Shattered dreams, whatever form they take, are painful. But there is hope. In fact, the pain and conflict of committed relationships arise not out of lack of love for our partners, but from a misunderstanding of what love relationships are about. Your conflict can be the very fuel for the fulfillment you seek.
Why Do We Fall In Love?
What is really
happening when we fall in - and out of - love?
What's really going on when couples fight?
In Imago relationship therapy we recognize that intimate adult relationships have a hidden agenda, based on years of evolutionary history. When we are born, we begin to develop a road map of sorts for how relationships should work.
If our caregivers are attuned to us and can provide for us in ways that make us feel safe, cared about, and that we matter, we develop a sense of security that goes with us into the larger world. We feel whole.
But even in the best of circumstances, our parents are not able to maintain perfect standards, to be available every minute, to always understand exactly what is needed or to meet every demand. Tired, angry, depressed, busy, ill, distracted, afraid--our parents fail to sustain our feelings of security and comfort.
Every unmet need causes fear and pain and, in our infantile state, we have no idea how to stop it and restore our feeling of safety. As a response, we adopt primitive coping mechanisms ranging from constant crying to get attention to withdrawing inward and denying that we even have needs
Throughout our childhood, we are being socialized, molded by our caretakers and communities to fit into society. Observant and malleable, we learn what to do to gain love and acceptance. We repress or disown parts of ourselves that society finds unacceptable or unlovable. Our sense of "allrightness" diminishes, and we end up as shadows of our whole, true selves.
Most of us had “good enough” caretakers; we do all right. Some of us didn’t
fare so well, and our lives are handicapped by deep hurts. All of us were
wounded in childhood to some extent. We are now coping as well as we can with
the world and our relationships, but parts of our true nature were suppressed
in the unconscious. We look grown up--we have jobs and responsibilities--but we
are walking wounded, trying to live life fully while unconsciously hoping to
somehow restore the sense of joyful aliveness we began with.
Disillusionment turns to anger, fueled by fear that we won't survive without the love and safety that was within our grasp. Since our partner is no longer willingly giving us what we need, we change tactics, trying to maneuver our partners into caring - through anger, crying, withdrawal, shame, intimidation, criticism - whatever works. We will make them love us. Or we may negotiate for time, love, chores, gifts.
The power struggle has begun, and may go on for many years, until we split. Or we settle into an uneasy truce.
What's going on here?
You'd think, then, that we would choose someone who has what our caretakers lacked. If only that were so! But the old brain has a mind of its own, with its own checklist of desired qualities. It is carrying around its own image of the perfect partner, a complex synthesis of qualities formed in reaction to the way our caretakers responded to our needs. Every pleasure or pain, every transaction of childhood, has left its mark on us, and these collective impressions form an unconscious picture we're always trying to replicate as we scan our environment for a suitable mate.
This image of "the person who can make me whole again" I call the Imago.
Apparently you have found an Imago partner. Someone, I'm afraid, who is uniquely unqualified (at the moment), to give you the love you want.
Furthermore, this is what's supposed to happen!
Let me explain. We all think that we have freedom of choice when it comes to selecting our partners. But regardless of what it is we think we're looking for in a mate, our unconscious has its own agenda.
What we need to understand and accept is that conflict is supposed to happen. This is as nature intended it: Everything in nature is in conflict. Conflict is a sign that the psyche is trying to survive, to get its needs met and become whole. It's only without this knowledge that conflict is destructive.
Divorce does not solve the problems of relationship. We may get rid of our partners, but we keep our problems, carting them into the next relationship. Divorce is incompatible with the intentions of nature.
Romantic love is supposed to end. It is the glue that initially bonds two incompatible people together so that they will do what needs to be done to heal themselves.
The good news is that although many couples become hopelessly locked in the power struggle, it too is supposed to end.
Regardless of what we may believe, relationships are not born of love, but of need; real love is born in relationships, as a result of understanding what they are about and doing what is necessary to have them.
So when we fall in love, when bells ring and the world seems altogether a better place, our old brain is telling us that we've found someone with whom we can finally get our needs met. Unfortunately, since we don't understand what's going on, we're shocked when the awful truth of our beloved surfaces, and our first impulse is to run screaming in the opposite direction.
But that's not all the bad news. Another powerful component of our Imago is that we seek the qualities missing in ourselves that got lost in the shuffle of socialization. If we are shy, we seek someone outgoing; if we’re disorganized, we’re attracted to someone cool and rational. But eventually, when our own feelings—our repressed exuberance or anger—are stirred, we are uncomfortable, and criticize our partners for being too outgoing, too coldly rational, to temperamental.
When we understand that we have chosen our partners to heal certain painful
experiences, and that the healing of those experiences is the key to the end of
longing, we have taken the first step on the journey to real love.
The Dialogue must also be turned into action: we give our
partners what they need, and not just what is easy to give. Now we come to the
heart of the matter: in a Conscious relationship we agree to change in order to
give our partner what s/he needs. This is a radical idea. Conventional wisdom
says that people don’t change, that we should simply learn to accept each other
as we are. But without change, there is no growth; we are confined to the fate,
to remaining stuck in our unhappiness.
Change is the catalyst for healing. In changing to give our partners what they need, we heal our own painful experiences. Our own behavior was born in response to our particular deprivations; it is our adaptation to loss. In giving our partners what is hardest for us to give, we have to bring our hidden selves out into the light, owning and enlivening parts of ourselves. When we change our behavior in response to our mate, we heal our partner and ourselves.
I call the process by which we alter our entrenched behaviors to give our partners what they need stretching, for it requires that we conquer our fears and do what comes unnaturally. Our resistance reflects our defenses. Often we may feel that we're losing ourselves but we are not ourselves now; it is in the crucible of change that we regain ourselves.
Many couples' problems are rooted in misunderstood, manipulated, or avoided communications. To correct this, we have created the Imago Dialogue, the core skill of Imago Practice.
Using this effective communications technique, you can restructure the way you talk to each other, so that what you say to each other is mirrored back to you, is validated, and empathized with. You can use the Imago Dialogue to tell each other all about your childhoods, to state your frustrations clearly, and to articulate exactly what you need from each other in order to heal.
truly being heard is a powerful aphrodisiac.
One of the greatest learnings of Dialogue is the discovery of two distinct worlds. Whenever two people are involved, there are always two realities. These realities will always be different in small and large ways, no matter what. And the reality of the other person can be understood, accepted, valued, and even loved but not made to be identical to our own.
Over the course of time, as our partners demonstrate their love for us, as they learn about and accept our hidden selves, and as we stretch to love our partners, our pain and self-absorption diminishes. We restore our empathic feelings for our partners, and our feelings of connection to the other that were lost in the pain of our childhood. Finally we learn to see our partners for themselves, with their own private world of personal meaning, their own ideas and dreams, and not merely as extensions of ourselves, or as we wish they were. We no longer say, "You liked that awful movie?", but rather "Tell me why you liked that movie. I want to know how you think."
Finally, we can relax; everything is alright.
A conscious relationship is a spiritual path which leads us home again, to joy
and aliveness, to the feeling of oneness we started out with. All through the
course of Imago Practice, we learn to express love as a behavior daily, in
large and small ways: in other words, in stretching to give our partner what
they need, we learn to love. The transformation of our relationships may not be
accomplished easily or quickly;
we are setting off on a lifelong journey.