One of my favorite things to tell my therapy clients is this: starting to date individuals who are healthy for you is kind of like getting used to adding more vegetables to your diet. At first, it may seem a little bit boring. After all, you are used to eating “fast food”; it’s addictive, tasty, quick, and convenient. Fast food is much like relationships where there is a high amount of chemistry. However, just in the way that we know fast food is not good for us, we also know that those addictive relationships are not good for us either. Why is it that some of us are most attracted to those chaotic, “fast food” relationships, while others seem to have no problem loving “vegetables”?
The answer lies in how we were raised. This does not follow the old belief that you “marry your parent”, but rather that the way our parents loved us and one another sets the template for how we view love in general. To put it in another way, they are our first models of what love looks like. Unfortunately for those of us who grew up in chaotic households where there maybe was much fighting or neglect, this dynamic becomes very familiar albeit—unhealthy. This familiar dynamic is what creates intense romantic attraction or chemistry. We are most attracted to what is familiar, not necessarily what is the most healthy. We like fast food and put up with the negative effects because it feels familiar, and at first it is exciting.
Learning to love vegetables takes a lot of time and willingness to admit some hard truths about ourselves. We must tease out what Imago (Latin for “image”) therapists call our inner love maps. We must identify the negative traits in our partners that we are repeatedly attracted to, and we must reflect on what we stand to gain as a result of being in a relationship with these individuals. For example, someone with parents who were emotionally absent in childhood may be most attracted to partners who are emotionally unavailable. By being highly attracted to these emotionally unavailable “fast food” partners, life presents this person with the opportunity to heal old childhood wounds of feeling emotionally abandoned. Unfortunately, unless their emotionally unavailable partner is willing to seek therapy for why they are emotionally unavailable, the hurt from this person’s childhood is likely to repeat itself.
Part of what I do as a therapist is help my clients discover what unhealthy traits they are attracted to. I then have clients make an honest evaluation of the people in their lives: are these people they are dating or in relationship with working on themselves, or are they perpetuating negative patterns? Then, I help my clients learn to love “vegetables” (with cheese—because you do need at least a little excitement in dating in order to keep the momentum going). We discuss the traits of healthy individuals to date or marry. Although it may take some time, and it may seem boring at first, many individuals learn to love vegetables (with cheese)! If you’re interested in doing this kind of work, contact Julia@northsidementalhealth.com and schedule your appointment today!