Arguments between couples often takes on a ferocity that can be very intense. Someone may just be a little late home from work, but it can trigger an argument as if what they did was life threatening.
It seems life threatening, because the subconscious thinks IT IS life threatening! I would like to show you how disagreements trigger reactions that are subconsciously linked to our fear of death. When we are infants, deep in our subconscious there is an ancient awareness that, if our parents don’t love us, they might not protect us from wild animals and the dangers of primitive life. Even in the present day, we need our caretaker’s love in order to eat and live. To the infant, lack of love is life-threatening.
No matter how much our parents strive to love us, their love is never experienced by the child as perfect. The young developing brain experiences times when love feels absent as a small emotional trauma. Remember, to the young mind, lack of love = danger. Sadly, in rather too many cases, this early emotional wounding can be quite significant, even though the parents were doing everything they felt was loving and followed good practice for raising healthy children.
As a result, we grow into adulthood with an emotional map of what love is like when it is present, but with emotional scars that are left when it is absent. We call this emotional blueprint ‘the Imago’.
Many of us grow up with a dream of a perfect love – when we meet our partner we will finally feel fully at home, fully alive and complete in ourselves. Even myths of love are often about two souls who are incomplete alone, but are destined to be complete together as lovers. It can feel when we fall in love that we have known each other for ever. Together we believe we will experience the full complete love that we longed for as lonely children.
How do we recognise the love of our dreams? We choose the person who fits our Imago, our emotional map, like Cinderella fits the glass slipper, the person who loves us in a way we recognise from our parents.
Oops. Do you see the problem here? If our partner loves us the way our parents loved us, don’t they have the same gaps in the way that they express love that our parents also have? When the excitement of falling in love fades, we often find ourselves to be profoundly disappointed with our partner.
Does this sound pessimistic to you? I don’t see it that way at all. This conflict and disappointment is growth trying to happen.
Imagine you fell in love with someone you recognised as your soul mate. You had a great year or two with them, including an incredible wedding, and dreamlike honeymoon, and now it’s become a nightmare. Your partner just isn’t providing what you need any more. They don’t understand what it is you need, or refuse to give it. They do selfish, idiotic things.
Why would I think there is any good news in this at all?
My conclusion is that, since we tend to choose life partners who appear to be incompatible, there must be a good reason for it. We just need to understand what the reason is.
There have been changes during the development of people in society, and one is that for many of us we no longer need to be married for economic or societal reasons. Does that mean marriage no longer has a purpose?
What if there is a reason, and that the purpose of marriage is to work on all those emotional scars left by our upbringing? Those are the emotional raw spots that get in the way of living life to the full. They are the ones that some of us spend quite a bit of time in individual therapy working our way slowly through, or else keep them to ourselves as we experience depression, alienation, lack of purpose – and maybe we aren’t quite living the life we hoped to.
Just as I have chosen a partner who has emotional needs that I can’t quite meet, so it will be that I won’t quite be able to meet their emotional needs. It’s because when both of us developed emotionally as a child, the process was somehow incomplete.
What if we got together, and helped each other to heal the hidden emotional scars of childhood, and both grow into our full potential? Maybe the partner I chose is the ideal person to do that work with. After all there are many aspects of my partner that I adore, or I wouldn’t have chosen them in the first place. There’s a lot of incentive in a committed relationship to sort this all out.
I believe that the new role for long-term relationships or marriage in our society is for partners to help each other complete the unfinished business of childhood. If we use our love to guide us, then the relationship transforms into a new, rich and complete love – and makes us complete too.
Harville Hendrix, Ph.D.
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