Although it is hard to make an exact definition of love, describing love by how it feels makes an understanding of love more accessible. I’m talking about deep, long-term love that is shared equally by both partners.

The word love is often used to describe romance, attraction, and sexual energy — all of which can certainly feel fun and enjoyable. However, the real love I mean feels different. It feels comfortable, peaceful, warm, and light. It brings a sense of relaxation and the ability to breathe easily. True love accepts you just as you are. It doesn’t try to control or change you. It takes you as you are. It empowers you to be open and vulnerable, knowing you will be safe in its presence. It increases the ability of the partners to work together to make life better for each other.

Instead, I often hear caretakers describe their relationship with their borderline or narcissistic partner as feeling….

On edge wondering what drama will happen next

Overwhelming responsibility

Constant vigilance



Being desperately needed alternating with harsh rejection

Never good enough

Always being responsible for how your partner feels

Like walking on eggshells

Stuck and depressing

Constantly wanting something to change

So, I am wondering is it love or is it obligation? Caretakers are especially good at duty, responsibility, commitment, and caring. However, none of these are the same as love. Lack of appreciation, continual criticism, and spiking anxiety are not part of a loving environment. Having to be on guard wondering what emotional dysregulation is immanent describes an atmosphere of unease, apprehension, and anxiety, not comfort, safety, and love.

One of the core elements of caretaking is an underlying feeling of not being good enough. It is not one of acceptance, approval, and agreement. You too often feel guilty for not giving or doing enough and at the same time hurt and angry at not being acknowledged and appreciated for all you do.

Too often you hear in the media about how being more loving to your partner will encourage them to be more loving in return. However, people with BPD or NPD don’t follow that pattern. They give you more positive responses when you threaten to leave them. When you act more caring and loving, they tend to take you for granted or demand more and more. These are not the behaviors of someone who loves you.

Most caretaker/borderline/narcissist relationships function primarily on guilt and obligation. Comments like: You should, you never, you owe me, why don’t you ever, if you loved me you would, and so forth are common.

Real love is a two-way partnership–both giving and both receiving. Both being grateful for and appreciating the care, support, and reliability of each other. Both feeling accepted just as you are. Love is knowing the other has your back and not always thinking about their own needs and wants. When you feel loved, you know your partner will be there to support you when you are tired, having a hard day, or needing to rest.

As a caretaker, you may care about your borderline or narcissistic partner’s pain and problems, and you may want the best for them. However, love is a partnership of caring, a sharing of each other’s needs, and the security of knowing you are protected, safe, and find sanctuary in each other. Your actions are guided by love, not primarily by obligation or guilt.

So, ask yourself if you are in a partnership of shared love, or a relationship of obligation. Decide whether you are where you want to be and choose to be, and either accept it as it is or change it to be more congruent with what feels right for you. When you clearly know and understand what you are choosing, you will feel more at peace with yourself and others.


As Margalis says, “You are your own best caretaker. You are the one who can make the greatest difference in your life.”


I shared this piece with a group of ladies recently and many had their long-awaited “aha” moments. Thank you, Margalis! We appreciate and will learn from your insight!


Pick up a copy of Margalis’ book, Healing From A Narcissistic Relationship, on Amazon today!



Margalis Fjelstad




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