Becoming a whole person doesn’t necessarily mean marrying again, for the choices are many and varied and can lead to satisfying lives without marriage. It can mean, for example, being “married” to a social cause, a church, a person of the same sex, or a live-in partnership without a marriage license. But all forms of commitment require love as a fundamental glue to piece together a happy and fulfilling life.
Therefore, it’s extremely important to understand how and why we love — and what went wrong with the love that was part of your marriage. Learning from the mistakes you’ve made, and understanding how to avoid repeating them, is a necessary foundation for a creative divorce. Consequently, this article will focus on using your divorce as a learning experience — one that will help you understand the true meaning of love, in place of the mutual self-deceptions practiced by many couples that result in their divorcing.
On the basis of many divorce group-counseling sessions we’ve had, with both men and women present, we’d like to share with you the many ways in which these well-meaning, decent people trapped themselves into believing and practicing forms of love that really weren’t authentic. Identifying and understanding these self-deceptions (which we’ll call “masquerades”) not only will help you understand what went wrong in your marriage, but will help you avoid these self-destructive patterns in the future.
Listed below are the seven predominant types of love masquerades that prevent divorced men and women from giving and receiving the love they want and need.
Self-Deceptions Masquerading as Love
- The I-Will-Be-Loved-for-What-l-Can-Do-Not-for-Who-I-Am Masquerade
Here is a typical example of a couple’s problem that is all too frequent in our society. Frank and Ellen, married for 12 years, are on the verge of breaking up. They’re meeting with us in counseling to see what, if anything, can be salvaged from their relationship. “You don’t love me anymore, or maybe you never did,” Ellen complains.Frank looks astounded. “How can you say that?” he says. “Look at the five-bedroom house we have, the Lexus, the swimming pool, the yearly vacations we take to Europe, the great clothes you wear, and the 12-hour days I put in at the office so our kids could go to the best college. I did it all for you — if that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.”
Ellen replied angrily, “You still don’t get it — I want you to hug me, to kiss me, to make love to me instead of the business telephone you’re always on. Our children never see you, so they think you don’t love them because you give them presents instead of spending time with them. Don’t you understand that tenderness and affection are more important to me than making a buck? I want the old Frank back, the Frank I thought I married. You were so different then.”
Somewhere along the way, Frank had come to believe that his career and bank account were the most important things in his life — that they actually defined who he was. Deep down, he thought he had to pay for his family’s love. Eventually, he began to believe that they should be paying for his “love” too, by serving as appropriate status symbols, and he treated them accordingly.
Ellen shared her experience in her divorce-counseling group, because Frank never understood that no person can make another person lovable. Frank had to do this for himself, but he had refused further counseling to eliminate his self-defeating behavior, so Ellen initiated her divorce. “I’ve since learned,” Ellen told her divorce group, “to be more assertive and communicate more directly in my relationships with men. Frank inhibited me, but I now see that I let myself be inhibited, so I really can’t blame him for not communicating better.”
- The I-Will-Be-Loved-As-a-Man-lf-I-Pretend-to-Be-lnvulnerable Masquerade
Our society tends to stereotype men into feeling that they can only be lovable if they are always in charge of their lives. This “John Wayne syndrome” is frequently evidenced in clients who come for counseling.For example, Ron and Amy, a couple in their late 30s, have been married for ten years. Ron tells us he can’t understand why Amy insisted he come with her to talk about their marriage. But Amy says, “He’s been driving me crazy in all of the ten years we’ve been married. He never tells me what he’s feeling. Oh, yes, he’ll talk about politics, TV, or the stock market, but whenever I see him looking sad, anxious, or detached, and ask him about it, he always replies, ‘It’s nothing, I’m fine.’ Well, the last straw happened last week. Recently, he had been moody and depressed when he came home from work, but he wouldn’t say anything. It was like pulling teeth, but I just found out from him that he’s been worried because there have been rumors that the company he works for might be merged out of existence, and that he didn’t tell me because he didn’t want to worry me. My God! For two months, I tortured myself every day. I thought he was actually having an affair because we didn’t have sex once during the past two months. He’s like a blank page. I’m tired of trying to guess all the time what it is he’s really feeling.” She then turned to Ron and said, “Do you think I wouldn’t love you any more if you were unemployed? I would love you if you shared your fears, and, yes, even if you cried about it, and asked for my help.”
