NYC Psychotherapist Blog

power by WikipediaMindmap

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Relationships: Are You In Love with a Fantasy of Your Partner?

One of the most challenging things about being in a relationship is when we fall in love with the fantasy of who we want rather than who the person really is. Despite the title of this blog post, this happens with both men and women. 

Are You in Love With a Fantasy of Your Partner?

This is a form of denial that, unfortunately, is common, especially early on in relationships. It's as if we turn a blind eye to the signals and cues that we're getting along the way, hoping that we can, somehow, change our partners to be more to our liking. But deluding ourselves in this way has repercussions for ourselves and for our relationships.

The following short fictionalized examples illustrate how this dynamic creates problems in relationships:

Jeff and Celia:
When Celia began dating Jeff, he mentioned to her early on that he had a long history of not being able to make commitments in prior relationships, and he didn't want to get serious with anyone at this point. For Celia, this went in one ear and out the other. She liked Jeff so much that she hoped that she would be the one who would change his mind and that he'd be willing to make a commitment with her. But one year into their dating relationship when Jeff continued to maintain that he didn't want to make a commitment with Celia, she was deeply disappointed and hurt. When Jeff ended the relationship because he felt pressured by her to make a commitment to her, Celia couldn't understand what happened.

Susan and John:
After being together for a year, John placed Susan on his credit card account, even though he knew that she had a long history of overspending and getting into debt. He ignored the obvious red flags, and hoped that he would be able to teach her to spend more responsibly. But after Susan ran up his credit card and she was unable to pay, despite his efforts to encourage her to moderate her spending, he felt angry and betrayed.

Bruce and Ed:
When Bruce and Ed began dating, Bruce told Ed that he problems with fidelity in all his other relationships. But Ed felt that what Bruce felt for him was much more than what Bruce felt in his other relationships, so he didn't believe that Bruce would cheat on him. Two years into their relationship, Ed signed into their home computer and he was shocked to find ongoing erotic email correspondence between Bruce and several other men

Linda and Betty:
When they first met, Betty revealed to Linda that she had a problem with anger management. As Linda listened to Betty describe her anger management problems in prior relationships, with family members, and at work, Linda found it hard to believe that someone who was as gentle and kind as Betty could have a temper. This was not at all how Linda saw Betty. She thought that Betty must have been exaggerating. But seven months into their relationship, they got into a spat about who should do the dishes and Betty suddenly stormed out of the apartment without warning, and she didn't come back for an hour. Linda was speechless. It was only then that Linda remembered that Betty had warned her about her temper.

Why Do People End Up Falling In Love with a Fantasy?

Very often this dynamic occurs when people first fall in love, and they don't realize that they have fallen in love with their fantasy of the other person. The mind and the heart don't like having a vacuum so, in these instances, they fill in the blanks with what is most desired, completely ignoring what might be obvious from the start.

Being in love can sometimes be like being in a cloud. It takes a while for the cloud to disperse to see who's actually there. Add to this that most people are on their very best behavior for at least the first six months or so and you can see how problems can begin.

How Can You Avoid Falling In Love with the Fantasy of Your Partner?
First, it's very important to pay attention to what this person tells you or what you know about him or her from prior history. Rather than dismiss the past, really listen and consider what this will mean for you and a potential relationship with this person. It doesn't necessarily mean that this dynamic will happen with you, but you shouldn't ignore it. It's information.

Second, don't convince yourself that you'll be able to change him or her once you're together. He or she might not want to change. And, while it's true that people can change, it's also true that people often repeat patterns in relationships, especially if they don't get professional help to try to change. Even with professional help, ingrained patterns can be difficult to change. The person has to be internally motivated to change and willing to do the work and not just responding to pressure from you.

Third, if you're in doubt as to whether you're seeing this person objectively, talk to a trusted friend. Friends, who are outside of the situation, can often see things that you can't. Try not to be defensive or argumentative, just listen. This doesn't mean that your friend is always right, but a second opinion from a trusted friend might give you a different perspective.

Fourth, once you're confronted with the pattern of behavior that you were in denial about all along, don't continue to stick your head in the sand. Often, these things don't get better by themselves. A lot will depend on your own attitude and tolerance. If you're Linda in one the examples above, and your attitude is, "I'll just let Betty blow off steam for now because she usually comes around and I know she had a hard day," meaning that you're not really that affected by this and can let it roll off you're back, that's one thing. But if Betty's temper tantrums represent unacceptable behavior that you know you can't live with, that's another thing. You need to know yourself and what is and what isn't acceptable for you. Needless to say, I'm not referring to emotional or physical abuse, but occasional temper tantrums.

If you know you can't tolerate the behavior, speak to your partner and be honest about it. If your partner warned you early on and you allowed yourself to fall in love with your fantasy of your partner and not who your partner really is, take responsibility for this. Then, discuss with your partner whether you're willing to work things out either on your own or in couples counseling.

In almost every relationship, early on, there tends to be some idealization of the other person. As we get to know our partners and they get to know us, that idealization wears off in time and, in the best case scenario, a mature relationship develops that's reality based. But when we're stuck in a fantasy, it can be a rude awakening when reality intrudes. Then, before we blame our partners, we must ask ourselves what role we played in our own disappointment.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR therapist, and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, please call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.