No matter what you do, do you keep ending up in the same type of relationship? Even when you think you are falling in love with a completely different kind of person, do they turn out being the same as all the others? Are you the victim of some kind of recurring bad luck or is there some other explanation for why this pattern keeps repeating itself in your life?
We end up in the same unsatisfying relationships because, no matter how unhappy we may be, they are what we are conditioned to expect. Our interpersonal skills were developed in the psychological environment that we grew up in. As children, we acclimated to the ways that we were treated and responded to in our families. Even if our parents were generally loving, the subtle or incidental times that they were critical or irritable or insensitive effected us, making deep impressions in our psyches and leaving us with unfavorable attitudes toward ourselves.
We enter adulthood programmed to relate to the world at large just as we related in our original families. So when the treatment that we received in our childhoods was bad, that is the treatment we seek today. Even though we are able to adjusted to new people and to kinder treatment, when it comes to our most intimate relationships, we revert to our old conditioned responses. We are unequipped to be loved more deeply and completely than we were in childhood. It is difficult for us to accept feelings that are not familiar to us, to tolerate treatment that conflicts with our past experiences.
When we fall in love with someone who is different from the people we grew up with, the style of interacting that worked for us back then is not appropriate to this new way of being loved. We are conflicted: torn between existing in an old reality that is familiar and a new one that is foreign. The new view is incompatible with our belief that people don’t really love us and that we are not lovable. The disparity arouses psychological tension and emotional anxiety in us.
This is where we usually get in trouble. Instead of adjusting to the new positive emotional environment, we try to readjust our current circumstances to recreate the early environment that we are accustomed to. There are three ways that we typically go about accomplishing this.
The easiest way to duplicate the emotional climate that we grew up in is to pick a partner who is similar to significant people in our past. This person will relate to us in the same way we were related to when we were young, therefore our style of relating will still be appropriate in the new relationship. Same old emotional environment, same old way of relating…that means no discrepancy and no anxiety or tension.
*Have you selected a mate who has some of the same qualities as family members or other significant people in your past?
*If so, are you relating to your partner in the same way you did in your family as a child?
If we choose a partner who is different from the people in our past, we can erase that difference and duplicate our childhood by distorting our partner. We misperceive them as similar to someone in our past. We actually project qualities from the childhood person onto our current-day partner. We misread their expressions and imagine that they are critical or angry when they are not. We misinterpret their actions and believe that they are rejecting and no longer love us when they do. Eventually, these distortions take over and become the way that we believe our partners to be.
*Does your mate remind you more and more of someone in your past who you disliked?
*If so, you may be distorting your partner and seeing them in ways that are not accurate.
*Could you be projecting qualities onto your partner from someone in your childhood?
As a last resort, when selection and distortion have failed to duplicate the environment of our childhood, we resort to provocation. We try to provoke our partner into treating us the same way we were originally treated. In other words, we try to turn our partner into someone from our past. We manipulate them into being someone they are not so that we can feel more comfortable with them…more compatible, but in the worst way. If we were treated with hostility as a child, we get our partner to be angry and hostile toward us. If we were treated with insensitivity and indifference, we get our partner to ignore and disregard us. If we were treated with disapproval and criticism, we get our partner to belittle and denigrate us.
*Is your partner acting in ways that seem out of character for them?
*Does this behavior remind you of ways an unloving person acted toward you as a child?
*How have you been acting with your partner lately? You may be provoking your partner to reenact ways that someone in your past acted toward you.