Ralph Butcher, MFT | Blog
The 3 P's of Partner Selection
Have you ever wondered why your partner seems to want to pick a fight with you? Have you ever heard your partner describe you in a particular way; a way that doesn’t match what you know about yourself? Are you confused by these behaviors? Well, you are likely one of millions of people who encounter these behaviors on a regular basis. Welcome to the “Three-P’s” of partner selection.

In Imago Relationship Theory we believe that we Pick a partner who is a match for us based on our childhood experiences. The person we Pick has to pass through a series of filters in our unconscious brain before we will see them as a suitable relationship partner. We will talk about these filters in an upcoming blog. If you Pick a partner who is a close enough match to your childhood experience, you may not need to use the following Two-P’s.

What if your partner is a fairly close match to your childhood experiences, however there are some missing elements. For example, what if you had an angry or explosive father and your current partner is just a little bit too mellow. You unconscious brain will get busy and Provoke your partner into acting like the dad you remember. You know your partner well enough to know which buttons to push to get the reaction you remember from childhood.

Another tactic that is a favorite of the unconscious brain is to Project an image onto your partner. The image that you are Projecting onto them may not be who they really are, but you need to see them that way so they match your memory of the past. And in extreme cases, your partner (the receiver of the Projection), may give up trying to convince you that this is a distorted image and will act out and become the Projection.

Why do we go to these extremes? The answer is that we need to recreate our childhood experiences with our current partner so our current environment will feel a lot like our original environment with our parents, in the hope that we get a second chance to complete the task of growing up. We all experienced some level of childhood wounding, which interrupted the process of developing and mastering tasks. Then, we search for a partner who is similar to our original family structure, so the unconscious brain will recognize the familiar system and pick-up where it left off, meaning to continue the growing up process.

Just know that the unconscious mind is only concerned about two things: growth and healing. And while it is romantic to believe that we choose a partner based on the desires of our conscious mind (to be happy and to feel good), the directive of the unconscious mind wins every time. And if we follow the directive of the unconscious mind, meaning we work with our partner to grow and heal, the conscious mind will feel good and become happy.

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The Frozen Image
Have you ever found yourself frustrating over your partner’s behaviors? Do you catch yourself using words like “You always...” and “You never...” to let your partner know you don’t appreciate the way they are behaving? You may even wonder where these behaviors came from because you certainly didn’t notice them in the first few years of your relationship. You tell yourself that he or she has “changed” because you wouldn’t have been attracted to your partner had they been that way all along. You begin to believe that they are the cause of your relationship struggles. And now you feel stuck.

Chances are that most couples reading these words resonate with this experience. The irony here is that when people use words like “You always” and “You never,” you are freezing your partner in the very behaviors that you want them to change. Consider this scenario: you want your partner to come home on time; they do their best and come home early on four days, and the fifth day they are ten minutes late; and you tell your partner, “You’re never on time, you’re always late!” If your partner heard statements like this over and over again, especially when they were trying to be on time, they would probably begin to lose their energy to try.

So why would anyone freeze their partner in the very behavior they wanted them to change? As Imago Relationship Therapists we believe the answer to that question is the following: “If I freeze you in that image, then I know how to be with you.”

We have discovered that most people will freeze their partner in an image, even if it is annoying, because they have developed a set of skills in childhood to cope with someone in that image. So if your partner were to change, that would be terrifying because you fear you don’t have the skills to be in relationship with them then. It becomes a strange and surreal dance; you complain that your partner behaves a certain way and yet feel terrified that they will change.

The solution to this struggle is straightforward: mirror your partner using the Imago Dialogue process. When you mirror your partner you will get to know them in a different way. You will begin to see them for who they really are, and during the process, you will learn a new set of skills of how to be with them as they emerge. As parents, the greatest gift we can give our children is to mirror them into existence. It makes sense that our partner would need the same gift from us since they may not have received this gift in childhood. Mirroring your partner, giving them their words back in dialogue, will provide the safety needed for your partner to emerge and be seen by you. And along with that process, a blueprint will also emerge on how to now be with him or her. The frozen image of your partner that you have held for so long will thaw. You will be able to let go of the old skills that you held onto for so many years that kept you safe in your previous relationships, but are likely limiting your relationship today.

Are you ready for a change? Are you ready to let go of the old image? We will be happy to coach you through the process.

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