Whether it's those lurking peak wedding months or the daily talk of royal nuptials, marriage is a subject we're hearing a lot about lately. Feelings about this trend seem to range from wild enthusiasm to mild resentment. Forgetting for a minute the adversity surrounding the institution of marriage and setting all ceremony aside, stripped down to its barest of bones, marriage is really just a long-term commitment to a serious intimate relationship.
Regardless of one's feeling about marriage, the idea of a lasting romantic relationship is of much significance to most people. So, despite this post's provocative name, what I really wish to offer here isn't so much a lecture on why a person isn't married but an explanation of why many people aren't able to form a lasting union with someone they love.
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For many couples, the honeymoon phase is over before they even make it down the aisle. The reasons for this can be many, but one of them is a prevailing fear of intimacy. In nearly 30 years of research into the psychology of interpersonal relationships, both I and my father, psychologist and author Robert Firestone, Ph.D., have closely followed hundreds of clients and case studies of couples. In our research we have found overwhelming consistency in certain behavioral patterns that systematically sabotage real intimacy.
First off, the search for a partner to whom we feel a real attraction and deep connection is a challenge that it would be foolish to underestimate. The idea of a soul mate is a pleasing way to maintain faith that there is that perfect someone out there just waiting to complete us. The trouble is that when we seek this someone, we don't just look for a person who enhances our every attribute; we also look for people who match with our negative traits or fill holes leftover from our past.
If we are used to taking control, we may seek someone who is passive. If we are used to being a wallflower, we may seek someone who dominates conversations. Though the match may seem to work well or make us feel secure in the beginning, eventually we grow to resent our partners for the very quality that drew us to them in the first place.
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