Home > relationships > Are You My Soul Mate? Defining “the One”

Are You My Soul Mate? Defining “the One”


I’m looking for my soul mate. I want to meet THE ONE.” How many Internet dating profiles, conversations and therapy sessions begin with this statement? Lots.

soulmate_01The problem. Many of us don’t know who or what we’re looking for in a relationship. Ask your average person what they want and most reply: “I’m looking for ‘the one.’ Someone with a good sense of humor, attractive, good chemistry. I’ll know it when I see it.” That really narrows it down.

Most people put more thought into their choice of breakfast cereal than their relationships. If you don’t know what you want, how will you know where to look, much less recognize it, if you’re ever lucky enough to stumble across it?

Common values, emotional styles, and shared life goals are more important than “instant” chemistry, similar interests and leisure pursuits, but most people don’t know it. Just because two people enjoy playing water polo and watching Lost doesn’t make them compatible, although many marriages have been built on less.

soulmate_02-copy-copyThink of values as major internal organs like the heart and lungs. Think of interests as accessories like jewelry and neckties. We need our heart and lungs to live; charm bracelets and neckerchiefs are optional. Values and emotional style trump interests.

Instant chemistry is often nothing more than the recognition of finding that “perfect” someone with whom to recreate unresolved childhood issues. It’s the exquisite tension and anticipation of doggedly pursuing a corrective emotional experience that ain’t never gonna happen. The more instantaneous and hotter the flame, the greater the likelihood it will end in the ashes of emotional burnout.

For example, “Rick” marries “Liz” and the first flush of chemistry wears off. No matter how hard he tries, nothing’s good enough. He wants her, but she’s standoffish, contrary and withholding, which inflames Rick and he tries harder. On the rare occasion Liz throws Rick a crumb of affection, kind word or grudging sex as a reward for fulfilling a herculean checklist of deeds, he feels like an Olympic gold medalist. It’s no surprise Rick had an emotionally distant and hyper-critical mother. Recreation of the past is a seductive trap that means you’ve unfinished business; not that you’ve met your soul mate.

divorce_figurinesComplementary differences vs. divisive differences. Complementary differences balance a relationship; one is strong where the other is weak and vice versa. They make a couple into a more unified whole rather than tearing them apart.

Divisive differences are typified by the expression, “opposites attract.” Opposites may initially attract, but research (Buston & Emlen, 2003) indicates they don’t stand the test of time. Familiarity in the way we communicate and express love and affection is comforting.

Divisive differences include conflicting values, temperament, communication and sex drive. It creates a push-pull dynamic in which the “pursuer” feels consistently rejected and the “distancer” feels perpetually put upon.

The comfort of acceptance vs. the comfort of dysfunction. People have been conditioned to believe love involves angst and suffering- the heights and depths of drama – to the extent that feeling bad feels normal.

Being accepted for who you are, including sexually, is important. Too many people carry around feelings of not being “good enough” from childhood. If you’re with someone who reinforces these doubts and feelings, I encourage you to a) tell them how you’re feeling and b) if they can’t or won’t hear you, seriously reconsider the relationship. Constantly being criticized for being who you are is abusive and highly destructive to a relationship.

This is a crazy pattern for many, including me, until I realized what I was doing and consciously decided to stop making the same relationship choices. It felt weird to be valued, loved and accepted, at first, and then it felt great. After I rode out the weirdness of the unfamiliar, it felt normal to feel good.

A true soul mate relationship is acceptance. People are who they are. If you enter a relationship thinking you can change them, you’ll become frustrated and the other person will feel bad about not living up to some “ideal” he never was in the first place. When it comes to soul mates, I recommend finding someone who soothes your soul rather than tortures it.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong, but how many people who blindly gallop down the aisle, believing they’re marrying “the one,” their soul mate, end up in divorce court later?

by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

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Photo credits:

Image 1: Soulmate cheeses
Image 2: Costco soul mates
Image 3: Istockphotos

  1. Dan
    May 1, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    If someone is looking for a soulmate right off the bat,RUN AWAY FAST!!!!!

