Patterns of “Failed Love”

In his book “If Love Could Think” Gratch outlines seven patterns of “failed love” relationships that he has observed through treatment of patients. I have included them in this section on Codependency because I personally believe that many of them are reflected in codependent relationships.

The first pattern is Narcissistic Love. Narcissists are needy, often self-destructive people with hidden low self-esteem and as such they require someone who is willing to cater to their needs. This person is usually required to give up their own needs for those of the Narcissist. Gratch warns that “if you are generally a giving, supportive person who avoids center stage and thrives on taking care of others, you are naturally at risk for Narcissistic Love.” pg. 37.

Narcissists need an Echo, someone who can mirror their view of themselves as special. Like a Codependent the mythical Echo is a reactionary, she doesn’t initiate speech she is compelled to wait for others to speak first. Echo herself has leanings towards narcissism because she seeks to regulate her self-esteem through Narcissus. She wants to be like him but feels she can’t. She wants to be by his side so she can reflect some of his power, confidence, strength, beauty etc. In this way if he does well and is respected by others and she takes care of his needs, she too does well and is respected.

Narcissistic relationships often encounter difficulties because they are based on an idealised image that neither the Narcissist nor their partner can live up to long term. Whilst Gratch maintains that “falling in love always involves some idealization” pg. 34 he shows that the idealisation and devaluation in these types of relationships makes for unstable relationships.

He also states it is possible to gauge if someone is in Narcissistic love by looking at their sense of self “the greater the discrepancy between our previous sense of self and our current, while in love, the greater the chances that we are using the other person for internal narcissistic reasons” and that in “more realistic love what makes us feel valued is the connection with the other person, not the external goods they bring to our life. In Narcissistic Love, on the other hand, we can’t quite be certain that if our partner suddenly lost his money or power or health or youth, we would still want to be with him.” pg. 35. Also if “our feelings for our date or partner change in accordance with how he is viewed by others” pg. 36 this is another indicator of being concerned with our image.

The second pattern is Virtual Love. This is when “We are in love with a prefabricated construction of our own making, which has little to do with the actual person we are dating. Unfortunately, we don’t always know this early enough in the relationship because unconsciously we choose people and situations that obscure reality.” pg. 55. This is evident in passionate long distant relationships and love that blossoms through the Internet. These relationships are not built on true intimacy and as a result when a couple finally decides to make a real go of the relationship possibly relocating so they can live together or meeting up in real life they are disappointed to find that the other person doesn’t match up to their expectations.

The third pattern is One-Way Love. Here there is an “inclination to fall in love or be drawn to emotionally unavailable people” pg. 91. On the flip side there is also a strong tendency not be interested in people who are attracted to you, emotionally available and capable of returning your love. Gratch advises that this is as a result of a need to “hold on to the fantasy of perfect beauty, intelligence, and spirituality and thereby cling to the illusion of pure love.” pg. 91.

In addition some people can alternate between being in love with someone who is unavailable early on in the relationship, then loose their feelings of love for them if the other person starts to love them back. This kind of relationship can yo-yo back and forth as both take turns falling in and out of love with each other.

Gratch warns that it is necessary to break the pattern of this type of love early on in adulthood and those who are in their 30’s and 40’s are less likely to be able to change their pattern in time to find a suitable partner as a result of what he sees as a “market economy” where by “the best candidates are picked early.” pg. 98. However, while his view may be initially correct, in a modern world where many people are deferring making commitments to other people in early adulthood, delaying marriage and having children there may be scope to be able to work on breaking the pattern of one-way love and going on to develop a satisfying relationship later on in life. There may also be prospective partners who work on issues later in life that also go on to recover and form good relationships.

The fourth pattern, Triangular Love, operates on the dynamic that another person or thing is present as a barrier within the relationship. This type of relationship usually involves one of the partners having a lover outside of the relationship but it can involve the commitment of a partner to a hobby, sport or job. It can also be a relationship with a particular friend or family member.

Having a third person or interest in the relationship is an unconscious act that purposefully triangulates the relationship to detract from the fact that the parties involved have not come to terms with their mixed feelings for their partners. Even the partner who is the “victim” represses the “bad” feelings they have towards their partner preferring to blame the third party or the activity rather than accept that there is something else wrong with the relationship.

The fifth pattern is that of Forbidden Love. Here two lovers may come together amidst social disapproval because the relationship goes against social norms and values. The lovers may come from different religious backgrounds, different cultures, the same family, or involve relationships where one person is seen to abuse their position e.g. a romance that blossoms between a Teacher and their student. Often people get into such relationships without accepting the difficulty of their situation in terms of how they will be perceived and treated by other people outside the relationship. The excitement of meeting up in secret can make everything seem worthwhile but as time goes on the risk of getting found out or wanting to be together permanently makes it hard to avoid being caught and criticised. When the relationship is out in the open often the passion fades and the partners face the reality that the relationship doesn’t fit in to their place in society or that the excitement is gone.

The sixth pattern is Sexual Love. In this type of relationship the emphasis is on the physical side of the relationship and not the emotional. Maybe the partners come together perfectly in the bedroom but fail outside of it, possibly one of the them has multiple affairs or an addiction to sex. It could even be that one uses sex as a means to feel better about themselves. Sometimes there is no sex in the relationship at all because one of the partners has extreme sexual fantasies that they are ashamed of. Ultimately relationships that are based solely on sexual feelings do not last the test of time as the women will tend to feel used and the men tend to feel guilty.

The final pattern is that of Androgynous Love. In this relationship the socially accepted gender roles are reversed. The woman is the strong, assertive, ambitious type and the man is the sensitive, nurturing one in the relationship. These dynamics usually arise as a reluctance of at least one of the lovers to identify with their same sex parent e.g. a woman who saw her mother as a doormat for an aggressive father may vow not to be like her when she grows up and has relationships of her own. Gratch explains that in these circumstances a strong woman may become frustrated with a sensitive lover over time if he is not driven or doesn’t behave like a man because she will see them as a “wimp”. Conversely a man who picks a strong woman may end up seeing her as a “bully”. To overcome this Gratch feels that each needs to take time to tune in to their natural disposition which is largely dictated by their sex, that they take on some of the characteristics of their same sex parent in order to redress the balance.

What treatment is available to Codependents? >