The Eternal Dream
At the heart of the couple relationship is the eternal dream that our partner will be the wonderful mother or father we never had. We desire nothing more than that our partner give us the love, care and protection we didn’t get enough of as children. We never had the perfect parents, but we are still looking for them.
To the degree that our partner succeeds at this essential job, we love them. To the degree that they fail to come through and deliver the goods, we get frustrated, angry, closed, rejecting. What makes this situation so combustible is that, child-like, we throw wide-open the doors of our heart to our dream parent; when they inevitably and in any way fail to handle us with due gentleness and love we become easily and deeply wounded. Then to protect ourselves we flip into fighter-attackers, or coldly withdraw ourselves, in turn wounding our partner.
Once we can begin to comfort and nurture ourselves, once we become our heart’s primary caretaker and give up the dream that our partner be our good mother or father, that our partner is primarily responsible for our care, we can loosen our demands on them and drain off the fuel that otherwise ignites emotional bombs.
Moreover, whenever we can take one step further and recognize that our partner has as much child in them as we have, that their difficult behavior is mostly their fears and needs rising to the surface, then it is easier to be more compassionate and less reactive to them.
Following is an exercise that can help to give up the dream that a partner will somehow act as your dream parent.
Imagine that you are up in the clouds. Look down and see your partner with all their fears, anxieties and needs. See how much child they have within them; and see that there is no possibility that they can fulfill the role of being an ideal parent.
In turn, the most pragmatic way to learn how to parent yourself is to practice a visualization exercise, such as the following: Close your eyes. Pretend you are looking at a blank screen. Imagine the child part of yourself on the screen. Let whatever picture comes onto the screen be there. (The child doesn’t have to look like you or in any way be familiar.)
How does this child appear? Scared? Lonely? In tatters? Now imagine that a loving mother or father approaches the child and gives the child whatever he or she wants. If the child wants to be hugged, let the mother or father hug him. If the child wants to be protected, let the mother or father protect him. If he wants to be played with or just watched, let the mother or father play with him or just watch him.
Once we begin to parent ourselves we can more easily unhook from unrealistic expectations of our partner. This in fact actually invites our partner to want to give more to us. Creating a wholesome space between ourselves and our partner, we are free to enjoy a deep mutuality with them.