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What's Really Going On In Your Relationship?

There are many answers to the question, “What’s really going on in relationships?”, and on this page you’ll be able to read a brief overview of some of the more important secrets of relationships encompassed in the following titles:

Falling in love and being in love

The History of Marriage

Do we really choose our partners?

Some of the ideas outlined on this page may seem very new and out of the ordinary, and it may seem difficult to relate these ideas to your own situation. Reading about these new concepts is no substitute however for working with a properly qualified Counsellor or Psychotherapist such as myself. Using these new ideas and many other traditional Counselling methods, I will be able to help you make sense of your circumstances in ways that will facilitate the changes needed to fulfill the potential of your relationships.

Falling in love and being in love

It all starts with “falling in love”. We usually meet many people during the course of our lives; people with whom we work, those with whom we go to schools and colleges, people who socialise with us at parties, pubs and clubs, and those who share our hobbies and interests etc. Frequently we meet people who we are attracted to, and occasionally those for which our attraction is so great, that if possible, we pursue a closer and more intimate relationship. What is happening at an unconscious level when this process occurs is explained below in the section “Do we really choose our partners”?

After this initial attraction, we begin the journey of “falling in love”, and this is the point where Mother Nature takes over. Imagine a time long ago, before the dawn of civilisation as we now know it. As always, Mother Nature wants babies, and she wants those babies to survive. A process of bonding immediately begins to take place between those who are “falling in love”. The stronger the bond between the potential parents of Mother Nature’s babies, the more likely it is that the two will remain together and that therefore any babies will survive.

This bonding process is enhanced by the mind and mood altering chemicals that the body produces to ensure closeness. When two people are attracted to each other, a virtual explosion of adrenaline-like neurochemicals gushes forth. Fireworks explode and we see stars. PEA or phenylethylamine is a chemical that speeds up the flow of information between nerve cells. Also, involved in the chemistry of bonding are dopamine and norepinephrine, chemical cousins of amphetamines. Dopamine makes us feel good and norepinephrine stimulates the production of adrenaline. It makes the heart race!

When people are affected by these chemicals, they are often described as being “madly” in love. They can be overheard saying things such as; “I’m crazy about him/her”. Both statements refer to the mind altering properties of the chemicals flooding the system.

When people are influenced by this surge of chemicals they often behave in ways that are uncharacteristic, even peculiar, and in this state often do things that they would not otherwise consider as being normal. In the film “Pretty Woman” for example, Richard Gere removes his shoes and socks to enjoy the feeling of the grass beneath his feet, still  others propose on the giant screen at football matches.

These chemicals combine to give us infatuation or “chemistry.” It is why new lovers feel euphoric and energised, and float on air. It is also why new lovers can talk all night for weeks on end, and make love for hours and hours. This is a time when new lovers are aware of sameness rather than difference. They place emphasis on all the things about their relationship that make them compatible rather than paying attention to the difficulties they might encounter due to their incompatibilities. The characteristics of lovers will be redefined. For example, a man who is withdrawn and uncommunicative will often be seen positively by the chemically affected partner as “the strong silent type”, whereas later, when the chemicals have stopped being produced, that same man’s partner complains; “He never speaks to me, I never know what he feels”!

Back to pre-civilisation, if “Mother Nature” is successful in creating a strong enough bond, the male will stay around long enough to protect and provide for the female during the pregnancy, birth period and beyond.

On average the chemicals are flooded into the bloodstream of lovers’ for a period of approximately seven months, although this can range from anywhere between a couple of days to two years or so depending on the individual and the circumstances. As the chemical flow ceases, anticipations become expectations, both partners begin to notice the incompatibilities and tend to withdraw some of the unconditional love and generosity that characterised their early relationship. At this same time both begin to expect, demand, or feel entitled to have their own needs met, and the difficulties that typify most relationships come into being. It is at this point that many people will stay in a relationship that does not ever really satisfy them, longing for the early days when all seemed so wonderful. Others leave their relationships believing that they have picked the “wrong” partner, and the whole cycle begins again.

Relationships Revealed

 However, once we understand what is really happening in relationships, we can make the transition from “falling in love” to “being in love”. We can know how to create unions that fulfill our needs and expectations and finally find the love we seek. To understand more please read on ….

The History of Marriage

Many people cling to fantasies about love and marriage. But fantasies are damaging and unhelpful both individually and to society. Single, confused, un­happy people become confused, unhappy married couples, except that two people’s problems are more than double trouble. This is especially true

if there are children involved because the damage is passed along to these innocent victims.

