"All love stories are frustration stories," author Adam Phillips writes in Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life, in an excerpt published by Brain Pickings. "To fall in love is to be reminded of a frustration that you didn’t know you had (of one’s formative frustrations, and of one’s attempted self-cures for them); you wanted someone, you felt deprived of something, and then it seems to be there."
In a truly poetic fashion, Phillips explains that rekindling frustrations with romantic flames leads to more intense satisfaction. "It is as if, oddly, you were waiting for someone but you didn’t know who they were until they arrived," he writes. (Wow, wow, wow—am I right?)
The nostalgically romantic dance Phillips describes is emblematic of the psychological concept of attachment theory, according to Aimee Daramus, PsyD, a psychologist in the Chicago area. "It’s true that we often seek out relationships that resemble early life relationships. There are a lot of reasons for it, but it often comes down to seeking out a familiar situation that you already have the skills for," says Dr. Daramus. We tend to reach for the human embodiment of a comfort zone because we already know the ins-and-outs of navigating that kind of coupling.
"It’s true that we often seek out relationships that resemble early life relationships. There are a lot of reasons for it, but it often comes down to seeking out a familiar situation that you already have the skills for."
Your family history plays a considerable role in your current frustrations. (No surprise.) If you and your folks have consistently interacted in an empathetic and symbiotic manner, you will more than likely apply the same attitude to your own search for love. The opposite is also true. "If someone has experienced abuse and trauma, calm relationships can feel unsafe because you feel like maybe the drama is coming—you just don’t know how or when," says Dr. Daramus.
Changing the habits of your dating life won't happen overnight, but Phillips says that given time (and therapy, in traumatic cases), you'll start to choose partners with your best interest at heart. "If you have a relationship pattern that you don’t want to repeat, one of the best things to do is to be around people who have the kind of relationship you want. You can see what they do, how they handle conflict, and how it feels to have healthy emotions," she says. Questioning your own time-worn habits is daunting. Don't shy away from speaking with a mental health professional as you consider falling in love. With any luck, you'll find someone who brings you more delight than frustration.
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