Further explorations on the soulmate myth; why he seemed so familiar the first time you met.
Soulmates who are romantic partners have a special role in our lives. They have agreed to help us heal our childhood wounds. They have agreed to show us the blueprint for the cage we’ve built, so that we can find the tools necessary to escape.
We all carry some version of “I’m not worthy of love,” “I’m different and nobody understands me,” and “there’s something wrong with me, I’m broken.” I’m reminded of a childhood song. It goes like this, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I think I’m gonna eat some worms.” We feel unlovable, so we punish ourselves by eating worms metaphorically.
As adults, we punish ourselves with different versions of “eating worms”: overeating, drinking too much, shopping excessively, allowing people to disrespect us, and in many other ways hiding the light of our perfect, radiant beings.
Our romantic partners match us in our childhood wounds. Our flavors match; we’ll have had similar experiences of being abandoned, for example. They are uniquely able to help us break out of our own cage because they recognize it in themselves and they too are trying to escape their own cages. Unfortunately, most of this happens at a subconscious level. We usually have to go through at least a few rounds of pain and suffering, affirming our experiences of our original childhood wounds, before we can begin to break out of our cages.
There is a style of relationship therapy created by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. called Imago Relationship Therapy. I first read about this type of therapy in 2009, a year after my partner and I had reunited. As I read Hendrix’s book, Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, I was stunned. Here was a man who was outlining the process through which I had directed myself during my separation and subsequent reunion. I had managed to figure out on my own, using my intuition and my wise, loving spirit guides, that my marriage was an attempt to heal my childhood wounds. I dragged myself through exercises that I’ll share with you in the process of healing myself, and I found versions of these exercises in Hendrix’s work.
Imago is a coined word with a Latin root. Your imago is your subconscious mind’s ideal mate, made up of a combination of the positive and negative traits your primary caregivers displayed that impacted you most powerfully.
When a person is dating, their subconscious mind scans every potential partner against its imago image. The closer a person is to the imago, the more intense the initial attraction will be. When I met my partner, I felt like I’d known him forever. We were instantly comfortable with each other in ways I’d never before experienced with a partner.
There’s a reason my partner felt so familiar and comfortable: he had many of the traits of important people in my life that impacted me deeply as a child. He treated my like a special princess (like my paternal grandfather), he was the strong, silent type (like my father), and from the very beginning he loved me fiercely (like my mother).
EXERCISE: Find your imago
1. On a piece of paper or Word document, make a list down the left hand side of the significant romantic partners you have had in your life. Leave space for two more columns.
2. Next to each name, in the first column list all the reasons you were initially attracted to that person. Move beyond physical traits to personality traits, and try to list at least three reasons for each person.
3. In the next column, list the reasons you broke up (or want to break up if you’re still together). Try to move past specific behaviors to the attitudes behind the behaviors. For example, instead of saying he never cleans up after himself, is it because he’s lazy, or because he believes the woman should do the cleaning?
4. Take a look at the two columns and circle traits that are similar across more than one partner. You should begin to see a trend—you’re attracted to similar types, and a correlation—those types have a flip side that’s not as appealing.
5. Spend at least thirty minutes with your journal, contemplating what you’ve discovered and what those things mean about you. What stories do you tell yourself that make you attracted to these things? What do you hope to get from those partners that you haven’t given to yourself? What unmet needs are you trying to get fulfilled from them?
When you are first with your partner, you are attracted to the positive traits that resemble your primary caregivers. However, after the honeymoon is over, you begin to notice the negative traits as well. For example, the strong, silent persona that attracted me initially became an emotionally withdrawn man unable to express his feelings.