Marriages were arranged; wives were bought or traded. Such marriages were typically passionless, but stable; their primary agenda was the continuity of the family, community and the perpetuation of land and property rights. Many people are worried that the social fabric of our country is unravelling before our eyes, and the breakdown of society seems directly traceable to the problems in the family, specifically to the quality of marriages, the nest from which children, and therefore the future, come.

Changes in marriage and our expectation of marriage have to do with the evolutionary changes in ourselves as a culture and as a species. In the Western world, most of us believe that love and marriage have always gone together; however, the combination of love and marriage is a phenomenon of very recent history. In times past, it was love and adultery that went together "like a horse and carriage." Marriages were arranged; wives were bought or traded. Such marriages were typically passionless, but stable; their primary agenda was the continuity of the family, community and the perpetuation of land and property rights. Only infrequently, and usually accidentally, was romantic love connected with the marriage partner. With the emergence in the Western world of the democratic system in which the individual had rights, the rights of the individual came to include the right to marry the person of one’s choice.

For the first time in history the energy of attraction between men and women was directed into and contained within the structure of marriage. This was the romantic marriage, and entirely changed its face. However, although the purpose of marriage had changed, the rights of the individual referred only to men and not to woman. The equality necessary for a union that would help to heal the individuals in it was still lacking. The failure of our society to recognise the problem means serious trouble for our civilisation. Our ignorance has already had drastic consequences. Because we were operating in the dark, not knowing what to expect or hope for, untrained and unprepared for marriage, the intense energy of romantic love began to break apart the structure of marriage, and divorces began to be more commonplace. Yet until the 1950s, after the upheaval of World War II, divorce was not undertaken lightly and was considered essentially an immoral decision. Because of the great shame attached to it, many unhappy marriages stayed together, and romantic love again switched out of marriages and into affairs.

But eventually the widespread frustration with marriage led to divorce becoming a permitted exit from an unhappy marriage. While formerly divorces were granted only on grounds of infidelity or abuse, incompatibility became an accepted exit.

Do We Really Choose Our Partners?

There was a further complication to marriage. At the same time that it was recognised that the individual had rights, there came a belief that human beings were inherently rational, could make logical choices, and were in total charge of their destiny. But that assumption was soon challenged by Sigmund Freud who proposed that underneath our apparent rationality was a sea of chaotic instincts that influenced and often undermined our choices. It was quite a shock. We began to understand that choices we thought were made on the basis of logic were in fact swayed by emotion and by the unconscious mind directing us towards a particular partner.

It seems then that the choice of a love partner, though entirely personal, is in fact made by the unconscious processes of the mind. Even though we now get to choose our partners, there is still some kind of parallel to the arranged marriage, in the sense that as the arranged marriage had a specific purpose, so our unconscious selects a partner to suit its particular needs. The problem is that most of us don't recognise this, and we behave as though we are making a logical, analytical choice, which will lead to a logical, straightforward marriage. How wrong we are!

It is true that we now marry for love, and that we expect romantic fulfilment in marriage. And it is good that we marry for love. But love or marriage, for that matter, is not what we think it is. Whatever we may think, and however careful our checklist, what is going on in mate selection is not love, but need. Love, if it appears at all, appears later in a marriage as a result of our work on ourselves and our commitment to healing our partner.

Our "free" choice of a mate is, in the end, a product of our unconscious, which has an agenda of its own. And what the unconscious wants is to become whole and to heal the wounds of childhood. To this end, it is carrying around its own detailed picture of a proper match, searching not for the right statistics, but for the right chemistry. And what is that chemistry? Nothing more than our unconscious attraction to someone who we feel will meet our particular emotional needs.

To guide you in your search for the ideal mate, someone who both resembled your caretakers and compensated for the re­pressed parts of yourself, you relied on an unconscious image of the opposite sex that you had been forming since birth. Harville Hendrix Ph.D., has given this inner picture the name “imago,” which is a Latin term for “image” Essentially, your imago is a composite picture of the people who influenced you most strongly at an early age. This may have been your mother and father, one or more siblings, or maybe a babysitter or close relative. But whoever they were, a part of your brain recorded everything about them, the sound of their voices, the amount of time they took to answer your cries, the colour of their skin when they got angry, the way they smiled when they were happy, the set of their shoulders, the way they moved their bodies, their characteristic moods, their talents and interests. Along with these impressions, your brain recorded all your significant interactions with them. Your brain didn't interpret these data; it simply etched them onto a template.

