When Love Takes Hostages – PART 1

“If you REALLY love me like you claim, you will [fill in the blank] to prove it.”


Some classic examples of what ransom demands might fill in the blank include:

have unprotected intercourse with me
buy/give me something expensive
divorce your current spouse/SO
quit your job/take a specific job
keep my secrets even if you have to lie to others
diet, gain or lose weight, have cosmetic surgery
cut ties with your friends, family, etc.
take the blame for me
and so forth…

At one time or another we each have or will have heard some version of this charged, challenging, and fear-inducing statement coming from somebody’s mouth. If we are lucky, it’ll be a line in a movie, television show, or novel. Not so lucky? We might hear it said by a friend, family member, lover… or we might find ourselves saying it when we want something from the other person more than we actually love and care about them and their happiness. Or, more insidiously, it can take the form of a fearful whisper inside your head that goes something like this: “They won’t like/love/stay with me unless I [fill in the blank] to prove my love. I HAVE to [blank] to keep this relationship.”

In other words, “Our relationship has been taken hostage until certain demands are met.” Ouch.

In fiction, dramatic or comic, when one character falls deeply in love with another, especially when they feel the desire, excitement, and energy of being IN love, it sometimes looks as if they will do anything to communicate the depth and intensity of what kind of wonderful is happening for them in the relationship. Simultaneously, this ass-over-tea-kettle bliss-like intensity renders one vulnerable to manipulation and heartbreak. Buddhism puts it succinctly: attachment leads to suffering. (And we love misery and suffering in our fiction!) The more intense the wanting, the more miserable one can become when the object of one’s affections comes at a high enough price that leads to regret later. The characters seem to find it incredibly difficult to truly feel grounded and centered in their core values and priorities when the gravitational pull of desire and attachment are in force. The term “crazy in love” makes sense in this light, yes? And from the perspective of observer, we are merely entertained for a while at the fictional play.

However in real life, hostage taking situations are more unpleasant and have longer lasting repercussions. Hostage taking can happen to us very early on. For example, a parent can overtly or subtly communicate that they require their child to not engage in what would be considered developmentally appropriate behavior such as individuation (for instance, a 2-year-old who runs off a short distance and then returns only to be scolded and made fearful of exploring again). As children, many of us learned that loving affection is directly linked to our obedience, achievement, and looking good to the outside world.


What do you mean, “the relationship is held hostage”? What does this actually look like? Hostages can take many specific forms. For example:

loving affection
positive attention
pleasant interaction
eye contact
time together
material support
friendly conversation

These are all aspects of emotional connection, emotional good will. And emotional connectivity is the stuff with which friend, family, and lover relationships are built and sustained. Yet, if one person in a relationship withholds their contribution/s to the relationship unless their demands are met, that introduces instability, anxiety, distrust, anger, and resentment into the mix. The structure of the relationship is weakened and requires more effort to sustain from the person who has to meet the expected demands. What if the attached person fails to fully meet the beloved’s demands? Obviously, the relationship in its current incarnation is threatened and could ultimately end. The hostage taker is relying on their partner’s attachment to the hostages and intolerance of suffering.

So, what happens when this all plays out inside our heads? Where we cast the beloved as potential hostage taker and assume responsibility for anticipating their demands so as to keep the fear a secret?

For answers to these questions and more, stay tuned for When Love Takes Hostages – PART 2 coming in June…

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