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Why You Choose Who You Choose - 4/20/2009

Have you ever asked yourself after an evening out with friends, “How do the two of them stay together?  They hardly speak.  She’s cold and insensitive.  He’s overbearing and critical.  Have their behaviors gone on so long that neither one notices?  Because, in a social situation, they’re fun people to be with.”  

There are countless variations on that theme.  There are couples who perpetually fight.  No evening is complete until one or both goes into a tirade filled with hostile criticisms.  There are the passive-aggressive partners who act as though they’re close and loving, but  you know are angry with each other.   There’s the weak, castrated male married to a woman who might as well be wearing leather and carrying a whip.  Conversely, there’s the controlling male who leaves his spouse little room to speak or voice an opinion.  But, no matter the outward behaviors, all their relationships have one thing in common.  They’re dysfunctional and hurtful.  

There’s still another question - why did they get together in the first place?  If a wife’s complaining constantly about her husband’s drinking and going out with the boys, is his behavior radically different from when they first met?  Weren’t there earlier signs that she ignored ?  Similarly, if she wasn’t nurturing before they married, what made him think that a clergyman uttering the words, “I now pronounce you man and wife” would alter that behavior?   It’s easy to extrapolate that a high maintenance woman who doesn’t wake until 10 a.m. and is disappointed because her engagement ring isn’t as large as her girlfriends’ won’t be making you breakfast, or be easily satisfied.  If you chose to marry her, you did so on purpose, not by accident.

The paradox is that I see these couples unconsciously work to maintain their relationship.  Think of it this way - their partners weren’t the only persons out there who were available.  From the vast reservoir of potential spouses, each of these unhappy persons chose someone who fit them perfectly, albeit neurotically.  Generally, their choices were made on the basis of three rules of thumb that I believe govern the way almost everyone chooses a spouse or partner.  Those rules are:

1. Opposites attract.  

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard a patient say,  “I’m sensitive and like to go with friends to the theater.  He would rather sit home, watch television, or play computer games.”   So, why did they get together in the first place?  Because most of us marry someone who fits.  For example:  If you speak a lot, you marry someone who doesn’t. If you’re assertive, you marry someone who’s passive.  Victims marry victimizers and sadists marry  masochists.  In almost every case, however, this process is an unconscious one.  The individuals involved rarely recognize their own dynamics.

2. You always marry someone who is exactly like yourself.

If you say, “That’s a contradiction”, I’d agree.  But let me explain.  I believe that inadequate people marry inadequate people, angry people marry angry people, dumb people marry dumb people and smart people marry smart people.  If a smart person marries a dumb person, he/she really wasn’t smart at all.

You might say, “That only highlights the contradiction.”  Not at all.  Think back to junior high.  In one of your classes, there was a student who was a constant disruption.  He wiggled in his seat, made noises and threw spitballs.  He “accidentally” knocked his book off his desk or shoved his foot out in the aisle as you walked by.  He was prone to ask questions that were irrelevant, unrelated, often humorous, but always inappropriate.  His behavior was designed to elicit attention.  Probably because he didn’t feel anyone would notice him otherwise. Thus, he resorted to negative behavior and settled for negative attention.

In the same class, there was another child, who entered the class through the rear door just as the bell rang.  She quietly sat in the last seat, behind the largest person she could find.  At the end of class, she exited as quietly and unobtrusively as she had  come in.  What was she doing?  Avoiding attention, probably because she felt different, dumb or  a misfit.  Similar to the previously described student, she could not risk presenting herself for who she was because of her equally negative self image.   Their feelings were the same, but their outward behaviors were 180º different.    

There you have it. You are unconsciously attracted to people whose behavior is opposite, but whose emotional feelings are the same as your own.  The heartbreaking fact is that after you marry, you will find fault and punish your spouse for the weakness you see in them that you unconsciously cannot accept in yourself.  The end result is a marriage that won’t last or will, at best, be tolerable. The only solution is to stop faulting your partner and to become far more introspective, acutely aware of your own behaviors  and, in spite of them, more accepting of self.  

3.  People search for partners with exactly the same coefficient of distance.

Your coefficient of distance is determined early in life and is directly related to the degree you were hurt as a child.  The more hurt, the greater your coefficient of distance.

When it comes to choosing a spouse, I believe that everyone searches out a partner whose emotional distance quotient is exactly the same as their own, although they may verbalize to the contrary.   They might say,  “I want someone caring, warm and emotional.”  Yet they marry someone who doesn’t communicate and lacks sensitivity.  When asked, “Why did you marry him?” they invariably say  “Because I loved him.”  Well, if love means unconsciously finding someone whose emotional dynamics are exactly the same as yours, whose behavior is 180º the opposite of yours, and whose need for distance is exactly like your own, it isn’t surprising how few marriages are truly happy.  

The question that remains is, why would you verbally claim you want closeness, yet marry an individual who is emotionally challenged?  The answer;  because you choose a partner not on the basis of what you know and think, but on the basis of your feelings and fears and what’s familiar, even though the familiar may be noxious.  Thus, a person who is unconsciously fearful of emotional vulnerability chooses someone of the same ilk.  I am not suggesting you make your choice of a spouse a purely intellectual process, but I do believe it needs to include considerable rational thought.  It certainly should not be governed by the fears, hurts and attractions of a four-year-old whose emotions solely influence his decisions and behaviors.  That being the case, there is one rational rule you can follow when searching for a  partner.  It is based on the axiom “You always get who you are.”

I’d have you ask yourself, “What kind of person do I want?  What personality characteristics do I value?”  If you want someone who’s honest, loving, kind and nurturing, you need to be those things.   If you want someone who isn’t afraid of closeness, you must be sure that you’re capable of it.  The solution is that you have to become who and what you want.  It’s that easy.

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