“I don’t know why, but my partner changed. Around 2 years into the relationship, it’s like he/she became an entirely different person from the one I fell in love with.” As a couples counselor, I hear this all the time. In fact, it’s the rule rather than the exception in romantic relationships. But why?
Every infant has two mothers. At least it seems that way to the infant. The infant is hungry. A loving presence is there immediately to feed it, recognizing the infant’s hunger almost before the infant does. This is Good Mother, the magical mind-reading caretaker. But sometimes when the infant is hungry, things don’t go so smoothly. The caretaker is occupied or unable to feed the it, so the infant experiences discomfort. Its needs are being ignored by Bad Mother! The infant’s developing brain simply can’t recognize that there is only one mother. After all, you never see the two of them in the same room together.
We call this “splitting.” As adults, we often do this with our romantic partner. The first year or two of the relationship, he or she is all good, loving and devoted, anticipating your every need as if by magic. Then suddenly he or she changes, becoming selfish, dishonest, irritable. As adults, we recognize–intellectually at least–that there is only one partner. I know it seems like Bad Partner hijacked Good Partner’s body when you weren’t looking, but it doesn’t work like that.
No one is all good or all bad. When you are buzzing with the powerful high of a new relationship, it’s tempting to give in to the fantasy of Good Partner. At some deep biological level, our bodies remember the magical need-fulfilling creature that was Good Mother, and we’re all too ready to fall into outstretched arms. It’s not really that your partner changes somewhere along the way. It’s that you get to know this person more deeply, more completely. Those bad qualities? They were there all along, you just chose (unconsciously) not to see them. Maybe your friends even tried to warn you. Maybe you had your own doubts, but tried to look the other way.
Next time you are in a conflict with your partner, try to remember that this is not your enemy. This is not Bad Partner. This is an entire person with a wide range of qualities. They cannot magically anticipate your needs, just as you cannot magically anticipate his/hers They are not intentionally withholding the things you want the most, anymore than Bad Mother was intentionally withholding food. The person you love the most is usually the person that causes you the most pain. This isn’t malicious, and it probably isn’t even personal. It’s just the way intimate relationships work.
About the Author: James Robbins is a licensed professional counselor, published author and co-owner of Dallas Whole Life Counseling. He has over 15 years of experience helping people in various life stages that come from a wide variety of cultural, economic and family backgrounds. Learn more about his background by clicking here.