The process of projection in a relationship is not always one-sided. Things can get complicated when both partners are mutually engaged in this process – and this is a common occurrence. It becomes difficult for the partners to see where the problem lies. Take a look at the following example.
An Example – Chris and Pat
Chris grew up in a household where the parents were emotionally withholding. Affection was seldom expressed toward Chris and the other siblings, although material needs were always provided. Chris always searched for nurturance, love and support, the things that were never provided in the household – and harbored some anger that the kids were never given these things. Of course, this anger was never expressed, for fear that it would lead toward even more emotional deprivation.
Pat, on the other hand, had two very controlling parents. It was hard to experience independence during childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, and this led to hidden resentment that could never be expressed.
When Pat and Chris first got together, they both felt liberated, as if all of their dreams and hopes for a relationship could be met in the other person. Chris saw in Pat a person who appreciated freedom and was genuine, affectionate, and willing to give love and emotional support. Similarly, Pat saw in Chris someone who valued love, trust, and respect for personal integrity. Their first year or two together were the happy times.
Over time, however, Chris’s resentment, harbored since childhood and never resolved, became attached to Pat. Rather than seeing all the positive qualities in Pat that formed the basis of the initial attraction, Chris focused negatively on Pat’s need for independence and not being at home enough. Pat is accused of always being out with friends and finding the job more important than the relationship.
Pat, on the other hand, sees Chris’s demands to be at home more often as control, the same thing that caused such resentment during Pat’s childhood. Rather than focus on Chris’s more positive qualities of love and trust, Pat accuses Chris of acting like a parent who would not allow independence.
The couple is at an impasse. Chris accuses Pat of emotional withdrawal. Pat blames Chris for being controlling. They aren’t able to see their way out of their dilemma until they start to work with a therapist who is able to clarify the patterns. And for this couple – with some exploration, courage, and insight, there is hope.
Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D., LMFT