"You're cheating on me." Emma raised her voice slightly.
Mark looked bemused as she asked "Cheating? Why do you say so?"
"You come home late from work often." Emma responded.
Still unruffled, Mark said, "Yeah, and that's because I work late often."
"I don't believe you. You're not attentive to me and we don't have sex much." Her fair face reddened.
Mark looked annoyed at this point, as he said, "Actually, when I try to get close to you, you're too tired."
"You're always blaming things on me. You're the cheater, not me. You're just like your no-good philandering father who also claimed to work late, but what he was working on was bedding every young gal that crossed his path." Rage registered in her voice and her tight fists.
Finally, Mark's anger showed as he shouted "I can't stand when you insult my father; it's mean. Besides, these accusations have no basis in fact."
Mark was telling the truth; he was not cheating, not then anyhow. But of course, when problems arise in relationships, and partners do not have the skills to resolve them, one person may unconsciously push the other one into having an affair.
And that's exactly what happened. A sensitive, gentle man, Mark nearly keeled over from the emotional blows that Emma dealt him. Feeling unloved, misunderstood, and not trusted, Mark turned to his co-worker Ally. By engaging in an extramarital affair with Ally, Mark unconsciously fulfilled Emma's predictions.
Here was a case of negative fortune telling. By negative fortune telling I am referring to the unconscious interaction in which mirror neurons connect us in harmful self-fulfilling prophesies. If it seems like black magic it is not. Let me reveal the trick.
The motivation for negative fortune telling lies in our need to be seen in the best light. And so if we dislike some of our negative characteristics, we unconsciously disown them but they don't really disappear. We project these unwanted traits onto our partners and with the help of mirror neurons, our partners identify with them and act them out.
The case of Tina and Bob is another example of negative fortune telling. Tina hated her aggressive mean traits and so she disowned them and expected to find them in Bob. She provoked Bob into acting out these traits. Here's how. Tina had a bad habit of talking about Bob's problems to his older brother. Of course, as all good brothers do, Bob's brother confronted him. Bob's ire mounted but he contained it. When Tina came home he exploded, ranted, raved, and hurled mean invectives at Tina. And so, a negative fortune telling event came true. In psychoanalytic circles, this process is known as "projective identification.
A more current explanation is that when you disown your negative traits and desires, you expect to find them in your partner and provoke him or her to enact these negative traits. When your partner acts out your secreted desires, you live vicariously through him or her. In this arrangement, you partner is the culprit and you are innocent; he is the bad one and you are the good. Perhaps it sounds cozy but it is not.
In the case of Emma and Mark, Emma secretly yearned for her next door neighbor, Neil. She got as far as flirting with him, inviting him in for coffee, but when he made a move on her she froze and sent him home. A self-righteous woman, Emma liked to see herself as the above-board, loyal wife; and so she disowned her desires for Neil. But her sexual desires did not disappear. With her nasty behavior, she provoked Mark and unconsciously pushed him right into the arms of another woman. Emma's successful fortune telling ability, unfortunately, played havoc in their relationship. She predicted Mark would cheat and cheat he did. Alas, when she found that her prediction came true she crumbled. The relationship was on the rocks.
The case of Tina and Bob is another example of negative fortune telling. Tina hated her aggressive mean traits and so she disowned them and expected to find them in Bob. She provoked Bob into action out these traits. Here's how. Tina had a bad habit of talking about Bob's problems to his older brother. Of course, as all good brothers do, Bob's brother confronted him. Bob's ire mounted but he contained it. When Tina came home he exploded, ranted, raved, and hurled mean invectives at Tina. And so, a negative fortune telling event came true. In psychoanalytic circles, this process is known as "projective identification.
Although Emma and Tina were successful negative fortune tellers, they were not successful partners in their relationships. Feeling hurt, depressed, and dispirited; they despaired that it was the end of love. But it was not the end of love. It was a beginning, a new way of connecting. By following the prescriptions in my book, Emma and Mark and Tina and Bob are feeling hopeful that with their plastic brains they can change their interactions and find love with each other again.
Like these couples you too can learn about the dangers of negative fortune telling and the steps to relationship renewal. It is all in my new book, The New Science of Love: How Understanding the Brain's Wiring Can Help Rekindle Your Relationship (Sourcebooks, Casablanca, 2011). In this primer on love, you will learn about the power of mirror neurons on your love life, how love comes, goes, and how you can bring it back.