Being in a romantic relationship involves a process of disillusionment. Falling in love is a mechanism that enables people to take the step of committing themselves to a relationship with another person. While there are real aspects of the other that we fall in love with, there is also a certain degree of illusion, because these real aspects are amplified, while other less attractive aspects are ignored. For many couples, ‘being in love’ is a temporary abandonment to fantasy, and when reality kicks in, it can feel terribly spoiling. We may feel that it is unfair that the initial attraction is not enough for our relationship to last and that we have to work hard at it. Sometimes we commit to a relationship to make the nice initial euphoric feeling permanent. We imagine that the relationship will help us to make that initial magical joy last, but when the romantic view shift to its realistic aspects, bringing awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us, then we may experience relationship problems. This romantic view is deep in our psyche. Being part of an adult couple involves an intimate connection with another human being. A connection that recalls the one we had as babies, when we felt an exclusive, magical relationship with our mother (or a significant other), in which our needs were met, until the reality of the outside world had to be faced. Throughout adulthood, we might yearn (often subconsciously) for the intimate connection with our partner to be like this. So, for example we may expect from our partner to meet all our needs, a perfect harmony, agreement, someone who takes care of our happiness and so on. And when our partner, predictably, fail to meet all these expectations, then we feel let down and we may go through a couple crisis.
So, what can we do when disillusionment is the cause of our relationship problems?
If you feel you may have an idealistic image about your partner, then this is a significant step forward, because you are aware of it. You may also be aware that trying to live up to the partner’s phantasy can be exhausting and often counterproductive. However, sometimes this phantasy is so deeply embedded in us, that it takes the form of a deep unconscious belief about how the relationship ‘should be’. In this case the help of a professional expert in couple counselling can be particularly beneficial, as they can enable the realisation that this belief is just a belief, not a fact. Once you get hold of the unconscious belief that is operating in your relationship, then you can open up the possibility of thinking about it with your partner and as a result your relational dynamics can improve. Remember, for any couple to be healthy it is necessary to go through a change to something more reality based. When this happens, the other is freed from the partner’s phantasies and allowed to be more of their real self. This is not always an easy process, it can bring surprises and challenges, but it can also be potentially deeply gratifying for the couple and help you move far away from that paralysing force that the initial disillusionment brought along in your relationship.
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- Cleavely E. (1993). Relationship: interaction, defences and transformation. In: Ruszczynski S (ed). Psychotherapy with couples: theory and practice at the Institute of Marital studies. London: Karnac; 55–69.
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- Berenstein I. (2012). Vinculo as a relationship between others. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly; 81: 565–577.