Our relationships with our partners are colored by our own personal legacies. We often react to our partners as if they were someone else – and most of the time this causes conflict in the relationship. After all, when we entered into a primary relationship we expected love, nurturance, and validation just for being who we are. A relationship, we usually imagine, should provide a safe zone where our partners cherish us for expressing our own unique qualities. This is a simple expectation. Why, then, does it seem so hard to achieve?
How we perceive our partners is influenced by how we learned to deal with other people in the past. This process can go back into early childhood, even to infancy. Indeed, our earliest primary attachment to a caretaker – a mother, a father, or another adult – can have an effect on how we deal with other people for the rest of our lives. For example, if our earliest experiences taught us to trust in the world, then we are likely, barring any other event that leads to distrust, to take a trusting attitude toward people throughout our lives. Conversely, if a child is never shown love during the earliest stages of life, it may be a challenge during adulthood to learn how to experience love. Early experiences from childhood can have a powerful effect later on. (This is a strong argument for treating children well.)
Children experience both good and bad in the world. Plenty of good experiences, like love and trust, feel comfortable, and produce a positive self-image in children – a positive way of defining themselves. The bad experiences, though, create feelings of conflict and frustration. These negative experiences also go into the self-definition that the child is developing. But they don’t feel compatible with the more positive feelings, so, according to one theory, the child projects them onto somebody else. (Projection means finding in someone else the qualities that you don’t want to accept within yourself – like blaming your partner for being controlling when you are the one who has the tendency to want to control.)
Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D., LMFT
San Diego Couples and Family Therapy serves the surrounding areas of Sorrento Valley Road as La Jolla, UTC San Diego, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Poway, University City and Escondido.