By Mateja Petje, LMFT
Most of us come across challenges at some points in our interpersonal relationships. Even though we might think we know what would make a relationship be fulfilling, it is often difficult to put that knowledge into practice.
The forces that bring two people together can sometimes seem like an enigma. What may initially seem interesting and even attractive becomes a power struggle over time. The habits that we’ve acquired over time and the deep scars and wounds that are buried deep inside us from unresolved childhood issues keep coming up and acting as a trigger. It’s not obvious to us though, and we often do not even realize why we’re overreacting over minor incidents.
Many prominent psychologists have attempted to provide explanations for human behavior. Although each theory can be insightful, the one that stands out for me is “Imago” theory on relationships which emphasizes the importance of our subconscious drives.
The basic premise of Imago theory is that the person who we are strongly attracted to and in love with subconsciously reminds us of a primary caregiver. Most often it is a parent, but it could also be a person who was very influential in our childhood. These traits may be both positive and negative.
For example, a person growing up with an abusive parent may be attracted to a mate who is physically and verbally abusive (which often doesn’t appear until later in a relationship). This is best illustrated in marriages in which there is an alcoholic partner.
A spouse might stay in a marriage and accept the abuse because other needs are getting met (i.e.feeling validated and/or important). It is rarely a conscious choice to attract such a mate, but the cycle repeats itself over and over again until the person takes charge of his/her well-being and starts to heal the old wounds and harmful beliefs of the need to be perfect in order to be loved.
On the other hand, a person who grows up with a parent who is funny and outgoing might be attracted to a mate who is also funny and outgoing. An interesting thing may happen though. All of a sudden, after intimacy has been established, the “true” self might show up, and then it may appear as if the partner has changed.
If we want to have successful relationships, we must be willing to look deep inside ourselves and allow the relationship to help us heal our childhood wound and serve as a catalyst for growth. This takes commitment and courage, but it is very important. We must be willing to grow and explore our psyches. Otherwise, our relationships will continue old patterns in a different variation.