noticed, possibly because I have a hard time feeling valued in any other way. It's not a very healthy way to get to know people, really.

wileycoyote Sun 28-Jul-13 22:30:41

I completely relate to what is being said on this thread. I must look up the book. I think my mum might have a copy!!

Change2013 Sun 28-Jul-13 22:31:47

Msshapelybottom, Thank you, you've inspired me to reserve the book at the library and I'm excited to find there is a book called Letters from Women Who Love Too Much as well. This appeals to me as I'm a reading addict and also love to hear other people's stories.

After counselling, I've got a good idea of where some of my issues come from - good dad but he found it hard to talk about emotions. My mum was bipolar and from an early age I felt I had to look after her. Consequently I felt unable to express my feelings and wanted to look after people at my own expense.

I am getting better and have also ended a friendship that had become negative.

mcmooncup Sun 28-Jul-13 22:33:39

Yes, I've just realised that my attractions are just familiarities kicking in. It took the 'dad' guy for me to realise this in it's harsh reality. And familiarity in my case is just NOT good smile

If you have ever seen Brene Brown's work - that has really helped me be brave. To embrace the feelings of vulnerability as a good thing for change. So when nice man, asks me how I am, I answer honestly. Even if I am pissed off.....I would never ever ever tell a male I am pissed off 2 years ago. So odd. But I still can't say I am completely comfortable with it, I am actually VERY uncomfortable with it and feel like a "a pain in the arse", but the fact I do it and nice people expect you to be able to do this is progress beyond belief !

I am actually in no doubt that I will always either be single or in a healthy relationship. I won't be in a shit relationship, I just know now and that in itself is very freeing.

I too appear to be amazingly confident.....and the weird thing is I am......I have no problem with myself in any way. Odd.

<I am watching American Psycho right now and thinking how in the past I could quite easily of been one of his women in it sigh >

Change2013 Sun 28-Jul-13 22:40:47

Agreed mcmooncup, there is no way I would be treated badly in a relationship ever again and that is freeing. I'm confident in most aspects of life except for relationships with men.

What I have found difficult is the fact that I did stick with a crap marriage for so long. I think a large part of it was wanting our children to have a better childhood than I did which doesnt make sense really because the marriage was a terrible role model for relationships!

mcmooncup Sun 28-Jul-13 22:41:02
Change2013 Sun 28-Jul-13 22:43:02

Have to go to bed now but will have a look at those links. I hope people keep posting on here.

mcmooncup Sun 28-Jul-13 22:51:46

Snap to the sticking at a bad marriage Change

I try not to dwell on that too wink

MoreThanWords Sun 28-Jul-13 22:54:36

* I tend to use my sexual energy as a tool to get noticed, possibly because I have a hard time feeling valued in any other way*

^^^THIS^^^^^ in bucket loads! But now I'm peri-menopausal, putting weight on, boobs growing and sagging, joints aching too much to want anything except a quick missionary, I need a Plan B!

I read so much excellent advice on the Relationships board - I often find myself thinking "What would AF say?" - both in terms of my own behaviour, and whether I should accept the way men treat me.

It's a huge, belated, and hopefully liberating learning curve.

msshapelybottom Sun 28-Jul-13 22:56:30

Wiley, if this thread feels familiar I'm sure there will be lots in the book you will be able to relate to!

Change, I will be interested to hear your experience of the book after your 2nd reading, with the insights you have already. I have a feeling it's the kind of book you can get more out of each time you go back to it.

I think having to emotionally support a parent actually stunts childhood development. You are instantly elevated into the position of adult, without the wisdom and experience. It's not healthy, is it?

Mc, oh I LOVE Brene Brown! Her TED talk really helped me realise what direction I wanted to go in to explore the whole spiritual side. It was also the first time someone suggested it was ok, actually, necessary to be true to myself! I have one of her books upstairs, I must read it again, thanks for the reminder.

Yes to no more shit relationships. I would rather be alone forever than put up with that again. It's a revelation to me just how happy I feel as a single woman.

Susan Jeffers' books were also really helpful in getting past some uncomfortable times...she deals with getting through uncertainty, and learning to sit with feelings might otherwise try to squash down or ignore.

Another book I go back to often is called "In the Meantime" by Iyanla Vanzant. It talks about taking the time in between relationships to heal yourself and work through issues which have been sticking points. I find her way of looking at life quite refreshingly honest.

Going to check out schema therapy tomorrow...must get to bed now smile

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