  2. May 1, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    Hi. You have written some amazing pieces Dr Tara but here you have quite simply “nailed it!” Reading this was a WOW moment for me…a woman that gets it! Does that exist? Well you have proved it does. I date and all too often I get the “oh I’m not feeling the chemistry!” What does that mean was my cry! I think too many people watch too much trash TV like sex and the city and desperate housewives and are brain washed into believing that unless you literally see sparkles then it will never work.

    Pretty early on most guys get the alarm bells that this is a relationship that is going to be hard work. LIke you say…common decent values, respect for each other and finding someone that is not a volcano just waiting to erupt, these are what we should be looking for.

    My sister, who incidentally chooses to remain single because as she puts it “I don’t want the drama in my life anymore!” Has a theory that we all chase great sex. We all chase that person that really does it for us, regardless of whether we actually think they are a nice person. But once we are living in the same house and sex has become a twice a week on demand past time then we are left with the person we chose…And in my case that person was nuts! Yep great sex but as nutty as squirrel poo! Actually nuts is a nice word…ermmm I think maybe dangerous is a better word to describe her.

    So my advice is STOP, THINK, zip up your trousers before making any rash decisions. It could be your sanity and even your freedom that she chews up and spits out!

  3. April 25, 2013 at 10:24 am

    I found this site yesterday and trying to read and understand about what happened to me last two years. Quite interesting and with tons of knowledge on CBx. I am confused about two different statements.

    “Accept me as I am.”

    If this woman were a car, she would have a sticker that says, “As is. No warranty.” In Crazy-speak, “Accept me as I am,” means, “You are never allowed to disagree with or criticize me in any way. Ever.” This is unacceptable in a relationship.

    Article from following link –
    (http://www.shrink4men.com/2013/01/24/internet-dating-red-flags-avoiding-another-crazy-woman-in-the-world-wide-spider-web/)

    Being accepted for who you are, including sexually, is important.

    Above statement is on this page.

    I have a feeling that I have shared a relation and now become father with a CBx. Her words always contradictory and meanings changes according to her fashion and will. I am still confused whether I have a disorder or she has or both. LOL. But yesterday while talking to her, I confidently (in one article on this site written about Integrity) that I do not bother about her actions and put a boundary of not pulling us into any topic (btw. I told her that I am flying next month to England) because “us/we” do not count anymore after her decision to look for someone else.

    I do not believe that no one accepts the other as they are. Just matter is – ignore what happened in that past and try to make it present perfect. To be in a relation, I need to understand and change a little bit (I call it as giving room to other person rather than space). It is essential, because and after all a relationship defines some needs to be fulfilled by for each other and by other.

  4. Down not out
    January 27, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    Remember my dad telling about an old saying about marriage that used to be joked about when he was young. She walks down the Aislel to the ulta where the man is, a befitting walk when shes thinking to herself I’ll ulta man. Made me smile.

  5. March 28, 2012 at 2:52 am

    My first time posting,been through so much npd crap in a 24 yr.marriage.I’ve been free 10 years now and yet still stuggle with abuse issues.I wonder if I will ever truly be free of it,so much damage has been done.I desperatly hope so.I want to have my life/self back.Any help out there for those of us who are trying to move forward?

  6. Tom G
    November 3, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Unresolved childhood issues? OMG! My wife’s Dad died when she was 4-5. I am 7 years older, have a great job, stable and from what I can feel, a poor replacement for her need of a strong Daddy figure in her life.
    She tells me the relationship was “bad day one.” She was probably more right than wrong. I did what i could do as a human being, and because she chose wrong, I am suffering as a result of my efforts. or course it was bad day one. it was delusion on her part as opposed to illusion which is generally seen by many.

    i am screwed. I love a woman who wanted to be taken care of, and because I did not live up to her childhood delusion am suffering as a result. It’s a lost cause.

  7. Alreadylost
    November 3, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    What to look for in a relationship? Someone who is at least as sane as you are.

  8. Tom G
    May 16, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    Sounds like if a couple and tough it out long enough (and get lucky) you and hopefully mature into a relationship that feels comfortible.
    I’ve been with the same person over 25 years. The first 15 were very up and very down.
    We are in the middle now, but it may be because we are just too tired to keep climbing up and down that bloody hill.

