Our attraction to a mate is based on many things, not the least of which is the almost innate ability to find someone who drives you crazy.
When you first meet your partner, there are things you love about them, and later on, it is those exact same things that can make you nuts. When Jen first met Tim, she loved the fact that he was stoic and strong, he seemed to have his whole life together at 28. "Tim had been taking care of himself forever. He had been on his own since he was a kid. And he seemed so tough and strong, I knew he could take care of both of us. I was always the scared one in the relationship, I was anxious about everything. But nothing ever bothered Tim. We lived in California and when we had a small earthquake after we moved in together, I freaked out, and hid in the closet. He very gently held me, talked to me calmly through the whole thing, and made me feel like we could get through anything on the Richter scale."
When Jen and Tim got married, things went great for the first few years. Then Jen started to notice that Tim's tough outer demeanor was really annoying her. "If you asked me now what bothers me the most about Tim today, I would have to say it's the fact that nothing ever seems to bother him! I mean, I get upset and it's like he doesn't care. He is always saying things like, it will be alright, don't worry. We'll get through it. Back in the beginning of our relationship, that was great, it made me feel safe. Today it makes me feel like he has no emotions."
In the bestselling book, "Getting the Love You Want" by Harville Hendrix, this theory is explained well. Hendrix says that we always choose a partner that mirrors the places in us that we need to develop in ourselves. Jen's need to find the strong part of herself that can feel stable and safe in frightening or anxious situations comes from her childhood. Instead of developing into a tough survivor, she learned as a child that in order to get her needs met she needed to cry, get small, hide or feel weak and someone would eventually come to her rescue. She found a husband who would do that for her as well. When she met Tim, she was really attracted to the part of him that was able to handle a crisis and remain strong, because that is the part of herself that she wants and needs to develop in herself.
Our partners help us to find those places within us that need healing. Don't underestimate your choice in a mate. It's no mistake that you are with the person you are with. The person you choose is ideally suited to help you finish off the unfinished growth of your childhood. We always choose the perfect person to help us grow into our highest selves. However, it's hard to grow. And so we resist. We don't like to change.
For Tim, choosing Jen was a smart move. Although he grew up fast and learned to be tough, he shut down his more sensitive side long ago. "I had to be the one in my family that learned to survive. My dad died when I was young and everyone was looking to me to take care of the family. If I had been weak or cried or fell down, my mom would have fallen apart. I felt like I didn't have a choice. Sure, it would have been nice to have had that luxury sometimes, but I never did. And it was okay; it taught me to be a good football player and good in business."
Choosing Jen was easy. She was sweet and kind and he felt like she brought out the best in him. He could be strong with her and she loved him for it. But he also felt like he could learn to be vulnerable in their relationship because she helped him to talk about his feelings. "We would have long talks about emotions when we first met. I think it was the first time I ever told someone I loved them. I really told Jen all of my dreams and hopes for the future. I had never before let anyone know those deeper parts of me. It was amazing having someone to talk to about the real stuff, you know?"
"The problem is that now all she wants to do is talk. And talk about feelings. Sometimes I don't have a clue what she wants from me. I don't even think I have feelings sometimes. But she nags at me constantly to talk about how I feel. She is literally driving me crazy. I avoid coming home sometimes because I am afraid she will want to talk about our relationship. It makes me feel inadequate, and I have never felt that way before."
Tim chose Jen because she is ideally suited to help him develop that emotional part of himself that never had a chance when he was young. If he could build a more expressive, emotive and sensitive self he could become more of a whole person. For now, he will resist because it is painful. Back when he was a child, he had to shut down that part of himself in order to survive his childhood. It will feel scary to think he will have to give up a little of the tough part of himself today. It may take a conscious push in order for him to feel safe enough to explore that softer side. He has chosen the perfect partner with whom to do that work.
Sometimes change can feel too difficult. It can be easier to blame your partner. If you find yourself saying things like, "This is way too hard," or "Why is this relationship so much work?" then you may actually be seeing in your partner all of the things you really need to change in yourself.
When Jen sees Tim's stoic behavior, she sees Tim being unfeeling and makes up that he doesn't care. But Jen chose him because she needs to learn to be more like him in many ways, finding her own independence and ways to soothe herself when she gets upset. Jen learned in her childhood that the only way to get attention in a household of six children was to whine, cry and scream if she was hurt or angry. Jen's mother was depressed and overwhelmed, and many times just ignored her children if she couldn't handle the pressure. Alone a lot, Jen learned young to be the squeaky wheel in order to get any attention at all. As an adult, she chose Tim in part to learn to be more self-sufficient and confident.
We have chosen our partner for a reason. Some days it can feel like we have definitely ended up with the wrong person and maybe if we just traded them in for someone else, we'd be happier. But most of us have something important to learn from the mate we have.
If you are not "getting the love you want" stop for a moment and think, what is it that drives me crazy about my partner? And is that something that I used to love and admire when I first fell in love with them? And is that same trait something I really need to work on in myself? Chances are your partner is mirroring the things in you that you are resistant to changing. Just for today, stop blaming your partner for not giving you what you want, and take a look at why you chose them in the first place.
Dr. Tammy Nelson is a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist and a Board Certified Sexologist. She is a world renowned expert in relationships, a psychotherapist in private practice and a trainer and seminar leader worldwide. She is the author of several books including Getting The Sex You Want; Shed Your Inhibitions and Reach New Heights of Passion Together and the upcoming The New Monogamy; Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity. She can be found at www.drtammynelson.com and her Facebook page Getting the Sex You Want.
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