It's Christmas time. The jingles of love songs fill the air and everybody seems to be jolly partying in couples. If you've recently been through a nasty breakup, you may start to wonder if a good relationship is possible for you. You might think that there are no “good ones” out there anymore, or you may sink into self-doubt, wondering what is wrong with you.
Wallowing in self-pity won’t get you where you want to be, but it’s true that there are two parties in any relationship, romantic or not, and it’s well worth being aware of what you yourself bring to the table, especially if you find some similarities in the ways more than one of your romances has ended. You don’t want any more of that, do you. So, accept responsibility for your half of the story, change what needs to be changed in yourself, and you may expect different outcomes.
The truth about romantic love
You’re walking down the street, looking at people and wondering who might be the Right One for you. “All I need is a long glance, a friendly smile, a hot date and all this loneliness will be just a bad memory.” But, although it may not seem so, relationships are not random. In fact, we behave more like guided missiles, sensing our possible partners and locating the right ones even in a crowded bar. And when we find them, the magic happens … or not.
It seems that every love song or a romance novel ever written speaks about the instant recognition and bonding, convincing us that all we need to do is find them, fall in love, and the rest … well, is going to be history we are going to tell to our grandchildren. Falling in love is supposed to be the guarantee of the power of our romantic love, and of our future together. The greater the passion, the longer the love. Right?
Even the old Greeks knew that there were many forms of love, the fact that the modern science has confirmed. Contemporary neuroscientist Helen Fisher argues that romantic love is quite a different process from partnership love (attachment), and that erotic love again is quite something else. They happen in different areas of our brain; they feel different and are driven and mediated by different hormones. They may evolve into each other, but this is far from certain. (see Inside the love addict's brain)
Romantic falling in love is based on projection, a psychological mechanism by which we see a part of ourselves in another person and mistake it for themselves. C.G.Jung wrote that every woman has within her psyche a shadowy part called Animus, whereas each man should have idealistic idea of Anima. Basically, falling in love means recognizing your Animus or Anima in your lover, which leads to a firm belief that this is the “one and only magic person” able to make your life a fairy-tale. Unfortunately, it’s an illusion like looking at yourself in a mirror. The more you get to know them, the more you feel betrayed, telling them they changed, while they were actually only becoming real. Couples who survive this getting to know each other truly and remain fascinated by one another, are on a good trail to convert their romantic passion into true partnership.
What do you bring to the relationship?
Animus or Anima, and most ideas we have about love, are generally based on our early experiences with attachment. Mom and Dad!
The scientists (Bowlby, Ainsworth) have proven that our patterns of relationships are either secure, which means that we basically believe in the safety of the world and people around us, or insecure, when we don’t. Those of us who have insecure attachment styles go through life not trusting, and develop several defense mechanisms to protect themselves from abandonment they expect. They may, for example, learn to trust dangerous people who remind them of their childhood perpetrators, and end up in dangerous and unfair relationships with addicts, psychopaths and narcissists. Or they may feel secure around addicts, because such are their childhood memories. Or they may think that loving someone means losing yourself and letting down your boundaries, and end up exhausted and abandoned. These very defenses may sometimes make them select the very same type of people for intimate relationships, and the similar patterns of problems result in repetition of trauma. (see Blog 9: 16 typical behaviors of relationship addicts).
What should you expect from a healthy partner in a relationship?
For a relationship to be healthy, make sure that it is:
Mutual: both parties are interested and committed to work towards the future
Fair: both parties rightfully expect equal or appropriate share of work, income, responsibilities
Respectful: both respect their own and the other’s boundaries in conduct, sex included
Sincere: no lies, no cheating, open conversation about the problems.
There are no perfect people or perfect relationships — you will always be a work in progress. But you do not have to continue the pattern of damage and disappointment that you may have experienced in the past. A quote by Einstein says that it’s insane to repeat the same and expect a different result. So go and find what needs to be changed in yourself, and the rest will follow.
Sanja Rozman is a medical doctor, psychotherapist and author of 8 books on behavioral addictions.
Read more in her book Serenity: How to Recognize, Understand, and Recover from Behavioral Addictions
that is about to be published by Brandylane Publishers Inc., Belle Isle Books.