  9. Kiwihelen
    July 21, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Hi Dr T,

    Just reading the back-catalogue and found this one particularly interesting.

    Until a few months ago, I was a firm believer there was no such thing as soul-mates…a fairly cynical view for a nearly 40 woman. Needless to say ROM-COM movies are completely wasted on me :-P

    What has rocked me to the core is having contact again with someone who I broke off an affair with for very good reasons (he realised he had to work at being a father and husband) and had no contact with for nearly 7 years in the intevening time. What has reawoken for us in meeting was something we sensed back then, but neither of us were prepared to admit it – that we were “evenly yolked” and naturally pulled together in the same direction for the same values. Superficially we are from very different cultures and social classes, intellectually and spiritually we are very similar. Physically we work together (our favourite joke in a lying down cuddle “what have you done with the spare arm, it is not causing any problems here”).

    We have heaps and heaps of issues which will need to be addressed befoe we can be together, my being tied to a PhD programme being one of them…but for all this, we are able to still enjoy each other in the modern version of a long-distance relationship, and have the gratitude that we have instantaneous communications, rather than having to rely on the postal service (although both of us has gotten into writing and receiving with joy actual pen and paper love letters).

    Oddly enough, he is the first man I have had major “chemistry” for, but this crept up and bit us both back 7 years ago after working on a project together – so it was not an immediate reaction, but one that built up over a 6 month period.

    I wish that more people understood that love with someone who is right for you is soul soothing – and is worth sacrifices such as having a LDR with 12 timezones involved. Yes, you can still have chemistry, but that has to be based on fact…not some imagined ideal.

    Thanks again for your work – for women like me who have always had good friendships with men and have interesting tensions with female/female relationships because we don’t do emotions like the “typical woman”, this site feels quite inspirational

    Helen

  10. Somewot
    April 30, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    I love reading this blog.It has a wonderful way of centering me.I am now 6 months split from my BPD-ex, and have been dating for the last 4 weeks a woman who seems so very different.When we first met and began dating, she said to me, that she is “pretty full on” i saw that as a warning flag,and filed it away.i enjoy her company, and do not feel consumed by this new realtionship,I’m a single full time dad, and my priorities are firstly to my daughter, and secondly to a relationship.My G/F says she understands this,yet i counted 20 texts yesterday with “i love you” in the messages.This has become the norm for her over the last 2 weeks.For me, it’s something i have not experienced, since the very early days of my relationship with my Ex. It’s wonderful to wake up to a text in the morning with “good morning,i love you”.I just don’t feel the need to be told so many times a day every day. And what i can’t get my head around is this.I tried to explain this to her this morning, saying it was something i wasn’t used to etc. and she told me i should be glad that someone feels so in love with me that they need to tell me all the time. (should i? it feels like a tsunami) She then hung up on me.
    I know i’m still getting myself back together after the abusive relationship i was in (12 years) I like my time with her, i like my time without her.
    Is it me?

    • shrink4men
      April 30, 2010 at 11:36 pm

      Hi Somewot,

      Beware of the LOVE BOMB. Women with issues similar to your ex tend to move in real close, too fast. 20 text messages a day stating I love you is definitely a red flag. Pay attention to your gut instincts. If something feels off it probably is.

      Best,
      Dr T

      • July 22, 2010 at 12:11 am

        I dated a guy once who said “I love you” to me probably a dozen times a day…it was like it was wearing out those words, so much that they just sort of lost their meaning after a while.

    • July 22, 2010 at 12:14 am

      Something I learned while dating years ago, was “If someone warns you about themselves early in a relationship, believe it. Because, they will spend the entire rest of the relationship ‘proving it’ to you.”

      The guy I’m thinking of is one who said, “I don’t know how to treat women.” I didn’t listen. He proved it.

      • KJ
        July 21, 2011 at 6:32 pm

        TO TheGirlInside,

        YOU ARE MOST CORRECT AND RIGHT !!!:) I had reconnected with a woman from 28 years ago in College. She told me things like……”I don’t get along with men”, “I am messed up,” “You are not going to like me” , “I can’t believe you still like me???!!!” Well she proved everything she said. We didn’t get along. We fought alot early. She is messed up , I don’t like her anymore. And yes, I still can’t believe I liked her.

