Updated: Sep 5, 2020
Rational Thinking Goes Out the Window When it Comes to Relationships
Do you and your partner fight about the same thing over and over? Was your volcanic eruption over something trivial? Does one of you regularly feel misunderstood and the other feel compelled to be the problem solver? Does one of you make it impossible for the other to walk away to get some distance?
That night, the next day, or maybe after a couple days, you may feel remorse, apologize and maybe even try to get to the bottom of what happened, but it is more likely that this event will repeat itself.
What’s going on? One way to look at these events is as a call to unravel a pattern of triggering and reacting that was actually established in childhood but is now disguised in scenarios that have nothing to do with the root of the issue. Consciously, we think the fight has something to do with one of you not doing the dishes or flirting with someone, but when there is great emotion, that is just a distraction from a more unconscious dynamic playing out.
One Purpose of Relationship
You can shift your thinking about these painful events, which cause you to get swept up in uncontrollable emotion. They can be opportunities to learn about yourself, and as you learn about yourself, you become better at relating to others. In romantic relationships, this is more extreme and potentially more powerful, contributing to your spiritual growth.
The more intense your personal emotion, the more the root of your reaction lies within you. This doesn’t excuse any bad behavior on your partner’s part of course, but if you cannot calmly express your displeasure with something your partner did, then there’s more going on than you think.
One Useful Concept: Complexes
How do these patterns of reacting develop? Our first examples of relationships are our childhood parents and caregivers, and even the most positive childhood will result in some patterns of thinking and behaving that eventually don’t serve us anymore. We will know when that happens through interactions with others where we feel great emotion.
Try this: When it comes to romantic relationships, a great place to start is reflecting about what you learned about relationships from your parents or caregivers. What did you learn about love for example? As my 24-year marriage was falling apart and I reflected about this question, I realized that I learned that love was conditional – that I had to have perfect behavior in order to receive love. Later, I came to understand that my behavior was tied to my mother’s sense of worth as a parent. Knowing that helped me realize that I had over adapted to my partner in a way that caused inequality when it came to each of our needs being met. That shifted my attention from the problem being only my partner to one of shared responsibility.
Another Useful Concept: Projection
You can learn a lot about yourself and your relationship by going back to the beginning and reflecting about what most attracted you to each other. This is super interesting and unraveling what seems like mysterious forces can provide insights that can result in a deeper and more soulful and intimate connection than you have ever experienced before.
What attracts you romantically to another is sometimes what is most undeveloped in yourself. For example, as a woman you might find very successful men extremely attractive. It is possible that unconsciously, you are insecure about your capacity to be independent and successful, so you project this responsibility onto your man. This may work for a while, but many times there is a point at which either you begin to resent your man’s preoccupation with success or he begins to resent your lack of willingness to invest in your own independence.
Romantic partners are typically completely unconscious of this, and in the case of opposites attract, the very reasons for the initial intensity of attraction become the very reasons for resentment and dissolving of the relationship.
When I met my current partner, I felt swept up in an intense attraction felt on all levels: mind, body and soul. I found that what most attracted me to him were my weaknesses. My man is spontaneous, likes to meander, lives in the moment, is sometimes irresponsible, and I’m trying to loosen the grip of my perfection complex. It took me a little while to figure this out, but then I realized that if I do not develop my own capacity for meandering and even doing things that I might perceive as irresponsible, I will come to resent in my man the very things that attracted me to him.
Another way to think about this is that whatever you project onto your partner is creating a burden for him or her, which is not fair.
Try this: Reflect on the initial intensity of attraction between you and your partner. The more intense, the likely more projection going on, which actually means the more opportunity to develop things in yourself to become a more balanced person. Go further and reflect about how you have or haven’t tried to become a little bit more like your partner and vice versa.
Turn Conflict Into Deeper Connection and Intimacy
Join couples and singles on Wednesday, January 16th, 6:30-8pm at Elle Studio to dig deeper into your own complexes and projections in order to deepen connection with your romantic partner. By the way, this psychological work will contribute to your sexual intimacy as well.