But Ron was too “proud” to change, and their marriage tore apart.
- The Love-Is-a-Possession Masquerade
When a person feels unworthy of being loved, he or she tries to control the other person out of fear that that person would leave the relationship if left to his or her own free will. For example, Sherry and George, both in their late 20s, have been married for three years. Sherry says she is very much in love with George, and they have a monogamous relationship.However, she is terribly jealous and has this compulsion to call her husband at his office (he’s a lawyer) at least five or six times a day, which makes him angry because it interferes with his work. She says if she doesn’t “check up on him,” he might be attracted to someone else. She knows this is absurd behavior on her part, yet she continues to call him, to the detriment of their relationship. George says he has urged her to see us, since he feels he is being pushed over the edge by her unreasonable jealousy. “When I talk to another woman at a party, she’s furious. I dearly love her, but she makes me feel like a little kid who has to account for every minute I’m not with her.”
In counseling, Sherry told us that her father had always favored her younger sister over herself. She yearned for any crumb of affection he would give her. She had transferred the belief that she was unlovable to her relationship with George. “How could he possibly be in love with me — any other woman can easily take him away from me,” was what she told us she felt.
She was seeing George as if he were her father (since, like her father, he was the most important male figure in her life). She was acting as if she were the frightened, “unlovable” child she felt she once was; she had convinced herself that George would stay with her only if she watched him like a detective every minute of the day. Of course, watching him like that could only end the marriage rather than bring them closer together.
- The Love-Means-I-Can’t-Survive-on-My-Own Masquerade
When a person is insecure, he or she feels love means never being abandoned by one’s partner — even though this can create overreactions that can destroy a relationship. This happens more frequently than might be supposed.For instance, Kate and David, married ten years, say they can’t stand living together. David says she embarrasses him by screaming angrily in front of his staff (he’s a sales manager selling recreational property leases). She visits him frequently for lunch at his worksite, where there is always a bench to lunch on. He says, “It always happens when our lunch date is interrupted by a member of my staff who needs me to solve an urgent business problem. That happens often and is part of my job. But she always blows her top, yelling in four-letter words that I don’t give a damn about her since I make her wait around all the time while I tend to business. It’s so embarrassing. I’ve told her again and again to stop making a public display — it hurts me and makes my staff snicker. That’s why we’re here. It has to stop or I will leave our home for good.”
We asked Kate if she ever acted this way before she was married. “Always,” she replied. “My mother died when I was three, and my father married and divorced three times. I always felt ignored by him. I felt that my father, whom I adored, would leave me forever if he didn’t return at the time he said he would, or even if he suddenly left the room to go to the toilet without telling me.”
Children learn to bond with their primary caretaker from the moment they are born. Children need love, food, and nurturing in order to survive. When the primary caregiver is absent, the child feels abandoned. It takes a long, long time for the child to develop the ability to trust again, as Kate became aware of.
Sometimes, therapy can help a person with their overreactions and deep feelings of abandonment. But Kate came to counseling too late; her marriage ended because too many years of hurt in the relationship had eroded David’s love for her.
- The Love-Is-Competition Masquerade
In this masquerade, love means unconsciously placing your partner in competition with the image of that perfect love from a parent you may still have in your mind. Coming to terms with that parental image is the unfinished business that must be to accomplished if repeated breakups in relationships are to be prevented.Unfinished business means that you have unresolved problems from the past that are disturbing the present situation. This happened to Carrie and her husband, Bob.
