Tired of choosing men who let her down and cheated on her, 27-year-old attorney Lynn decided to find out why she put so much effort into relationships with men that turned out to be unsuitable partners. ( Part 1 of her story ) She came to therapy to find out why she had a history of picking the wrong guy and what she could do to change.
As Lynn talked in therapy about her unstable childhood and parents “off and on” marriage we came to understand that she was addicted to the thrill of uncertainty. It was exciting not knowing if she would succeed or fail in making the relationships work through their natural ups and downs. The exhilarating power that she felt when molding a man to be her ideal mate was like an aphrodisiac, and her familiarity with insecure family life combined to make her antennae tune into less than perfect men. In fact she wasn’t at all attracted to men who had good qualities of stability, genuineness, and reliability.
The realizations were shocking to Lynn, who couldn’t understand how she could be acting in this way without knowing it. As a logical and rational attorney she wasn’t keen on the idea of her unconscious guiding propelling her to behave in ways that she had no control over. It wasn’t until I explained that 90% of emotional life operates off stage and isn’t under our immediate control, that she expressed a desire to tune into that vital part of herself to take charge. That’s when she began the journey of discovery that allowed me to help her identify four steps to becoming receptive to good guys and picking the right man for her.
Step One in picking the right partner
Tweaking the wish to be adored: Lynn had very little consistent nurturing and attention from her parents, she grew up desperately wanting to be adored by her perfect man. She would seduce him into doing so with all her good deeds and investment in the relationship. But it never worked. I told her that being adored was a static thing, putting herself on a pedestal that precluded a real intimate shared connection with another human being. We worked on developing her receptivity to empathy and mutual caring which is the most basic of building blocks for a lasting stable relationship.
Step two in picking the right partner
Re-frame the notion of winning and losing: To Lynn winning her partners over by making them into whatever she wanted was her criteria of success. But instead of fostering understanding and mutual care her relationships became battle grounds where her partners had to prove their commitment by letting her win the wars. There was no 'we' or 'us', just fights about who won the arguments or had the right to go their own way. I suggested that she think of ‘togetherness’ as a way to journey together and co-create the relationship from common ground.
Step three in picking the right partner
Choose a softer lens through which to view relationships: Living with so much uncertainty as a young girl Lynn wanted predictability and stability to be ever present – like a rock, even though she was excited by unpredictability. Any good moments had to be mummified and put in a glass cage, kept forever in that form. Sadly it meant that she was rigid, trying to preserve things in their moment of perfection. It meant that she didn’t let the relationship breathe, it would inevitably die – when her man would cheat and the whole thing came crashing down.
I helped her understand that relationships were living breathing entities that needed the oxygen of change and adaptability in order to survive and thrive. The harder she tried to hang on to the good moments and put them in glass cages to be worshiped, the less likely she was to participate in a real life relationship that had to move with each partner’s natural growth cycle. Creating fresh moments, each better than the last, together as a couple was the way to go.
Step four in picking the right partner
Removing the accounts ledger book from the relationship structure: Putting in a lot of effort and energy into her relationships, Lynn expected the same in return. To her there was only one kind of love and that was conditional. So if she put a certain amount into her ‘savings account’ by acting nice and pleasing her partner then she had the right to withdraw the savings by making him reciprocate. Keeping score in this fashion made her relationships into business like transactions and they failed because love isn’t meant to be conditional. It was a hard one for Lynn to get, but she worked on it with me and is less restrictive in her idea about how love is to be demonstrated.
After a lot of work and commitment to change, Lynn was more receptive to being attracted to good men who already had the qualities she wanted but which she had previously wanted to force on a prospective partner. Now she is open to co-creating a connection that's alive and adapts to the changes that happen in life. She is so much more satisfied and secure having tamed her addiction to wasters!
Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educative purposes only. Dr. Raymond is not responsible for any reactions you may have when reading the content or using the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
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