Falling in and out of love.
Most couples may find themselves at some time in their relationship struggling with anger, shock, despair and sadness. Some are newlyweds who can't understand how they have dived from the heights of love into a morass of conflict. Others have been together for many years and lament that they have nothing in common any more, they end up leading a disappointed co-existence enduring being together for the sake of the children.
So why does this happen?
Some theorists believe that we all begin life in a state of relaxed joyful bliss. If our caretakers are attuned to our needs the feelings of aliveness and well being are sustained - we remain whole. But even in the best of circumstances our parents are not perfect and every unmet need causes fear and pain and as very small children we have no idea how to stop it and restore a feeling of safety. As a response we adapt primitive coping mechanisms ranging from constant crying to get attention to withdrawing emotionally and denying that we even have needs. Meanwhile throughout our childhood we are also being socialized, moulded by our caretakers and communities to fit into society. We learn what to do to gain love and acceptance. We repress and disown parts of ourselves that society finds unacceptable or unlovable.
When we fall in love we believe that we have found that sense of joyful aliveness again. Suddenly we have someone who really makes us feel whole, we feel sexier, cleverer, funnier more giving etc. and we feel safe.
When we marry or move in together things often start to change. We discover that our partner has qualities that we don't like and that they are different from what we thought they were. Disillusionment can gradually turn to anger. The power struggle has begun. What is going on? You have found someone who is unqualified (at the moment) to give you the love you want and to meet your needs as you had wished.
We all think we have freedom of choice when we are choosing a partner but our unconscious has its own agenda. Our sub-conscious has a compelling drive to repair the damage done in childhood as a result of unmet needs. The way it does that is to find a partner who can give us what our caretakers failed to provide. It looks for someone who carries all the positive AND negative traits of our caretakers. Although we consciously look for only the positive traits our sub conscious selects the negative as well seeking to heal those traits.
The image of 'the person who can make me whole again' is sometimes referred to as the Imago.
Another powerful part of our Imago is that we seek the qualities in ourselves that we lost in socialisation. If we are shy we may seek someone outgoing, if we are disorganised we look for someone organised etc Eventually our own feelings - our repressed exhuberance or anger are stirred. We are uncomfortable and criticise our partners for being too outgoing or too coldly rational.
What we need to understand and accept is that conflict is supposed to happen. This is as nature intended it. Conflict is a sign that the psyche is trying to survive to get its needs met and become whole.
Divorce does not solve the problems of relating to others.. We may get rid of our partners but we keep our problems taking them into the next relationship. Romantic love is supposed to end. The power struggle also is supposed to end. Regardless of what we believe, relationships are not born of love but of need.
How does couple counselling work?
The goal of couple counselling is to change the power struggle and set you on a path of real love. Many couples' problems are rooted in misunderstood, manipulated or avoided communications. Using the Imago dialogue you can learn to restructure the way you talk to each other.
We learn that whenever two people are involved each has their own reality. The reality of the other person needs to be understood and accepted but not made identical to our own.
The dialogue is turned into action and we can learn to give our partners what they need and not just what is easy to give. In a conscious relationship we agree to change to give our partner what they need and as we do that we heal our own painful experiences. In giving our partners what is hardest to give we have to bring our hidden selves into the light, owning and enlightening parts of ourselves. We stretch to conquer our fears and do what comes unnaturally.
Over the course of time as our partners demonstrate their love for us, and as they learn about and accept our hidden selves, our pain and self absorption diminishes. We restore our empathic feelings for our partners and see them for themselves and not merely as extensions of ourselves.
A conscious relationship is a spiritual path which leads us back to the feeling of joy and aliveness. We learn to express love as a daily behaviour and in large and small ways we stretch to give our partner what they need and we learn to love. This is not an easy and quick process but a positive journey.
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