It may seem improbable that you have such a detailed record of your caretakers somewhere inside your head when you have only a dim recollection of those early years. In fact, many people have a hard time remembering anything that happened to them before the age of five or six, even dramatic events that should have made a deep impression. But scientists report that we have in­credible amounts of hidden information in our brains. Neuro­surgeons discovered this fact while performing brain surgery on patients who were under local anesthesia. They stimulated portions of the patients' brains with weak electrical currents, and the patients were suddenly able to recall hundreds of forgotten episodes from childhood in astonishing detail. Our minds are vast storehouses of forgotten information. There are those who suggest that everything that we have ever experienced resides some­where in the dark, convoluted recesses of our brains.

Not all of these experiences are recorded with equal intensity, however. The most vivid impressions seem to be the ones that we formed of our caretakers early in life. And of all the interactions that we had with these key people, the ones that were most deeply engraved were the ones that were the most wounding, because these were the encounters that seemed to threaten our existence. Gradually, over time, these hundreds of thousands of bits of information about our caretakers merged together to form a single image. The old brain, in its inability to make fine distinctions, simply filed all this information under one heading: the people responsible for our survival. You might think of the imago as a silhouette with few distinguishing physical characteristics but with the combined character traits of all of your primary caretakers.

To a large degree, whether or not you have been romantically attracted to someone depended on the degree to which that per­son matched your imago. A hidden part of your brain ticked and hummed, coolly analysing that person's traits, and then com­pared them with your rich data bank of information. If there was little correlation, you felt no interest. This person was destined to be one of the thousands of people who come and go in your life with little impact.

To make sense of this question and many others concerning your relationship, it would help you both to attend a few sessions of couple’s counselling with me or for you to purchase my booklet “Great Relationships and Brilliant Communication”

I imagine that you would not be looking at my website right now unless you had some thought or idea that you would like to have some changes in your relationship:

Now's the time to do something about it before it’s too late.

If there was a high degree of correlation, you found the person highly attractive. When we meet an unconsciously held parental match, that chemical reaction occurs, and love ignites. All other ideas about what we want in a mate are discounted. We feel alive and whole, confident that we have met the person who will make everything all right.

Specifically, there is a need to cover the "shortfall" of childhood unmet needs by having our partners fill in the psychological gaps left by our imperfect childhood caretakers. How do we go about that? By falling madly in love with someone who has the traits of our imperfect parents; someone who fits an image that is a mixture of the character traits of both of our parents or primary caretakers that we carry deep inside us, and for who we are unconsciously searching. What we unconsciously want is to get the love, respect, support, closeness, freedom etc. that we didn't get in childhood from someone who is like the people who didn't give us what we needed in the first place.

As with all aspects of the unconscious mind, you had no awareness of this elaborate sorting mechanism. Unfortunately, since we've almost surely chosen someone with negative traits similar to those of the parents who wounded us in the first place, the chance of a more positive outcome this time around are slim indeed. In fact, most people who have had serial relationships report that despite their best intentions they manage to find the same problems each time around.

Many people have a hard time accepting the idea that they have searched for partners who resembled their caretakers. On a conscious level, they were looking for people with only positive traits-people who were, among other things, kind, loving, good-looking, intelligent, and creative. In fact, if they had an unhappy childhood, they may have deliberately searched for people who were radically different from their caretakers. They told themselves, “I'll never marry a drunkard like my father,” or “There's no way I'm going to marry a tyrant like my mother.” But, no matter what their conscious intentions, most people are attracted to mates who have their caretakers' positive and negative traits, and, typically, the negative traits are more influential.

Therapists came to this conclusion only after listening to hundreds of couples talk about their partners. It’s often noticed that at some point during the course of therapy, just about every person would turn angrily to his or her spouse and say, “You treat me just the way my mother did!” or “You make me feel just as helpless and frustrated as my stepfather did!” This idea gained further validity when therapists such as Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., assigned all his clients an exercise that asked them to compare the personality traits of their spouses with the personality traits of their primary caretakers. In most cases, there was a close correlation between parents and partners, and with few exceptions the traits that matched up the most closely were the negative traits! (When you work with me, you will be able to do this exercise yourself).

Why do negative traits have such an appeal? Why don’t people choose mates on a logical sensible basis? Then they would look for partners who compensated for their parents' inadequacies, rather than duplicated them. If your parents wounded you by being unreliable, for ex­ample, the sensible course of action would be to marry a dependable person, someone who would help you overcome your fear of abandonment. If your parents wounded you by being over­protective, the practical solution would be to look for someone who allowed you plenty of psychic space so that you could over­come your fear of absorption.

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