Relationship Issues Often Stem From Unhealthy Love Systems Learned In Childhood


In my most recent BLOG – part 1 of this 3-part series – I wrote about God’s love for us and how it is able to restore the broken, messy places in our lives.  This teaching would be incomplete if I were to not present the antithesis of God’s love – the unhealthy love that seems to come more natural for us as human beings, that many of us experienced first-hand in the homes, families, and relationships we were raised in.

Unhealthy Love Systems

Bowl broken to pieces on the groundAs we look at the heart of God and discover He is filled with grace, love, and kindness toward us, it should move us to desire to love and serve Him more. Often this doesn’t happen because deep down, we are still blocked by faulty belief systems regarding our love. When our earthly experience has been unloving, we may find it difficult to understand God’s love. God is our real Father! He is the one who made us, and therefore, His acceptance and love will conquer any and all negative earthly experiences!

We interpret our world through our own senses and experiences, and we unknowingly have inside of us thousands, possibly millions, of “recordings”. Children raised in emotionally healthy family systems may be able to replay messages in their minds to recall wonderful experiences they had and valuable lessons their parents taught them. But children raised in emotionally unhealthy family systems may have messages that tell them, “You aren’t lovable… Something is wrong with you… You are stupid…. You’re fat… You aren’t good enough… I wish you had never been born.”

These messages are terribly shaming and destructive. For the child – now adult – who heard these messages, they have the power to damage his or her entire perspective on love and relationships for a lifetime.  As we begin to face the wounds of our past, it can become difficult to realize that some of our behaviors, even if filled with good intentions, result from responding to these dysfunctional childhood messages rather than the healthy foundations we had hoped to create. As we’ve dysfunctional wrapped ourselves externally in a package that seems to be acceptable and filled with good works, it can be unbelievably painful to realize that our efforts to fix, help, and compensate are rooted in our own pain, unmet love needs, and fears. Most of these outward behaviors are driven by inward brokenness that smolders at an unconscious level. That means we don’t intentionally live from this flawed system of love.  Somehow it has just been recorded in our mind as the appropriate way of functioning in relationships.

Examples Of Loving In Unhealthy Ways

  • Proving our worth. Part of the obsession is in striving to convince other people we have value, goodness, and worth. In essence, we’re saying, “Something is wrong with me, but I’m going to try to prove [to myself and others] that I’m okay.” Workaholics often fall into this pattern.
  • People pleasing. There is often a tendency to be driven to please people, especially people who seemingly hold a place of importance in our life. In doing this, we give a great deal of power to another person. We believe we are only acceptable and worthy if we can somehow earn their approval.
  • Perfectionism. We are often perfectionistic and hold ourselves to an extraordinarily high standard and must convince others we have it all down perfectly. We may equate one mistake with total failure, and become embarrassed, ashamed, or humiliated when people witness us making a mistake at any level. We must be strong, never let anyone down, and cannot show any sign of weakness.
  • Disassociation. We eventually learn how to present an outward façade, while our inward life leaves us with a sense of being unknown, unseen, and unheard. Trapped within our own skin, a separation occurs that leaves us acting one way on the outside while feeling something altogether different within. It has left us vulnerable to making poor choices, allowing people to mistreat us, and participating in unhealthy situations, all while claiming our actions were don’t “in the name of love.”

Giving And Receiving Love

How many times have we tried to make an imbalanced relationship work? How many efforts to change other people have failed? In doing this, many of us bypassed the first two ingredients of God’s system of love: Putting God’s love first and loving ourselves in the same way He loves us. Since that left us empty and with so many needs, when we enter into a relationship, we put an enormous amount of expectations on the relationship (and the person we’re in the relationship with). Not only does it need to satisfy our need for love, acceptance, and self-worth. It also needs to replace God!

We are only intended to be conduits of God’s love, not consumers of it. In fact, we don’t have the capability to produce love on our own since it is a by-product of the God’s Spirit. His love in us nourishes us and allows us the ability to properly give love away! It is life giving, not because of the vessel that transports it, but because of the source that provides it.

God designed relationships to be fulfilling, satisfying, and mutually beneficial. He designed us to need each other and love each other to a degree, meaning we are created to be “interdependent” with others, but not emotionally “dependent” upon others. In interdependent relationships, we are connected to and even intimate with those around us, but at no point do we lose our own identity. In interdependence, we are not in a state of needing, but one of giving. When we link with others who are willing and ready to participate in meeting our needs, harmony, wholeness, and true agape love bind our hearts together. Our needs actually give others around us the opportunity to pour into us. Their needs allow us to the same opportunity to pour into them.

We can only become true givers when we have God’s love in us!  Then we become carriers of that love, not consumers. We can offer it to others who need the same love, hope, and acceptance that God has given us.  Being on the receiving end of love can be very difficult for some of us, at times even humiliating. Some might rather go without this level of connection than to have someone help meet their need.  Our self-reliant nature (pride) finds it humiliating to receive. Conversely, we can be overly needy with some relationships while refusing to receive from others.  We might look for people to meet the needs that only God can fill. One of the sweetest and most satisfying experiences in life is being the receiver of true expressions of agape love.

In my third and final entry into this blog series, I will be unpacking the scriptures that teach us how to find and live consistently in the unconditional love of Jesus.  Don’t miss it!


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