This is one of the most common questions my clients ask me. There may be as many different answers as there are people asking but I find that many fit into these three categories:
1. To see ourselves differently. Some people convince themselves that they are a reflection of the person they are with. They may have a belief that says, “If my partner is attractive or successful, then I feel attractive or successful”. But there are a couple of problems with this belief.
First, we are not taking responsibility for seeing ourselves in the positive way we want to be seen. And then we need to get that external validation based on who we are partnered with. Wouldn’t it be better if I could get that need met in myself first before I seek a partner? Then I don’t have to rely on someone else’s traits to define me. Because when we do that and the person goes away, what happens to our definition of ourselves?
Secondly, we don’t see our partner clearly for who he/she is if we are focused on how their ‘success’ defines us. We need them in order to see ourselves a certain way so we fail to look at who they really are.
2. To heal old wounds from the past. Sometimes we have deep seated beliefs about ourselves that come from our childhood. Often, we aren’t even aware that we hold these beliefs. For example, I have a client who was a middle child and was always ‘good’ because his siblings had lots of issues that challenged his parents and he stayed under the radar. He has a core belief that he isn’t supposed to ‘be seen’ and he keeps picking narcissistic women who are so focused on themselves that they don’t really see him. This is what Freud called the Repetition Compulsion. A person keeps choosing partners that reenact the original wound in an attempt to get it right this time. The obvious problem here is that they can’t get it right because it’s set up to fail from the beginning. A better strategy is to get some relationship coaching or counseling to identify these patterns and learn how to heal instead of repeating it.
3. Denial. Who hasn’t employed a little denial in their relationships? Sometimes a small, healthy dose of not looking at reality is helpful in accepting our partner for who they are. By pushing away from our conscious attention those things that might be annoying, we are focusing on the positive aspects we love about the person. But the big difference in that scenario is choice. We are aware of the things we choose not to focus on.
But denial is a way of staying unconscious about these things. For example, if I value honesty and I see my partner cheating people in business, do I notice this? Am I honest with myself? Or do I make excuses internally? What are some reasons a person might chose to deny what is in front of them? Here are some examples from my clients and my life:
This person has other qualities that I really value
I am already invested in this relationship
I am in love
It’s not that bad