Carrie is a tense bank-operations officer who has just turned 40. Her husband, Bob, is in his mid-40’s and is a software programmer. Bob complains, “Ever since we’ve been married — that was five years ago — she keeps picking on me. I get the feeling from Carrie that I can’t do anything right. Although I’m very successful at work, Carrie never appreciates that. She never was that way before we were married. I don’t know why she’s changed. Maybe we should get a divorce like she’s been threatening to do. She’s been divorced three times before — this will make it four in a row.”
We then asked Carrie to tell us a bit about her parents and how she related to them when she was a child. Carrie got angry and said, “What’s my childhood got to do with this? I had the best childhood in the world. My mother and father gave me everything, but now both are dead. My daddy was the perfect man.”
We then asked, “Could it be possible that you have been looking for that perfect father in your husband?”
“Maybe there is a connection to my childhood after all,” she said. “No one could be as perfect as my father, but there’s no reason why my husband can’t try to do better,” she said defensively.
Carrie was still demanding to be indulged by her husband, insisting he play the role of her doting father. Too many years of her self-righteousness interfered with improving her marriage with Bob; she is now looking for a fifth husband.
- The Love-As-a-Commitment-Anxiety Masquerade
For many people, love in these uncertain times becomes associated with disaster. The wonderful feeling of loving someone and being loved by that one special person becomes connected to the belief that the relationship is bound to fail; that love is simply a way-station on the road to a breakup or a divorce.Recently, Michelle and Carl, a young couple in their mid-20s who had never been married before, came to see us because they were on the verge of breaking up. They had been living together in an agreed-upon monogamous relationship for the past year. Things were going so smoothly that they had decided to marry. However, three weeks before the date for their marriage, their relationship turned into hell on earth, Michelle told us. At that time, Michelle found a scribbled phone number of an old girlfriend of Carl’s on a piece of paper that had “accidentally” fallen in a crack in the couch.
Michelle was furious, and when she confronted Carl with this “evidence,” he acknowledged he had seen this ex-girlfriend recently and gone to bed with her. “But it had nothing to do with my love for you or our getting married. It was like my last night out as a bachelor.” Michelle, on the other hand, saw it as a gross betrayal of trust: “If you do this now,” she said, “what will prevent you from cheating on me after we marry?”
Carl’s “betrayal” was typical of many men and women who find themselves fearful that marriage will cause a breakup rather than enhance the love between two people. Such men and women unconsciously create a breakup before they marry to prevent them from getting even more seriously hurt after the wedding.
That happened to Carl, whose upbringing explained why: his parents divorced when he was seven, and Carl was caught in the middle of painful divorce battles between his parents for four years. As a result, he had associated getting married with getting divorced. Remembering the excruciating pain he experienced from his parents’ breakup, he had unconsciously vowed that this would never happen to him when he grew up. What better way to avoid the pain of divorce than not to get married! So Carl unconsciously created a scene where he “misplaced” his ex-girlfriend’s phone number where Michelle could find it. But instead of protecting himself against experiencing the “pain” of committed love, he was creating a kind of unhappiness that would haunt him the rest of his life. Michelle could not get over her mistrust of Carl, and their marriage ended before it began.
We’ve seen this type of commitment anxiety take place after a marriage occurs as well as before. It is as if a person (like Carl) were two people instead of one: a part of him or her values and desires a happy marriage, yet another part of that person fears the very thing he/she wants so much. Their fear has triumphed over their love.
- The Love-ls-an-lmplied-Bargain Masquerade
The belief that love means doing nice things for one’s partner in expectation of an instant acknowledgment and return of the favor is another major misconception. Our counseling walls seem to echo with the common complaint a client will level at his or her spouse: “You never appreciate the things I do for you!”John and Jeannine, married for seven years, both feel unappreciated and hurt. “Like last Saturday night when we went out,” John says reproachfully to Jeannine. “I went to a lot of trouble getting a good table at the restaurant you like so much, and I had a hard time getting nice seats for the play you were so eager to see afterwards. You looked so great and smelled so good, all I wanted to do was make love to you when we came home. But no, you said, ‘I’m too tired, not tonight, dear.’ Not even saying you had a nice time! Not even thanking me! And rejecting my hugs and kisses!”
