“Sometimes I just feel like smacking you in the head over and over again.”
Who do you think said that to me? If you thought my girlfriend, you thought right.
Can’t live with them, can’t live without them, am I right girls and guys? If you feel the same way about your partner, you’re certainly not alone.
And there’s a reason for that.
Misery loves company
We like to think that we seek relationships with people who make us happy, but the whole truth may be a lot stranger than that.
According to psychologists, we instinctively gravitate to potential partners who we think will make us miserable. I know that sounds ridiculous, but let me explain.
It all begins with our parents, from whom we first experience and learn about love and human interaction. Everything we do later in our lives in pursuit or service of love, is influenced in some way by our understanding of human relationships that we first learned from our parents in childhood.
In many ways, the love we seek as adults is actually driven by a search for the rediscovery of love we felt from our parents as children, a sort of quest for that lost paradise of childhood. Our parents made us feel loved during our developmental years, so we long to feel loved again as adults.
That all sounds fine and dandy, but the problem is that parent-child relationships are often far more complicated.
As most of us know, no parent is perfect, and the process of parenting always involves emotions other than love. In order to be perceived as attractive, a potential partner must often display a capacity to reconnect us with our childhood feelings – all of them.
These can include feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, anxiety, and yes, anger.
If your parents were overly critical and distant, you might find yourself attracted to people with similar qualities, people who constantly deny you the approval and absolution you seek. If your parents were overly submissive, you might seek partners who frustrate you with their lack of initiative or assertiveness.
In finding love, we often end up choosing partners who allow us to suffer in the ways we need to suffer, in order to relive the dynamics of our childhood that we innately associate with “true” love.
In some cases, the parent-child relationship doesn’t always manifest in our choosing partners with similar flaws as our parents. Occasionally, we take on the role of our flawed parent, and act out the same dynamic with our partner, with him/her on the receiving end of our parent’s failings.
We might constantly put our partners down or leave them uncertain of where they stand in the relationship. We might compare them to others or complain constantly about their shortcomings
Either way, in our relationships, we seem doomed to seeking out the fault of our parents in our partners, or to act out these faults with our partners. Such relationship dynamics are, of course, unhealthy, but oftentimes unavoidable.
The cruel and slightly hilarious irony of all this is that we end up being attracted to the kinds of relationships that our upbringings leave us most woefully ill-equipped for. Those of us who are attracted to mysterious, distant individuals, are the ones least able to deal with the long silences and feelings of separation. Those of us drawn to strong-willed, agonistic partners, are the ones whose parental abuse leave us afraid of and unwilling to deal with confrontation. The failings that most draw us in, are precisely the ones that we are least able to handle.
Love amidst hate
But wait, before you pick up your phone to break up with your partner, know that there is still hope. Thankfully, just being aware of all this can be the first step to a healthier, happier relationship.
These vestigial ties to our unhealthy childhood relationships lie hidden below the surface, but knowing about them allows us to yank them out of our subconscious mind, and into our waking consciousness.
By knowing about the troubling dynamics that drive your infuriating relationship with your partner, you can learn to break these habits, and steer your relationship in the direction you wish through present self-correction.
If you’re acting out at your partner in the same ways your parents acted towards you, try putting your partner in the shoes of childhood you. How did you feel? How did you wish your parents would have treated you instead? Now, in a peculiar way, you have the power to correct the past failings of your parents. Resist the urge to be judgemental or to make an unnecessary point. Ditch the silent treatment and passive aggression. Be a nicer version of your flawed parent.
If you’re finding negative traits of your parents in your partner, imagine yourself as a person with, well, better parents. In dealing with the same frustrations that your parents put you through, try imagining how a mature person without the same issues as you would deal with them. Resist the urge to fight against your partner the way you wish childhood you had fought back against your parents. Be the person you wish to be, not the person your parents raised.
Perhaps the way to a better relationship lies in recognizing its connections to the troubles of our past, and accepting that we’re with our partners not just in spite of their shortcomings, but because of them.