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Looking for Love in All the Right Places

Although some people prefer to remain single throughout their lives, most people strive to connect with and live in a partnership with one special person. There are many obvious advantages to finding a relationship partner (physical, economic, social) but there is another significant advantage in that working through the ups and downs of a relationship allows us to come to terms with many of our own personal issues. In fact, these personal issues may make or break a relationship, depending on whether we choose to work on them.  If you are single now, you can use this time to learn more about yourself and what makes relationships work.

There is evidence that the families we come from, our families of origin, have a profound influence on how we will behave in the relationships we create for ourselves in adulthood. How many times have you heard the phrase, “you are acting just like your father?” Or, “I can’t believe that I am saying the same things my mother said.” Sometimes we find ourselves acting toward a current relationship partner in the same way we acted toward a previous partner, as if there were a repetitive pattern in play. And if we look closely enough, we might discover that we have the same pattern of difficulty in every one of our relationships, as if we keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

According to one school of thought, called Imago, developed by Harville Hendrix, we all had imperfect parents or caregivers as we grew up, and the experiences we had as children left a lasting impression on us. We all went through stages of development in childhood. Sometimes our parents were there for us as we progressed through a developmental stage and sometimes they were not. This could be due to many reasons, such as the parent having his or her own personal difficulties at the time or the birth of another child. If we have difficulty at one particular stage of development, then we have a gap in our personalities that could follow us into adulthood unless we recognize and attend to the problem.

In fact the theory goes further and says that we all have a desire to be whole and complete and this means completing our unfinished business from childhood. Therefore, in adulthood we search out potential relationship partners who will allow us to work on this unfinished business. This is the type of person we will be attracted to when we grow up.

We are attracted to a person who carries both the positive and negative qualities of our imperfect parent or caregiver. We carry an image around with us of who our perfect partner will be and we search for a person who embodies these qualities. When we find a person with these traits, we feel as if the gap from our childhood is now filled. When we find this person we feel fully alive and have a profound sense of wellbeing.

Over time however, the negative qualities found in our parents begin to emerge in our relationships with our partners. This is expected and predictable. A mature love commitment will not occur until we have worked through these more negative issues. As our childhood fears return, we might blame our partners for not understanding us after all or for deliberately trying to undermine the relationship.

Many people who have been through a series of relationships report that they seem to have the same problems time after time. The same types of relationship problems emerge regardless of who their beloved is. This fact suggests that the problem resides in the person, not in the choice of partner. The clue is to look within in order to see why the problem recurs and why we become attached to the same kind of person.

Rather than searching for the right partner, it might be more helpful to think of being the right partner. This means bringing our old issues from childhood to awareness. We need to understand the impact of the events in our childhood on our choice of a partner in adulthood. We should examine why we keep making the same mistakes again and again in our relationships. Once we have completed this life task, we are then free to enter into a conscious, mature relationship.

Rather than leaving a relationship in order to find yourself, it may be possible to find yourself through a relationship. A mature relationship is based on commitment, awareness, and mutual respect. It is healing and it leads to genuine wholeness for each of the partners. We recognize what our partner needs, and we provide these things gently, lovingly, and without conditions.

The ability to provide unconditional love for our partner is one of our highest life goals. It takes great strength to be able to surmount our own needs and to give unconditionally to a person who has made a commitment to us. Even though our partner’s behavior may cause us anxiety, pain or anger, we show our maturity by understanding and containing our won reactions in order to make the other person feel better. There can be no greater expression of love.

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J.M. Evosevich, Ph.D.

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