It may be hard to remember that once, perhaps a long time ago, you may have been in love with the person you are now in conflict. You may even question what you saw in them?
Most people have at some point experienced the feeling of falling in love. You long to be with your new sweetheart, you eagerly wait for their calls and crave for their touch. You spend your days in a love bubble, counting the hours and minutes before you next meet. You find their habits and idiosyncrasies cute, appealing and loving. You walk around with a smile in your face, a spring in your step and a warm fuzzy feeling in your heart. You look up falling in love quotes and listen to love songs. Life is good and filled with a series of happy moments that flow into one another, taking you to the peaks of joy. When you’re in love, hours drift into days and days are lost amidst clouds of passion, without a care in the world.
Why does being in love leave us in a dream-like state?
Love has been written, spoken, composed and filmed about for centuries. It crosses boundaries, cultures and languages. It brings us happiness and contentment and can leave us longing, disappointed and grieving.
Relationships go through a cycle – from the heady heights of being in love to the mundane depths of everyday relating. But why do we appear to be unable to sustain the pinnacle of love experienced in the early days of meeting someone?
Why does it fall apart?
The family and social environment we grew up in influence how we relate with others. Our relationship with our parents can leave us feeling secure and complete or insecure, with a longing to be loved and accepted. The longing is rooted in our basic relational needs and how we were nurtured as we were growing up.
Acceptance– to feel accepted for whom we are as people, including our likes and dislikes, our values and opinions;
Affection– to feel cared for through physical and emotional demonstrations of love and kindness;
Security– to feel physically and emotionally secure, supported and respected even when we dare to express our vulnerabilities;
Attention– to receive appropriate levels of attention when needed, including being heard and acknowledged;
Appreciation– to feel appreciated for whom we are as people and for the things we do voluntarily without expectations;
Approval – to feel a sense of belonging and approval for whom we are as people within our family and social environment;
Encouragement– to receive encouragement for the choices we make in life even if others do not approve of them;
Respect– to feel respected and valued as a person, regardless of our social and economic status or our political or religious beliefs;
Support– to feel mentally, physically and emotionally supported whenever needed even if at times we may find it difficult to ask for help.
We are born with an innate necessity for all of these basic relational needs. When one or more of these needs are missing, we experience a ‘gap’, also referred to as a ‘hole’. The gap or hole creates a longing. We then develop strategies to compensate for the longing and fill the holes. We use emotional games, dramas and various coping behaviours so we can feel more fulfilled. The number of different approaches used is vast, with many factors influencing it.
Children’s fairy stories are a major source of unconscious input. They often portray damsels in distress, rescued by a charming prince. The film industry, media, music and poetry perpetuate the fairy-tale dream of romance, intense dramas and the happily-ever-after fantasies. They contribute to and influence our image of love, relationships and relating.
We grow up believing that somewhere in the world is the right person that will fulfil our needs. We build an idealised image of what, how and who that person is. The fantasy partner will have all the qualities we need to meet our relational needs, and this perfect partner or soul mate will love us unconditionally and make us happy
When we meet a new lover, we unconsciously project the idealised image onto them like a movie screen. They may have some of the traits we like, long for and fantasise about however, we see them as possessing the complete package. What we see in those early days is the projection or movie of an idealised person making it easy to fall in love with them.
We look for the love and recognition from partners that we didn’t have as children. We expect them to fill our ‘holes’ and fulfil all our basic needs – we expect them to be the missing link.
The experience or feeling of completeness comes from having your holes temporarily filled. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last because your partner is not able to fulfil your early childhood relational needs.
Because the dream or fantasy of your idealised partner is not real, it can’t be sustained. Gradually, the projected image breaks down and the euphoria of being in love dissipates. As the projection crumbles, you start to see your partner’s quirkiness as irritating faults. You blame them for changing and for not being the person they once were.
Reality hits as you begin to see the person with whom you fell in love, for the first time. The contrast between the idealised image and the real person leads to the end of the love bubble period.
It has nothing to do with them changing; it’s all about how you have changed the way you see them
After the initial excitement of being in love, the relationship settles and the attention you give each other becomes routine. You can easily fall prey to the demands of daily living or social and family expectations. In today’s 21stcentury some of the conventional traditions, such as engagement and then marriage have waned, making way for more diverse family structures. Many couples now co-habit; others are incorporating two family systems from previous alliances; whilst others are in a same sex relationship – the issues that surface are no different.
You settle into family life, focussing on work, home and children (if you have them) and steadily the routine leads to boredom or exhaustion. Many couples take on the challenges of the relationship in the hope that one day it will be like how it once was. They embark on a journey of games and dramas to change their partner to how they initially perceived them. They use various strategies in an attempt to make them fit the idealised image. Other couples settle out of fear of being left on their own or never finding anyone else. Gradually the cracks in the relationship become ditches.
In some cases, the relationship breaks down and you continue your quest of finding your ideal partner. I have news for you – you will be repeating the same pattern all over again. The person or escape strategies may be different but the longing to meet your basic relational needs will be the same. Until you become aware of your internal idealised movie and your holes, you’ll continue repeating your patterns of relating.
Being able to look at your partner and see them for who they are and accept them without judgement or criticism, and notice who you can be when you are with them – that is the art of relating.
Self Reflection Time Go for a walk or take a relaxing bath and spend time reflecting on what you want from your relationship. How would you like it to be? What do you miss?
You may be very clear as to how you have reached the stage you are at in your relationship. You may have an idea as to what has happened along the way. Maybe your partner has told you that you’re the one with the problem or you might think that your partner is the one with all the issues.
In therapy sessions I often hear people say that their partners need to get their anger, drink or libido problem sorted because it’s affecting their relationship. We tend to relinquish responsibility for our part in the relationship and blame our partners for our unhappiness. The real growth comes when you’re willing to accept one another’s differences and work at developing a way of relating with each other.
The key to a successful relationship is not finding your ideal partner; it’s learning to love the person you found
How you were and what attracted you to your partner when you first met may be very different to how you feel about them now. Routine has set in and so have your individual quirks, which you may both find annoying. You may feel that you are no longer in love with your partner although you still love them in some way. Maybe communication is strained or limited to practicalities of daily life. Possibly physical intimacy or a loving touch may have become sparse, irritating or non-existent.
The difference between how you once were and how you are now may appear insurmountable. Perhaps you are wondering where your relationship will go from here. Remember that it is possible to like your partner, you did once, and with commitment from both parties you can do it again.
Pick something you once did that brought you joy and it was fun. Choose one thing each. Arrange to go for a walk together, or organise a candlelit meal either at home or at a restaurant and reminisce about that time. Talk about what you liked and what made you laugh, and how you feel now when you’re reminded of it. Keep it positive.
NEXT TIME…We will look at how our early childhood relationships influence the choices we make in our partners.