Is Your Partner Driving You Crazy?
Why you chose the person who can best create your worst nightmare
Posted December 6, 2015
In this post I want to switch gears from some of the more general reflections on the nature of spirituality and religion, to spirituality as it shows up in everyday life.
I tell people there are three reasons I believe in God: 1) the taste of fresh squeezed orange juice, 2) Yosemite Valley, and 3) the perfection with which couples choose each other. This post will be focusing on #3.
If you think the goal of your marriage is happiness, then you’re going to be expecting your spouse to make you happy and your marriage is going to look like an accounting system: I did this for you so you should do that for me. The thing with such accounting systems is that we always view them through our own egocentric lens, so it always seems as though we’re giving more than we’re receiving because we’re so much more aware of what it takes to do something for another than we are what is involved in someone doing something for us.
If, on the other hand, you view the goal of your marriage as wholeness, then suddenly everything in your marriage becomes an aspect of you becoming a whole person, even when your spouse frustrates you by not giving you what you think you want in the way you think you want to receive it. Or when they push your button in a way that makes you think they are purposely trying to torture you.
Imago theory (Imago is a type of couple’s counseling I practice -- you can learn more about it here: http://gettingtheloveyouwant.com/) posits that we will choose a partner who will trigger a feeling of “familiar love”. This usually means they will remind us of one or both of our parents, in the positive and the negative aspects. If they were only positive reminders, there would be an affinity but no real spark or chemistry. If it was only the negative aspects, we would run for the hills. It’s that perfect combination of the positive and negative from our past they embody that makes us initially drawn to them so powerfully and to feel immediately as if we’ve known them forever. We have!
I believe that we are drawn to such a partner because of our quest for wholeness, because we need to re-experience some of the painful parts of our past in order to work them out in the present. As children, we could not work through many of these issues because we did not understand them well enough and because we were not in an equal power relationship with our parents. But with our partners, we have the capacity with our adult awareness to understand what is getting triggered from our past and to have a different outcome.
Most of us, when our partner acts in ways that trigger old wounds, think our partner needs to stop doing that so we won’t have to feel that pain. I tell my clients to think of their strong reaction as part of a 90/10 formula: 10% of the upset you’re feeling has to do with what your partner did or didn’t do: they forgot your birthday, they spoke sharply in response to a simple question, the hid in their smart phone for two hours when you wanted to talk. But 90% of the charge you feel in response to that action actually comes from your childhood, whether it was feeling neglected, or criticized, or some other painful experience you buried back then but is resurfaced in your present day interaction with your partner.
Next month we’ll take a look at what you can do about this 90%. But for this month, I want to impress upon you the notion that this struggle is not a sign that you picked the wrong person. It’s a sign you chose perfectly, and the process of wholeness has begun.