Written By Elaine Chan-Scherer, LCSW
Couples therapists know that people don’t choose each other for the reasons that they think. Think about it – how many people are not attracted to someone who looks great for them on paper? How many people are attracted to people who seem “wrong” for them? What we call “chemistry”, intense attraction, the Hollywood idea of being in love – are actually the workings of our unconscious.
We develop the idea of what “love” is based on our interactions with our primary caregivers. Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., a famous couples therapist, talks about the “Imago”. This is the image that we develop of love– a compilation of the good and bad from our primary caregivers. When our unconscious spots the imago in another person, we feel attracted. If we had parents who were consistent and caring and able to attend to our needs, we will be attracted to a partner with these traits. If one of our parents abandoned us when we were young, or was emotionally unavailable for us for whatever reasons, then we will be attracted to someone who will eventually trigger that feeling of abandonment.
Both partners, however, are usually unconscious about this. Have you noticed how relationships change after you get married? People often find themselves acting in habitual ways that mimic the emotional interactions in their families of origin. Perhaps it is because the psyche is able to relax. We often find that we ended up, unbeknownst to us, marrying someone who is like our mother or father. There is a healing purpose for this madness. Salvation, you might say. It is necessary for us to marry partners who will recreate our childhood wounding scenarios, because if our partner is able to respond in a way that our caregivers were not, our deepest wounds are healed and we come closer to wholeness.
So, in this view of marriage, conflict is necessary and good. Couples often feel hopeless when they reach a point of severe conflict in their marriages. The feeling is uncomfortable, but if they can work through it (therapy is helpful), the marriage can progress to the next level. Just as our two year olds need to say “no” and our teenagers need to rebel to develop a healthy sense of individuation (knowing that they are whole and separate people), our marriages also need to develop to the level where we are individuals with different needs and wants and desires who choose to be married to each other.
Here are my favorite marriage tips:
Your marriage can be a path toward wholeness for each of you.