What Are the Limits of Love in A Relationship?

“I don´t need to own to love. I don´t want to be the owner of the person I love. I don´t neither want to conquer nor take: love is not an act of war. Saying she is mine is treating the other like a thing, as if it were a matter of buying and selling. I don´t possess you, I enjoy you while you are around in my life; and that means a lot.”

Walter Riso, Psychologist & Writer

This phrase describes well how a relationship should be like. Yet, there are also these types of relationships that are painful, difficult, confusing and incomprehensible, maybe you have seen them in your family, in the circle of your friends, at work or maybe you have experienced them yourself. As observer, a separation seems to be the only wise solution and you wonder why the couple stays together. If you are involved in abusive relationships you may feel like Don Quijote fighting with the windmills: powerless, guilty, without energy and maybe even embarrassed when you talk to friends about your relationship. Love has turned into continuous suffering and fighting even though you saw all through rose-colored glasses at the beginning.

Why do abusive relationships exist and why is it so difficult to get out of them?

Many people miss a healthy image of a relationship because they grew up in dysfunctional families. They have never learned how a healthy relationship should look like due to a lack of positive role-models and they do not know that love in a relationship has clear limits. For this reason, they keep repeating as adults what they have learned during their childhood. However, your relationship should give you support, positive energy and well-being. This also implies that you have the responsibility as adult to heal your childhood wounds and your past to generate new experiences.

People also have idealized thoughts about love. Beliefs like “love is limitless” or “true love is unconditional” may make it difficult to set clear limits and leave the relationship if necessary. Another obstacle is that the society or your own family may tell you that you have failed when you get separated or that your children might suffer because of the separation. These beliefs are sometimes deeply anchored into the subconscious mind and make a separation a very difficult decision due to fear, guilt and shame. In reality, you should say, “no” to a relationship when it affects your dignity, your identity or your happiness and if it breaks with your values and principles. A healthy relationship signifies that you love your partner while you love, value and respect yourself.

Another limit of a relationship is if your partner doesn’t love you. It is not necessary to continue with the relationship, but you must face reality and to learn how to give up. In a relationship, both partners must love each other. It also cannot be considered a healthy relationship if you don’t have the possibility to realize yourself and to follow your dreams. A relationship should give you the freedom to grow in the way you want. Another impediment is if you have to change yourself to be accepted by your partner. A healthy relationship implies that the two partners accept each other as they are.

Physical and sexual violence clearly breaks the limits of love. Love doesn’t justify violence. There is nothing to argue about. Despite the evident signs like maybe a bruise in your face, physical violence also leaves a mark in the soul that requires profound healing.

A very subtle boundary is emotional violence or manipulation. It is hard to be noticed, but like physical or sexual violence devastating. Manipulation destroys in a hardly perceptible manner the self-esteem, the well-being, the happiness and the identity of the victim. In an abusive relationship, the victim and the aggressor are in a dangerous cycle of control and power and may even switch roles from time to time.

What are the signs of emotional abuse?

Here are some of them:
• Your partner makes you feel inferior, guilty or humiliated and he recurs to insult you by telling you phrases like You’re insane, You’re ugly, You’re stupid or You’re fat.
• He begins to isolate you from your family or your friends. He controls whatever you do or whom you talk to. He may watch the place you are visiting and he uses jealousy to justify all his acts.
• He may use threats by mentioning suicide or separation or he may frighten you by falsely reporting you to the police. He provokes fear through looks, gestures or by destroying objects.

All these behaviors break with the limits of love in a relationship. Often, the aggressor would minimize or deny the abuse, in occasions he makes even his partner feel responsible for the abusive attitude or clearly says that she provoked it. Sometimes, the aggressor looks like a charming person to other people and only shows his abusive behavior in the relationship. This makes it difficult for the victim to ask for help since no one else understands it. The affected person loses self-esteem until she starts believing that there is really something wrong with her personality and that all the horrible things she has been told are true. That is the point when the victim is convinced that her partner is right, and has a false image of herself. The affected person lives in fear and experiences a strong feeling of guilt and self-hatred. The victim faces difficulties at the time of giving up an abusive relationship due to a strong emotional dependence.

Even though it seems difficult, you can learn a lot out of these situations: you can clearly say, “no” to this relationship and walk away while facing the pain of separation. This pain is a useful suffering because it opens a path towards a healthy life. You don’t have to make the road alone, you can and you should ask for professional help that supports you in facing the fear of loneliness, in healing the traumatic experience, in learning to set up healthy boundaries, in regaining self-esteem and dignity and in learning how a healthy and mature relationship looks like. This is an inner process that can guide you to freedom, happiness and connecting deeply with your essence. The beauty that life has to offer is worth to take this step.

I look forward to reading your comments below!

Do you want to read more? Check the post Can You Heal From Emotional Abuse and Violence?

Natalie Jovanic

Natalie Jovanic is a Registered Therapeutic Counsellor. As a counsellor, she passes on what she believes in, but it isn’t just knowledge, theory, and professional experience. It is also her wisdom gained through her own transformational journey of healing violence and abuse.