From Fantasy to Personal Transformation
The crisis created when fantasy and reality meet in a new dating relationship cannot be resolved at the level of fantasy. So how do we get through this crisis? We have to reach a higher level of understanding.
Sorting Out the Confusion
Relationship disappointments are experienced, at least initially, “in the present” (“You are my problem.”). However, as the crisis plays out, the “past” begins to make an appearance: “You are just like my ex-husband”; “My mother treated me the same way you are treating me now.”
This is a critical turn of events. It allows us to see the source of the unhappiness. The “bit of truth in the present” is now seen to have a long history. We begin to learn more and more about the lifetime of disappointments and suffering which the other person has had to survive to get to this present relationship with us. We begin to return fears and accusations to their source in such past relationships. We learn to pick up more quickly on those situations in which our partner is attributing something to us which actually is an issue from their past.
Of course, since we, at the same time, have been doing the same thing to our partner (that is, laying our past on them), we must also inevitably return to our own past. This may be more disturbing than pinning all our unhappiness onto our present partner. Who would you prefer to see as the source of your distress — your father or the man you have just started dating who has begun to disappoint you? If you pick the latter and avoid facing the former, then not only will your present relationship suffer (you will label your partner a “bad guy”), but you will continue to be held hostage by your underlying father issues.
Sorting out the past from the present invariably means doing some work in the present. If you have been placing father issues onto your boyfriend then, once you realize this, you will need to deal with your father (and, undoubtedly, your mother and siblings as well) not only “in the past” but in the present as well.
Once the problem at the root of the negative fantasy is addressed, the relationship with your dating partner can change. You will be able to see your partner more clearly for who they really are. This can result in a positive regard which is much more realistic and stable This time the positive is not the positive fantasy that grows from negative fantasy. This positive fantasy will have a stronger basis is reality.
Continuing Anyhow: The Glue of Emotional Attachment
Why do people go through all this unhappiness and strife?
One answer is that there has been a silent process going on since the very beginning of the relationship that tends to strengthen over time; we call this “emotional attachment.”
Emotional attachment differs from sexual excitement and love fantasies. We are made to be in relationships, from the start of our life to its end. We could not have survived as a baby without experiencing a strong emotional attachment with our parents. Emotional attachment got us through the tough times, fostering family cohesion in the face of hardship and conflict. As we grow up, we can develop more grown-up forms of emotional attachment; these take the form of loyalty, patience, and devotion.
Our capacity for emotional attachment, our ability to stick with someone through disappointment and misunderstandings, is put to the test as the sufferings from our past threaten to overtake our new relationship. This testing period can transform the relationship and establish it on a new basis, a love grounded in “will and determination” rather than attraction, fantasies, or fears. Deciding whether to continue a relationship is dramatically different from feeling captive to or repulsed by a potential partner.
Helping Each Other Become Stronger
Once the influence of the past becomes clearer, we can help each other overcome it. No longer will I demand that you be the fantasy figure who will make me happy by making up for my past disappointments. Instead, you can be the one who understands and appreciates what I have been through, and the one who cheers me on. Instead of leaning on you, I can stand on my own two feet and enjoy how this pleases you. As I grow psychologically, I can now contribute my growth as a person to our relationship.
The Return of Happiness
When we release the grip of our childhood fantasy and the inflexible demands that such fantasies inspire, we can enjoy the present and entertain future possibilities. New fantasies can be expansive and creative rather than limiting and demanding. We can learn to co-create the future with our partner on the basis of communication, responsibility, and commitment.
The happiness of our initial attraction, the ensuing confusion of our fantasies, the inevitability of disappointment, the resulting transformation of the relationship and ourselves, our release from the past and our fostering of the present and future can become a pathway to a real relationship with a real future.