All of us seek, develop and nurture romantic relationships which are satisfying and supportive; those that make us feel good about what we are and encourage us to explore and realize our full potential. Yet it is not uncommon to find ourselves or our close ones trapped in messy and frustrating relationships. There are times when almost everyone tells us that the relationship is doomed but we still disregard this and tread on the path fraught with difficulties. So, is love irrational as some say? Not quite right. There are very good reasons behind why both men and women enter and stay in bad relationships.
All of Us have different needs; there are some needs that we readily acknowledge, others that we know of but keep hidden and still others that we have no clue about. It is the third category of needs that make us dance miserably in our relationships. These needs govern whom we choose as our partner and if we do not grasp them they may perpetuate cycles of frustrating relationships. This does not mean that one is to be blamed or that one is enjoying the frustration but it implies that one is badly confined by something that is central to the self but one does not know that. Women who are in frustrating relationships have different experiences, needs and personal narratives but there are still some common patterns that can be observed.
Self as Saviour
Nisha, a young women with an excellent academic and career record, high moral and ethical values and well-knit family background fell in love with Prashant. He was short-tempered, erratic and abused many drugs. He violated rights of others and had several public displays of aggression. He had many legal cases going against him. Everyone who knew Nisha advised her that she was spoiling her life with this person. Nisha also felt extremely frustrated in the relationship but she told herself and everyone else that intrinsically she could see that Prashant was a very nice person and she would change him through her love.
Some women derive intense self-esteem through ‘rescue operations.’ They deny their own needs and feel that the needs of the other person are most important and they may go to extremes to fulfill these needs. These females are prone to enter into relationships where there own needs are denied but they leave no stone unturned in fulfilling the wishes of the other person. The male partners chosen by these women are extremely self-centered and aggressive. Deep down in their mind, these women are scared of their partners and harsh men. However, their entry into these relationships is a counterphobic response; they approach and try to master what they are very fearful of. The woman holds a strong fantasy that her unconditional love would ‘melt’ and transform the ‘beast.’ But this never happens and there is a lot of pain.
Loving a Shadow of Self
Mansi initially liked her classmate Ajay a lot as he was very strong and bold. She felt that he could confront anyone and was very confident. They started seeing each other and shared a good relationship. However, on a particular day their entire class had to go on a strike against the head of their department. Everyone including Mansi urged Ajay to lead the strike as he was the strongest. Ajay declined this request and told Mansi that he feared the negative consequences. Mansi felt disillusioned. She realized that Ajay was weak and had a strong hatred toward him.
All of us have both masculine and feminine parts but as we grow up we develop a fixed gender identity that usually is in consonance with our biological sex. In this process, the women in a majority of cases disavow their masculine parts of the self and these constitute a shadow of the personality. Everyone has an extreme ambivalence toward this shadow part, we love it as it constitutes our unfulfilled wishes and desires and we also hate it as this also constitutes what we did not wish to be. When they look for a romantic partner, they like a man who resembles this shadow of their self. The relationship starts on a very happy note and women feel that through this relationship they are getting whatever they always wanted. They have a much idealized view of the partner at this moment and feel that he is the epitome of perfection. The person grossly overestimates her partner and there is a huge discrepancy between his real self and her view of his self. However, soon the reality begins to creep in and they feel disappointed as no one can be exactly like the shadow part. Also, the hatred that the person feels towards her shadow part is transferred to her partner and she begins despising him.
Loving the Lost Parent
Somya was a working woman living independently in Delhi and managing her life well. She fell in love with her new boss, a married man 20 years older than her. She liked his experience, wit and knowledge. A few months into the relationship and Somya became very dependent. Though earlier she managed everything on her own, now for even small things she needed his help. She agreed to whatever he said. He often told her that she was naïve and the world was dangerous and therefore she should not take any decision on her own and that she should be grateful that he was there to guide her.
At times, the relationships we have with our parents as children influence the pattern of our romantic and marital relationships. Some women tend to like men who have an uncanny similarity with the personality of their fathers or other important male figures in early childhood such as favorite uncle or elder brother. Once in such a relationship the person becomes very dependent and feels like a child, she allows the partner to take all important decisions and surrenders herself to his whims and fancies. It then becomes very difficult for the person to see that the relationship is having a damaging impact on her psyche. Also, there is bound to be frustration as no person can really substitute the lost parent but can be just a poor imitation.
Other as Child
Meera loved Amit as he was very cute, naïve and boyish. He did not earn but was struggling to be a singer for the last nine years. Whenever they went out she took care of all the expenses. As their relationship developed, each time Meera insisted on marriage Amit responded that he was not prepared to shoulder the responsibility and cracks began to develop in their relationship.
Some women especially those coming from traditional Indian backgrounds fear adult sexual relationships and men. If they enter into a relationship they tend to choose men whom they find non-threatening. These are men who are childish, irresponsible, non-achievers or effeminate. Sooner or later they find that these men can only demand love and nurturance but can never return it back. These men shy away from all adult responsibilities and traditional masculine role and this becomes very frustrating for the women.
Incarceration and Anxiety Relief
Sandhya, a 21-year-old college student has been in a difficult relationship for last three years with her boyfriend Rajiv who denigrates her in front of all his friends, coerces her into activities she does not like and has beaten her up on several occasions. Despite several resolutions, Sandhya goes back to Rajiv with a strong feeling that he is the one who loves her most. Also, the moment she resolves to terminate the relationship she gets petrified. She feels that if this relationship ends she would be all-alone throughout the life fraught with relentless impediments. During these times she sees herself traversing a never-ending barren path without any human inhabitation and feels very scared.
There are some women who feel extremely troubled in their relationships and want to terminate these relationships but are unable to do so. Many a times they move back and forth, trying to separate and then rushing back to reunite. Friends and family members often call them weak-willed but in such a context, it is actually very difficult for these women to end the relationship as they experience intense anxieties. They may have a pathogenic belief that if they terminate this relationship they would never have another one. The world is perceived as a dangerous place and the helpless self must plod with the bad relationship for survival. In this emotional state, the person prefers clinging to the frustrating relationship for the safety and certainty it offers rather than taking a risk and developing caring and reliable relationships.
Those women who are in difficult relationships should evaluate whether their fantasy of changing the other person is realistic or not. If the relationship denies their needs then it is surly not love and it means that the other person will hardly ever be capable of genuine love and bonding. Usually people take their liking toward someone as instinctual or given but it is worthwhile to think about it, what are the reasons for the liking, does it remind you of something you wanted to be or someone who was there in your life? Once you become aware of this, make yourself understand that the past can never be resurrected and such attempts would inevitably lead to frustration. If there are some fears or pathogenic beliefs that refrain you from developing healthy relationships, develop an insight into them and challenge them. It is important to understand that real love is not sacrifice but reciprocal.
Dr Pulkit Sharma is a Clinical Psychologist and Psychoanalytical Therapist practicing at VIMHANS Hospital, Delhi.
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