Jeannine was shocked. “Of course I loved the evening out, but do I have to tell you how grateful I was? How many times have I gone out of my way for you without your telling me you appreciate it? I wasn’t rejecting you — I really was very exhausted from all the housework I did that day, and you should have had the consideration to respect my feelings instead of getting angry with me.”
John had fallen victim to his belief that love meant “I-will-do-something-for-you-only-if-you-do-something-for-me-in-return.” An offshoot of this attitude is making the fatal mistake of believing that “if-my-partner-loved-me-he/she-would-know-what-I’m-thinking-and-feeling.” Love then evaporates into resentment-collecting. For love is not a commodity to be exchanged for another commodity of “equal” value. Love is not a business balance sheet where the bottom line is in red ink if you value the relationship only by what you get rather than freely give.
John is still busy today resentment-collecting, while his now-ex-wife Jeannine insists that for her love is a freely-given gift — not a demand.
Recipes for disaster
Every one of our clients who made these or similar complaints had married for love, to the best of their understanding of what love meant. However, they had trapped themselves into believing that the masquerades of love they had practiced once they were married were the real thing, and holding onto those beliefs led to divorce rather than greater love. Every one of the examples quoted above is a recipe for disaster in a marriage.
A creative divorce begins with self-empowerment. You can’t improve your life after divorce without taking personal responsibility for making positive things happen when you become single. Consequently, if you find yourself still believing in any of the love “masquerades” noted above, you must take personal responsibility for avoiding them when you begin dating again; otherwise, any new relationship is likely to repeat the “dead end” of your previous marriage.
Should you see recurrences of this kind of self-defeating behavior, and you find it difficult to expunge them on your own, the healthiest and best way to overcome them is to seek out a psychotherapist who specializes in divorce-related issues, or join a divorce counseling group of men and women who are experiencing similar concerns about their relationships. Both types of help are available nationwide — all you have to do is take on the responsibility for finding them in your community.
The Meaning of Authentic Love
The divorces we noted above resulted from couples becoming trapped by one of the seven masquerades of love. Their divorces could have been avoided if these couples had been aware of their self-defeating actions and then wished to change them into an authentic love relationship. Authentic love means practicing being kind teachers and receptive students to each other. It recognizes that all of us on earth are potentials in the present and future rather than finished products. Bringing out the very best in each other, validating who we are and might become is at the very heart of authentic love. We have much to learn from each other in terms of kindness, courtesy, self-improvement, and the ability to prevail over the tragedies in life as well as in the creation of our successful moments.
Divorce gives you a second chance to rethink the meaning of love and learn why the love you once thought you would have forever evaporated after you were married. Such love was bound to disappear, since it was based on a perishable masquerade substitute for authentic love. When paired with “authentic,” “love” is an action word. To say to a person “I love you” is meaningless unless it is demonstrated in appropriate deeds. It means practicing the belief that you and your partner are true equals in a relationship; that you respect each other as separate individuals and also are interdependent; that you delight in and support each other’s growth as separate individuals, since that enhances your relationship rather than diminishing it; that your love is based on total trust, which means it is a gratuitous gift two people give to each other. If the pain of your divorce leads you to this conclusion, you will be well on your way to making your new life a creative experience instead of a rerun of the past.
This article has been edited and excerpted from The New Creative Divorce by Mel Krantzler, Ph.D., and Patricia Biondi Krantzler, M.A. The directors of the Creative Divorce, Love & Marriage Counseling Center in San Rafael, CA, the Krantzlers show you how to turn your pain into positive growth, offering advice on how to adapt to the changes engendered by divorce; preserve a relationship with your children; and develop healthy, satisfying romantic relationships post-divorce.