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Men's health: emotional boundaries and protecting the self from unhealthy narcissism in an exclusive relationship.

 

 

I had visit with a personal friend recently who was deeply invested "in love" with someone who wasn't willing to break online and offline connections with their past sexyual partners. He was deeply troubled by what he perceived as being triangulated into relationships because he felt his partner was being more understanding towards past partners than him when conflict arose. I could see he was quite distraught. Triangulating refers to a type of relationship dynamic where the primary concerns, attachments and focus is split between two persons by one person  rather than  one person being the primary focus of the other. This is the how the conversation went:

 

I told him: You may think that your partner is deriving sadistic pleasure so from you thinking about their past attachments or them loving and embracing other men. However, this may not have anything to do directly with her love for you. You may be attracted to such relationships and she has her own reasons for being comfortable with such a scenario. First, she may not even be aware of the effects breaking these ties has on you. She may have her own issues which prevents her from connecting with your experience of this. Rarely do women think of themselves as a narcissistic diva who should be loved by everyone. More often, people are unaware of how new partners may perceive these connections. In our day and age of hook-ups people often have low expectations for romantic connection, much less an exclusive relationship. They don't think twice of maintain some sort of connection just in case they need to hook up with them. Sometimes it’s a badge, others want to retain a friendship despite their romantic failings. 

 

Sometimes, I told him, people do attach the love they get from others to their own self-love. This is in fact how many people define love for themselves. They cannot sometimes experience true self-love apart from what they hang onto from others because of how they have been hurt themselves. Sometimes, this limited perception of love occurs because of abuse etc. This phenomenon has more to do with how little they, in fact, can love and value themselves because of how they have been impacted by failed relationships. They will sometimes dismiss other notions of exclusive nurturing love as weak and childish because they themselves were denied that sort of nurturing, or special love. Such people may be blind to the love you must offer I told him and only see value in you if your relating to their immediate needs. They may even consider you weak or less attractive because of it. Because of abuse their sense of love may be distorted. They may jump relationship to a relationship thinking whatever they get is love, no matter how it is packaged or given.

 

He began to cry at this point realizing to his disappoint mentioned that the hope and optimism held was an illusion.  I continued:  Your partner may not necessarily value the love you have to offer because they see it as weak. Or they may find it too risky to show their true feelings for you. They also may choose to view a narrow band of behaviors as love and not what you necessarily had to offer: the mental emotional and spiritual areas you have developed in yourself. Rather, they may value the bits and pieces of love that is offered to them by different people from their past who may have given them what they needed at the time. He said he understood now why they clung to the connections instead of respecting his wishes. 

 

Maybe they will realize these things, seek the healing they need, or maybe not. Let them go. They won't see how this hurts people coming into their lives and who want to start fresh. They won't see how this replaces the pictures of love and the memories you create with them with pictures of them and another man or woman. If what they need is memories of love from embracing others what does that have to do with you and what does that say about you? Be with someone who can be in the present instead of someone who doesn't understand how these things self-love. Be with a love that isn't willing to damage and humiliate your spirit and relationship in the present if that is what it does.

 

He looked at me with some anger and said, "Everyone has baggage... come on!"  I responded: People have been definitely hurt by others but when someone heals and is willing to create new life and love they don't cling to the past". They learn to disintegrate, and integrate their new life, love and future with their new partner. They don't keep pieces of the past in front of them. They learn what they needed to learn and understand that the learning piece is what they keep not pictures and connections or possibilities unless they feel that those ex-partners from the past still may be an option. Be with someone who cares to make you their only one. The last thing you need is pictures in your head of someone you love giving themselves and their love to others. With that, my broken-hearted friend let out a huge release of pain as he collapsed under the sobs of frustration and disappointment. I said it’s going to take some time. I gave him a hug ensuring him that he was truly worth the time attention and care. He said he didn't want to give up on the person because he loved her so deeply.  I asked if he was alright with letting her come to her own conclusions. He said, " yes."

 

He then looked me right in the eyes and smiled cheek to cheek. I could see the glimmer of deep self-love begin to peek through his hurt and disillusionment. He said he remembered the love they shared and that he was grateful for it. He then looked me in the eye and said, " I just realized I'm not the only one." I asked what do you mean friend? He said the creator must have sent many people to care and love that person.  I'm just glad I could feel that love for her and give her a piece of my heart. I understand now maybe it's because she doesn't have any of her heart to give back. His body relaxed from the release of pain and sorrow he evidently felt as his focus shifted to his love for her. He said, "I feel the pain is gone!". He commented," I've always accepted that people have a past and may still love each other. I’m just not to get into bed with others and their memories. I won't hold my self-esteem next to someone else and be rejected because of someone else's energy and memory." I just nodded.

 

I just want to be the one person he said.  I said it sounds like you need boundaries. How can you assure this won't happen to you again I asked? Well first I'll ensure they not hanging onto a person's belongings, clothes etc. I'll ensure they still aren't maintaining connections with past sex partners online that's for certain." I told him I thought that is wise to avoid being hurt unnecessary. Currently men and women must learn to honor each other when embarking on a new exclusive relationship.  I said this may be difficult to find given our society's hook up culture. Try and find someone who seems to have a healthy level of empathy who is capable of empathetic responses or articulating how they may feel if they were in someone else's shoes. This will be seen in how well they talk about others they don't get along with. Are they balanced in their appraisal of others, conflicts with past partners? Do they treat others who they don't typically like well in person? Ensuring your partner exhibits healthy boundaries with exes is the first step to ensuring you be loved, cherished and loved and treated with consideration.

 

I asked him if he was going to be alright. He nodded silently. I said, "It’s really all about acceptance and willingness to love. If you're willing to love her through it she may come around to understand these things...or she may not". He said, "I've always accepted her. He then looking me right in the eyes and without skipping a beat he said, "...But love is a choice, and I don't think she understands that... I choose to love her...instead of just needing her. I think that is all she sees. But now I think I understand why. I don't understand why she keeps shutting me out when I'm trying to love her despite this?" I told him I thought it was because of her past hurts as well as some of his own fears from past hurts.

 

Afterwards, I thought of many friends who had been through similar circumstances and the immense emotional investment and physical toll it exacted on them. I thought also of relationships where ex-partners had to be involved with each other on some level due to the need to co-parent. The parents I knew seemed to get along quite well. Perhaps this was because they had to. They had to have the maturity to acknowledge that the other adult must remain part of the picture for the sake of the children.  I wondered then if this could also be the rationale for maintaining past connections with past lovers. It seemed to me that there were people who had relationships where they allowed this for their partners. For some even returning to their past partners had been an option after things didn't work out. What was clear for this friend was that his idea of an exclusive loving relationship involved no such contact with exes for his partner. He needed to have clear boundaries around this. Starting fresh for him meant that she treated him as a special person to create the possibility of something exceptional, something he was wanting to create just with her. He appeared to question her ability to do that while hanging onto connections online. I would suspect that would be an unnerving prospect for many. However, I also understand and I have observed that most people don' t want to be compared to a collage of ex-lovers when embarking on a serious exclusive relationship.

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