Woody Allen's character said in his movie ANNIE HALL, "I would never join a club that would accept me as a member". Actually Groucho Marx originated that line, but that is beside the point. The point is that this line says a great deal about relationships and self-worth. Why would I join a club if it would accept someone like me? Obviously, it couldn't be much of a club. That is how someone who is shame based would think.
Extending that to real life, it is obvious that if I don't feel good about myself (shame), it is easy to see why I would seek out relationships that would reflect the way I feel about myself. To seek a relationship with someone who values me doesn't make sense. If someone wants me, they either don't know me, or they must not be worth much. If they are worth much, then they likely won't be around long once they find out what I'm really about.
So........the thing that drives relationships is not love, it's about seeking out someone who matches up to how I feel about myself. If I fail to recognize that, then I am at risk of either picking the wrong person or picking the right person and sabotaging it.
Let's look at that more closely and make some sense out of how relationships start and unfortunately often end.
I read the book, THE MIRAGES OF MARRIAGE, shortly after I got out of graduate school. It listed "the myths of marriage" the authors had identified. The first myth was that "people get married because they are in love". The authors maintained that this is a myth. That love is actually a "verb", not a noun. Romantic love (infatuation) develops quickly out of a neurological chemical cocktail that is set off in the brain that turns the pleasure centers on and is fed by newness, sex, and one's need to not be alone. It is a feeling that should not be trusted. This cocktail usually burns out after about 20 months or so. It doesn't need to go away completely, but it loses it's strength neurologically. Unless something else develops, it will be unable to sustain a relationship on it's own--that is where real love comes into play.
Real love is not just a feeling. Chemistry is important, of course. But real love develops out of knowing someone, going through real life with someone, out of enduring challenges and truly getting to know each other. It is about making a commitment and sticking to it. As true trust develops, then we can allow ourselves to be vulnerable which is easier said than done for most of us. The chemical, romantic aspect waxes and wanes over time. This is normal and inevitable and it takes work to maintain it. Kids, stress, work, familiarity......all work against it. But if a couple works at it and sees it as a priority, it can be sustained through the life of the relationship.
Let's look more deeply at this. I used the word vulnerable in the previous paragraph,and this is the issue that puts most relationships at risk. To be vulnerable means being open to getting hurt, rejected, not valued, taken advantage of, and even abused. The problem is that it is simply impossible to experience love without being vulnerable. The minute I love, the minute I allow myself to be loved--I am vulnerable. Then and only then can I be hurt.
The fear of being hurt is a powerful feeling and a common one. The fear of rejection is a powerful force. If one's life experiences are such as to have undermined their sense of worth, their having value, their feeling loved--then the fear of being vulnerable often develops. Risking belief someone could love me stirs primal fear. So what do I do.
People seek out the familiar even if that familiar is negative. Our brains are wired to avoid the unfamiliar. If experiences in being loved are absent or negative, then that person is likely to pursue what is familiar which is disconnection.
Hopefully, you are beginning to see that we are set up neurologically and emotionally to protect ourselves from being hurt and that means avoiding being vulnerable at all cost. Thus, to find someone who treats us the way we feel about ourselves means seeking that which is familiar. Feeling unlovable, one will seek out someone who cannot or is limited in being able to love. Again, that is what is familiar. To have a loving relationship is what is unfamiliar and scary, and leaves one vulnerable. For if I allow myself to believe that someone can and does love me when I have never felt truly lovable, then I can really get hurt. Knowing I will be hurt I choose not to go there. It may be what I need (perhaps desperately) yet it is so scary to go there when one is so convinced it cannot happen. Thus I am at risk to sabatoge..
How might I do that? First, marry someone who is so dysfunctional they are unable to love anyone. That person is actually safe. I may not like the way I'm treated, but that persons behavior allows me not to have to worry about being vulnerable That gives me plenty of rational not to let them in-- not to be vulnerable. If I'm foolish enough to find someone who could love me, then I begin to find fault, be critical of and become intolerant-- then I can justify backing away. Or, I can behave in such a fashion that my partner will want to back away. Either will allow me or my partner to justify that the relationship isn't worth it. This dynamic is truly the number one reason for divorce.
My next writing will address how to avoid this trap. So often we marry the right person for the wrong reasons. If we can figure out the real reasons we were attracted to each other, then we can work that out and realize that in fact my partner is the right person for me.