Robin Norwood’s book: Women Who Love Too Much, was originally published in 1985, but another edition came out in 2008, which was equally popular, testifying its continued relevance and usefulness in helping women recover from damaging relationship patterns. The sub title: “When You Keep Wishing and Hoping He’ll Change”, further defines its readership as being that of women who love obsessively and display a dependence on relationships that the author identifies as akin to alcohol and drug addiction.
The premise that only women love too much and suffer unloving partners for all the pains they take, may seem problematic to certain readers. However, the author clarifies in the preface to the original edition, that though men too may obsess with relationships and benefit from therapy, it is primarily the woman who “due to the cultural and biological forces working on her has a tendency to become obsessed with a relationship”, where as men “damaged in childhood, have a tendency to become obsessed with work, sports or hobbies (pg 4, Norwood, pt. In Arrow books, 2009). The preface to the revised edition celebrates the fact that at least now this phenomenon of loving too much, to the point of self-destruction, is recognized as a problem. ( In much popular Indian cinema it is actually valourized!) Yet, even today, many women need to heal themselves from within, in order to overcome relationship addiction and self-esteem issues, which is a slow and challenging process. Since one of the ironies of life , as the author points out, is that women can respond with such sympathy and understanding to the pain in one another’s life while being blind to their own pain. If you are a reader who finds anthropological and other seemingly deterministic readings on “female behaviour” dissatisfying, this book is not for you. If in contrast you can relate to the women who become care givers in a relationship, trying to fix things for emotionally unavailable men , to “whom nothing is too much trouble, takes too much time ,or is too expensive if it will help the man you are involved with” (pg 25), then this book is definitely worth a read.
Being a licensed marriage and family therapist, Norwood is quick to find the roots of such behaviour patterns in childhood experiences of parenting, “where one’s emotional needs were not met”(pg 21). She talks of both dysfunctional homes, abusive parents, alcohol abuse, as well as less overt neglect caused by parental disagreement and argument, resulting in ones emotional needs being insufficiently met. Norwood also points out the fear of abandonment faced by such clients in adulthood, where the need to be helpful and thereby control relationships, overshadows the need to attract stable, reliable partners. Because these impulses are subconscious, the person does not realize why she finds nice men boring and difficult men attractive to the point that the dividing line between fantasy(what can be) and the what is (depressing present) becomes blurred. The author thus insightfully explains the paradox of “good sex in bad relationships”, as well as the inevitable depression that follows the breakdown of such relationships. The steps to recovery are outlined very well and the suggestion to develop one’s “spiritual side” is explored in an interesting fashion.
Robin Norwood’s book is well -researched and lucidly written. To anyone who has known the pain of destructive relationships and self-destructive behaviour patterns, this self help book may prove a catalyst to change.