There are ways to uncover how and why a genuinely loving relationship can forego passion for routine. How often do we find ourselves going from a vital sense of love for another person to a weighted feeling of complacency or dissatisfaction? Why does this occur? Is it something in us or is it the person we chose?
“Most people have fears of intimacy and are self-protective and at the same time are terrified of being alone. Their solution to their emotional dilemma is to form a fantasy bond. This illusion of connection and closeness allows them to maintain an imagination of love and loving while preserving emotional distance,” wrote psychologist and author of The Fantasy Bond, Dr. Robert Firestone on his PsychAlive blog.
What is a Fantasy Bond?
The fantasy bond exists when the reality of a deep, loving feeling is replaced by a more robotic form of going through the motions of an intimate relationship. Many factors including childhood experiences, the repeating of past patterns and a fear of being alone can drive people to a fantasy bond.
As children, one of the primary ways that we adapted during those times when we were hurting or lonely was to form an imagination that we were loved. In a sense, we fantasized that we were with someone who loved us and would never leave us. This adaptation, the fantasy bond, happens at such an early age that it is basically an unconscious process. Nonetheless, it is still operating in most of us even though we have grown up and are no longer suffering from the pains of childhood.
Today it shows up in our close relationships. When love between two people grows deeper, it becomes more frightening. In the beginning, we enjoy being in love but as the relationship becomes more intimate and more important to us, we start to feel vulnerable. Not only are we then far more susceptible to loss and hurt, but we are now being seen as truly lovable by someone else. This new identity might challenge an old self-image, which although we might not like, has become comfortable to us over the years. In an effort to preserve this identity and protect ourselves from potentially painful outcomes, people are often willing to sacrifice a meaningful relationship in favor of a more routine, less vulnerable existence. This is the point at which we often revert to the fantasy bond. In the place of our real feelings of love, we substitute a fantasy of being in love. We have gone from being vulnerable and relating with another person to being safely involved in an inward process that excludes anyone else.
So, how can you tell if you have a fantasy bond? It’s difficult because it is largely an unconscious process. But the fantasy bond brings about specific changes in a relationship, so you and your partner can be alert to those changes and identify them as symptoms that indicate you have formed a fantasy bond.
For one thing, symptoms of a fantasy bond often begin to appear following significant events that indicate the seriousness of a relationship. Living together, marriage and starting a family all signify a commitment that is an expression of two people’s love for each other. It is the depth of the love that is being expressed with these events that often causes us to retreat and form a fantasy bond. So even though you would expect to be thrilled by such wonderful changes in your life, this is a good time to be on the look out for signs of a fantasy bond.
Symptoms that indicate you and your partner are relating less
Since the fantasy bond takes the place of genuine relating with your partner, look for indications that you are relating less than before. Even if you are spending the same amount of time together, has the quality of the time changed? How much of that time is spent actually sharing life, enjoying each other’s company and feeling close?
Less eye contact
Eye contact is an important form of relating with another person. One of the most compelling signs that two people are in love is the amount of eye contact they make. Are you and your partner making less and less eye contact over time? Do you look into each other’s eyes when you are talking or do you just talk at each other?
Deterioration in communication
Almost everyone who has fallen in love reports: “When we first met we stayed up all night talking…we had so much to talk about.” Has your communication with your partner deteriorated into small talk, superficial chit-chat or practical conversations? Has it been a long time since you have taken the time to speak personally to each other?
Less affection and more impersonal lovemaking
When two people fall in love they can hardly keep their hands off each other. They love being affectionate. This shows up in the playfulness of their casual contact as well as in the tenderness and intimacy of their lovemaking. Are you and your partner less affectionate? Are you as intimate and tender in your lovemaking as you used to be?
Symptoms that indicate you and your partner are relating as a unit in a ‘Fantasy Bond’
Since the fantasy bond gives you the illusion that you and your partner are one, look for indications that you are relating as a unit, not as separate individuals.
Loss of independence
When two people fall in love, they experience themselves and each other as separate individuals with distinct identities, independent ideas, unique interests and different friends. The individuality of your partner is probably what drew you to them in the first place. The more you surrender that separate identity, the more that feeling of appreciation will dissipate. Have you given up any important interests since becoming involved in your relationship? Have you given up any meaningful friendships since becoming involved in your relationship?
Speaking as one person
One of the most obvious signs that a couple has merged their identities is when they speak as a unit. Do you and your partner speak as “we”? Do you complete each other’s sentences? Do you speak for each other? When someone is addressing your partner, do you step in and answer?
When a passionate relationship becomes less exciting and the lovemaking becomes routine, most people say that this is just what happens over time. But it isn’t; what has happened is that the partners have taken each other for granted. When two people develop a fantasy bond and view each other as extensions of themselves, they kill the excitement between them. Has your lovemaking become less passionate and mechanical? Has your lovemaking become routine? At the same time, in the same place, involving the same actions?
Symptoms that indicate that form has replaced the substance of real relating and closeness in your relationship
In a fantasy bond, fantasy takes the place of reality. Props that support the fantasy of closeness take the place of real relating. The form of a relationship is substituted for the substance of a relationship. Look for ways that you are using props to support your fantasy bond. Look for ways that form has replaced the substance of real relating and closeness in your relationship.
Utilizing everyday routines as symbols of closeness
Everyday routines can easily be used as props to support your fantasy bond. Are there certain activities that you and your partner originally enjoyed that have become routines that now only symbolize closeness? Do you go to movies together the same evening every week? Do you always go to the same restaurant when you go out to dinner? Do you go to bed at the same time every night?…with the same TV show on?
Utilizing role-determined behaviors as props in a fantasy bond
Many couples turn to role-determined behaviors as symbols of closeness in their relationship. These behaviors can be as simple and ordinary as the man opening the door for the woman or the woman tidying up after the man. They can include the man handling the practical affairs and the woman dealing with the emotional issues. They can go on to involve the man being the breadwinner and the woman being the caretaker. Do any of your behaviors relate more to the role of being in love than to actual loving behavior? Do any of your mate’s behaviors relate more to a role of being in love than to the actual act of being in love?
Utilizing customs and conventional responses as substitutes for real closeness
Society has provided us with many opportunities that we can use to strengthen the form of a relationship rather than the substance. Some examples of these are Christmas, Hanukkah, birthdays and anniversaries. These are occasions when we are called upon to offer symbols of our love, regardless of how we are feeling in our relationship at the moment. Are you using any of these conventional occasions as symbols of a relationship in the place of expressing real closeness at those times that you feel it? Is your partner using any of these conventional occasions as symbols of a relationship in the place of expressing real closeness at those times that you feel it?
However, if we can identify the patterns of behavior we act out in place of real acts of love, we can better understand whether we are in a fantasy bond with our partners. The following are some means of identifying these behaviors. Once we identify them, we can better understand the nature of our relationship: why did we choose who we chose and are they the highest level choice for us? We can then begin to examine the source of our defenses against intimacy, challenge destructive behaviors and enjoy a closer, more meaningful relationship.
Learn how to break free from a Fantasy Bond in our eCourse, The Fantasy Bond: The Key to Understanding Yourself and Your Relationships