Plato’s allegory tells a story of the composite human beings who were both male and female. This unified creature yielded so much force that in order to diminish their strength, the gods split them in two and left them searching the rest of their life for the other half to restore wholeness. Just like in Plato’s myth, feeling incomplete, we, too, go through life looking for the right person who will make us whole again. Once reunited, we expect to live happily ever after. Alas, life rarely works like a fairy tale.
Instead, what we often find is that the perfect person we thought our partner initially to be is eerily familiar in their imperfections. In fact, they often resemble our caretakers with regard to positive and especially negative character traits. The mechanism behind this peculiar occurrence lies in the unconscious drive to recreate the conditions of our childhood in order to correct them. In other words, the motivation to find someone who resembles our parents is underpinned by the wish to heal our childhood wounds. While in the early stages of a relationship, this resemblance might give us hope that we will be able to re-write history and be loved by our partners the way we never were by our parents; once the rush of the romantic love subsides, the parallels between our parents and partners are bound to re-injure us and awaken memories of childhood pain. To protect ourselves and to force our partners to satisfy our needs, we employ a host of negative tactics, e.g., emotional distance, blame, and criticism. This negativity erodes the spirit of love and cooperation. Often the pain becomes so unbearable that it leads the couple to end the relationship. And then to go on and repeat the same pattern with someone else.
One way to break this pattern is to become conscious of the underlying mechanisms that guide your relationship and work through them in therapy. Couples therapy can help you recognize and heal the unresolved childhood dynamics that lie at the core of your relationship struggles. It can help you get to know your partner as a fellow traveler, and not a projection of unacceptable parts of your personality or transferred parts of your parents. You will learn that you have options when it comes to your behavior, and you can stop living reactively. In essence, your love relationship has a chance to become a vehicle for psychological growth and personality transformation. Couples therapy can help set this process in motion.