Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

What Hidden Agenda Are You Bringing Into Your Relationship?

Don't set yourself up for disappointment.

Chad had all of the features that were on Miranda’s perfect partner checklist: He was intelligent, good-looking, financially fit, athletic, and loved kids and cats. So why then, she wondered did she always feel like there was something missing or not quite right between then. She often felt that he was trying to control or manipulate her, even though when she confronted him with her feelings, he insisted that he wanted her to be free to make her own choices and do what she felt was right for her. While Chad sounded sincere, Miranda never felt that she could really trust his words and she had a large collection of “evidence” that she had gathered over the three years that they had been together that in her mind “proved” that he was determined to direct her life. When Chad suggested that they move in together, she became so fearful of the possibility of losing control of her life that she insisted that they would need to get counseling together before she could feel sufficiently trusting that her fears would not become a reality. Chad agreed and reassured her that he had no intention of trying to pressure her into doing anything against her will.

Chad: “I told Miranda that I wasn’t interested in making her into someone other than who she is, but she continued to be suspicious of me. She needed a lot of reassurance that I wasn’t going to put a collar around her neck and put her on a leash like a pet. I asked her to give me a chance to show her that I wasn’t a controlling guy.

Miranda: Part of me really wanted to move in with Chad, but I’ve always been sensitive to issues of control and another part was terrified of giving up control over my own life. I had spent a lot of my life feeling like I wasn’t in charge of my decisions, but my parents were. I wanted Chad to not only take away my fear of being controlled but also make up for all those years in which I had to be the perfect child. My parents had such rigid expectations of me that I was in a constant state of tension. I couldn’t make a wrong move, get my clothes dirty, speak too loudly, or get anything less than straight A’s in school.

Through Chad’s support, I’ve come to realize that I had been holding some very big and unrealistic expectations of him that were impossible for him or anyone to fulfill, and I was disappointed and angry that he wasn’t fulfilling them. I had hoped that Chad would take away my fear and all that distress that I had been carrying for years from my suffocating childhood. And there were and still are many things that he can do and does, like having us both be included in our important decisions and asking my opinion about things rather than just acting unilaterally without consulting me. The evidence was coming in, but I was still so scared. It finally dawned on me that it wasn’t up to Chad to take away my fear of losing my freedom and being controlled. It was up to me to draw my boundaries clearly, and to learn how to relax them from time to time so that I wouldn’t turn into a hyper-controller myself.

Chad: I couldn’t rescue Miranda from having grown up so straight-jacketed in her childhood, but I could and wanted to support her to find out who she is and to live from that truth. I give her a high five when she takes some chances, tries new things, or sticks up for herself when she and I don’t see things eye to eye. I really want her to feel that she can do things her own way and that when she does, I don’t love her any less.

Miranda: Chad didn’t rescue me from the old pain that I brought into this relationship; but he did show up with love and support while I figured out how to live my life more in accordance with my own script and that has made all the difference in the world.

To the degree that early unhealed wounds and unmet childhood needs are carried into adulthood we may see our partner as having the power, even the responsibility to rescue us from the residual pain from these experiences by providing us with the kind of love that we had never received. What we deeply desire is love that is healing, affirming, redemptive, and unconditionally accepting. In short, salvation. Not only is this expectation unrealistic, it’s unattainable. Still, the desire for love can be so compelling that it frequently blinds us to this reality.

When we feel ourselves to be incomplete or lacking a sense of wholeness, we often seek out others to fill our emptiness, someone who seems to possess the power to restore us to wholeness. Generally such a person embodies inner qualities, character traits and ways of being that are similar to those of one or both of our parents or caregivers. This sense of familiarity is one of the things that make this person attractive to us.

Such a person often inflames the desire for redemptive love, the kind of love that can heal our hearts and souls. When we are redeemed, we feel “right” with ourselves and relieved of feelings of unworthiness, doubt, anxiety and shame. “This time,” we tell ourselves, “this person will love me in the way I really need and deserve to be loved, and their love will remove the pain and suffering from my life.”

This then is the redemptive longing; the hope of being saved once and for all from the suffering inherent in a life in which we feel ourselves to be undeserving of love. When we fail to recognize the illusory nature of this expectation, relationships that began with dreams of divine bliss, can deteriorate into unrelenting frustration, and the person whom we had hoped would be our salvation becomes the source of more emotional pain.

It’s in our ability to see the true source of our attraction and attractiveness to others that we can begin the real healing work that can free us from relational patterns that no longer serve us. With this awareness we can learn how to put out the fires of suffering at their source. When we do this we diminish the inclination to compromise ourselves in order to gain love and acceptance from others. Looking for wholeness and security through another is like seeking relief of a toothache from a painkiller. There's nothing wrong with doing it and it will temporarily alleviate the pain, but it is not an effective long-term solution.

When the source of the problem has to do with an unwillingness to honestly face ourselves, the solution involves the ability to remember (literally, to put back together again) our essential selves and claim all of the parts that comprise the fullness of our being, including those parts that are in need of attention and healing.

This doesn’t necessarily require us to reveal our deepest darkest secrets to the world, but simply to honestly acknowledge and experience the truth to ourselves. In so doing, those aspects of our personality that we have tried to conceal gradually become exposed to the light of awareness and compassion. This process of gradual awakening is the essence of the work that over time will set us free. And freedom, isn’t just having nothing left to lose, it’s the foundation of fulfilling relationships and fulfilling lives.

advertisement