One thing I try to remember to say up front to the couples I work with is, "Love brings up everything unlike itself, so that we can heal it." This came from a quote I heard from Sondra Ray, via the late Geoffrey Karen Dior.
Let's take that a segment at a time. First,
Love brings up everything unlike itself...
This means that love (and actually, connection or human interaction of any kind, but especially love) draws forth the unhealed parts of ourselves--the parts that do not feel loved. Maybe we are abused, and feel afraid of, or unsafe with, our partner. Maybe we were neglected, and feel alone, even when our partner is truly there for us.
Perhaps we were ridiculed, and feel protective or defensive around our partner. We might even pick people who have these same characteristics, because those unhealed parts of ourselves find them so familiar. Even if our partner were perfect, however, we may still experience them through the lens of our unhealed wounds.
To those young, unhealed parts of us. love represents the attention and spaciousness necessary to finally heal those parts. Only we probably don't recognize it as such--the inner dialogue can go something like this:
1. Someone is paying attention to me
2. The message kicks in, consciously or not, "I am not safe/worthy/comfortable receiving this loving attention," or "I cannot trust this"
3. So I push the person away, or throw a wrench into our flow, rather than settling in, receiving the love, and allowing the connection to take deeper root
Harville Hendrix, author of Getting the Love You Want, and Keeping the Love You Find says that we unconsciously pick "Imago" partners, those who embody the best and worst traits of our caretakers. I have seen this some of the time, and, what I also see is people experiencing their partner's words and actions through an Imago lens, even if the partner does not resemble their caretakers in the least. Knowing that we do this helps us to get a bit of distance...
...so that we can heal it.
This means that, through an attentive, loving partner, we have the opportunity, if both partners are willing, to create space within the relationship for the young, unhealed parts to come forward. We can also do individual work, on our own, using the relationship as fodder to work with a counselor on what comes up for us within the relationship.
The reason I talk with couples about this philosophy up front is that if we're all on board with this same reality, we can treat difficulties (excluding out-and-out safety threats) in the relationship as opportunities to grow and deepen, instead of taking them at face value, or creating stories that something "is wrong."
Again, that line is,
Love brings up everything unlike itself, so that we can heal it.
Have you ever approached a relationship this way? Are you willing to try it? If so, please let me know how it goes!