There is an old story out of Jewish lore about a couple imprisoned in a tower by an evil ruler. The man and his wife are chained by the ankles in the top of the tower, a small circular dungeon, with a pot of soup between them. They are each given a spoon the size of a boat oar, impossible to use in such a small space. They proceed to argue about the best way to survive, and the fight escalates. He pokes her trying to do it his way, she clubs him trying to do it hers. No one is listening.
Few writers touch on the great troubler of relationships, the one that many therapists spend much of their careers trying to help clients clear up-- self-hate. Hate or disgust can ricochet inward, in perfectionistic or self-critical ways--thighs that are too big, lips that are too thin, some trait or tendency that is slightly off, and for that person becomes a focus that spoils everything beautiful about them.
My heart goes out to those who have married into extreme families and their dynamics. During the dating phase you may not have gotten a full picture of this from your fiance, but after marriage or permanent partnering, the dynamics showed up big time. Now you're flying through self-help books and canvassing blogs to find out what to do.
As an Imago therapist, this is one of my favorite subjects. What is the powerful initial attraction all about? Why can 50 potential partners cross your radar at gatherings, parties, or just going through daily life, and then that one special person shows up and you feel like you just took a strong drug? Why do you feel more alive perhaps than at any point in your life?
As an Imago therapist, I consider the couple's space a living entity that, if fed, nourished, and protected, will strengthen into what Martin Buber termed the I-Thou, a sacred place where each can meet the other's full being and becoming. I make it a point to bring the couple's attention to this from the outset and ask them to each assume a new level of responsibility for it. I liken it to a diver's air hose. If it gets crimped or ruptured, they both strangle for the needed air of connection. I also say it is like a garden.
In working with recovering folks, the question often comes up, "When I'm ready to start dating again, what sort of partner should I look for?" I've learned a little thought and honest reflection could save you years of heartache and wasted time.