In The Development of Personality, Carl Jung writes that, “…it is the strength of the bond to the parents that unconsciously influences the choice of husband or wife, either positively or negatively.” As my own divorce drama unfolded many years ago, it became clear to me that there were deeper issues between my husband and me than appeared on the surface. As I began to read literature which echoed Jung’s premise that our choice of romantic partners is directly influenced by our past experiences with our parents or primary caretakers, I realized the tremendous influence our upbringing has on our adult relationships.
Romantic love has been studied from several perspectives, resulting in a deeper understanding of human relationships. In his book, Getting the Love You Want, Harville Hendrix presents three of these perspectives–the bio-logic, social-exchange, and persona theories:
The bio-logic theory is that there is a biological basis for romance. This evolutionary premise is that we instinctively choose mates who will ensure the survival of the species; for example, men with overt alpha characteristics–domination of other males–and women whose vitality and health indicate a woman at the height of her childbearing years.
The social-exchange theory is based on the idea that we choose mates whom we see as our equals. According to this school of thought, we conduct an evaluation of a prospective partner which is more involved than that of the bio-logic model. Not only do we evaluate a person’s youth and social status, but other qualities such as their creativity, intelligence, humor, and kindness.
The basis of the persona theory is that our mate is determined by the degree to which he or she raises our self-esteem. Many of us have felt pride and perhaps some embarrassment because of the way we believe our partners are perceived by other people.
While these three premises provide partial understanding about the mysteries of attraction, there are questions which these theories don’t address. For example, to what can we attribute feelings toward our partners that are emotionally overpowering? And why do we often react so strongly to the demise of a relationship? Based on these three theories, a logical reaction to a romantic break-up might be to simply re-enter the process of finding a new mate. They don’t account for the intensity of emotion we commonly experience.
There are few situations which provoke childhood wounds more powerfully than a relationship with a partner. These old wounds often appear as jealousy, anger, withdrawal, or fear. In an attempt to avoid the pain we believe our partner is causing, we may terminate the relationship. This is often a missed opportunity. If those closest to us invoke that which needs healing inside of us, withdrawing from them is not necessarily the best choice. Instead, we can turn our attention inward and begin to observe ourselves–and the origin of our wounds–and use our new awareness to make more conscious choices in our relationships. It is important to note, however, that if a damaged relationship is to be salvaged, it requires the willingness of both partners to engage in their own healing process. If one of the partners is unwilling to explore and challenge old destructive patterns of behavior, it may be the healthier choice to dissolve the relationship.
There are circumstances when it is better to leave a relationship or marriage. For example, in cases where there is emotional or physical abuse. However, a great majority of marriages and relationships do not have to end, if people only understood the origins of their pain, and rather than blaming their partner, took responsibility to actively participate in their own healing.
The bio-logic, social-exchange, and persona theories can play a part in our choice of partners. However, I believe that it is primarily the unconscious mind, in its quest to recreate and heal the damage many of us have incurred in childhood, which draws into our lives those people who provoke the re-surfacing of our deepest wounds. Therefore, if we are ever to free ourselves from the negative effects these wounds have on our lives and relationships, it is necessary for us to focus our attention on becoming aware of their nature and origins, and take action to address and heal them.