The first time you met can serve as a prism through which to view the entirety of your relationship.

Tuesday 18th of June 2024

The first time you met can serve as a prism through which to view the entirety of your relationship.

File photo

 

 


Many people act like it is a surprise that their partner turned out to hate sex or be emotionally avoidant or anything else, but this is decidedly not the case.

From the very first moment you felt attracted to your spouse, you can generally see what the dynamic and major issues will be.

Understanding why you were originally drawn to your spouse can help a great deal with accepting them for what they are and always were. 

 

 

According to the imago theory, which I espouse as a very useful theory to understand relationships, you are attracted to someone that feels familiar to you. 

When couples counselling clients describe to me the moment that they first were attracted to their spouse, this very first meeting (or often, not the first meeting itself, but a later one) contains all the seeds to understand what the eventual dynamic will be.

Here are some examples:

1. The martyr

A woman remembers first noticing her now-husband in a college math class when he joked with a friend about not being able to understand the classwork.

She offered to help him, and these “study” sessions, where she ended up doing his homework for him, were the setting for her falling in love with him.

Later in the marriage, she is upset that he “can’t do anything for himself.” She finds herself in the “martyr” role like her mom.

2. The enabler 

A man first fell for his girlfriend when she was doing shots at the bar.

Although he rarely drank himself because his dad was an alcoholic, he was at the bar with friends and immediately was attracted to her, out of all her equally pretty friends who were drinking less.

 

Later in their relationship, he ends up enabling and caring for her as he saw his mom do for his dad, and grows similarly resentful.

 

3. The pursuer-distancer dynamic

A man falls for the only woman in his graduate seminar that doesn’t seem impressed by his witticisms during class.

Later, he finds himself locked in a pursuer-distancer dynamic where he is always trying and failing to impress her — much like he always felt around his reserved, cold dad.

4. The critic

A woman never really noticed her friend’s brother until the day that he teased her about not knowing how to drive well as she pulled up their driveway.

Her dad always criticized her driving as well, which she humorously commented on at the time.

Later on, when they are married with children, she is increasingly upset by how critical he is of her parenting.

She recognizes this dynamic from how her dad talked down to her mother throughout her childhood.

5. The low-intimacy relationship

A man’s girlfriend tells him that he is “too much” and “a wild animal” when protesting that having sex three times a week is excessive for her.

He feels very manly because he was always worried about his inexperience being an issue with women, but here he has found one who is overwhelmed by his virility.

It is after one of these protestations that he feels a welling up of love and protectiveness and tells her he loves her for the first time.

This marriage becomes low-intimacy within the first year.

In all of these examples, which are fictional but along the lines of ones I’ve heard in sessions, the very earliest encounter when you felt very attracted to a partner is a microcosm of what the overall dynamic will be later on.

When we fall in love (or infatuation), it is with someone who feels familiar to us, and this is because of the dynamics we saw in our homes growing up.

When someone treats us how a parent treated us or how our parents treated one another, this makes us feel deeply connected to this person, for better or for worse.

If you have complained about how much your partner has “changed” after marriage, you certainly have a point because neither of you is “drunk” on new love energy anymore.

However, you are likely underestimating how much they have been exactly the same person all along.

You are in fact blaming them for being who they always were… and who you were attracted to, given your own unexplored assumptions/expectations from your upbringing.

 

Therapy can be transformative in allowing people to finally gain an objective understanding of what attracted them to their partner from their very earliest encounters.

This can make sense of what confuses many, which is why you were drawn to someone who is now making you unhappy.

Seeing your own contribution to the dynamic, which replicates patterns that were deeply familiar to you, is the only way to begin to change these relationships into healthier ones.

Many people are only able to do this after it’s too late, but individual and/or couples counselling can help couples recognize their unhealthy patterns and change them for the better, thus creating new positive dynamics for their children to emulate in their own adult relationships!


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