      • Joe
        October 4, 2011 at 7:47 pm

        I should have listened when my “ex” told me years ago when I first met her that immediately after she got married (2 days after the honeymoon), she went to some all-night party without letting her then husband know about it and he spent all night looking for her…I guess I don’t have to figure out why that marriage didn’t work out….

  11. Mellaril
    March 3, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    I didn’t pay a lot of attention to this article but it did bring back some memories. After I’d broken up with my likely NPD gf, I was introduced to the siser-in-law of a co-worker. We had incredible chemistry. Our fisrt date started on Friday evening and ended Sunday evening. She was looking to get into grad school and was only visiting for a few weeks. I wasn’t too concerned about it but I got a call from her sister asking about the relationship. Her comment was her sister was now “in love” with me, constantly talking about me and was seriously considering altering her grad school plans. She was relieved when I tactfully explained that we got along really well but I wasn’t there yet. It wasn’t exactly a warning but I got the idea my co-worker’s wife was trying to tell me something. She seemed to have a fickleness about her.

    The girl went to grad school in another state and went on to another guy. I still think of it as one of the best weeks of my life.

    • KO
      April 8, 2010 at 11:15 pm

      “Best weeks of my life” after knowing each other for several weeks, before she heads back to school? Sounds like a great sex moment, nothing bad about it as such, definately nothing serious, probably both of you were healing your egoes…”on the rebound”. Lack of boundaries on both sides? Sure. Feeling of “she is the one”? Sounds like it. Did not investigate why you hooked up with an NPD in the first place (likely NPD? Once you analyse them there is very little grey zone for second guessing)? Yes, and therefore higher chance of “history repeats itself”. Trusting your gut reflex and being open about your feelings on the phone? Priceless, and possibly a life-saver for you. Still think of it as the best? Hm, love is supposed to be a continuous PERSONAL life enhancing creative activity, not something you find and consume when you are off work, and being the best and the worst because of someone else. Self-esteem issues? Likely.

      Funny how I spotted all this myself? It takes one to know one.
      Same place here,Mell,just waking up to find that “monsters” are real, “charms and seduction” happen every day, and “bottomless pits” do exist. Be safe.

  12. sooky
    March 3, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    right on!

  13. Recovering Alpha
    December 2, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    I’m surprised to see little blog on this article. This article has some very good gems which should be seized by readers. To wit:

    “Instant chemistry is often nothing more than the recognition of finding that “perfect” someone with whom to recreate unresolved childhood issues.”
    * This seems to be modus operandi of MANY bad relationships I know.

    “For example, ‘Rick’ marries ‘Liz’ and the first flush of chemistry wears off. No matter how hard he tries, nothing’s good enough. He wants her, but she’s standoffish, contrary and withholding, which inflames Rick and he tries harder. On the rare occasion Liz throws Rick a crumb of affection, kind word or grudging sex as a reward for fulfilling a herculean checklist of deeds, he feels like an Olympic gold medalist. It’s no surprise Rick had an emotionally distant and hyper-critical mother. Recreation of the past is a seductive trap that means you’ve unfinished business; not that you’ve met your soul mate.”
    * Replace the names and this EXACTLY summarizes my failed marriage.

    “Opposites may initially attract, but research (Buston & Emlen, 2003) indicates they don’t stand the test of time.”
    * I recall a saying in my high school: “Opposites attract … but eventually repel” describing those couples who seemed intertwined like pretzels ALL THE TIME.
    * And perhaps a corollary: “Distance makes the heart grow fonder … for a little while.”

    “Divisive differences include … sex drive”
    * THIS IS A HUGE ONE. I KNOW SEVERAL MEN WHO SAID THIER MARRIAGES FAILED BECAUSE OF THIS. (ALL SAID THEIR WIVES BECAME PRUDES AFTER A DECADE OR SO…) But then these men are variously described by others as “@$$holes” for having an affair; but what was their option? Excessive Rosie Palm’?

  14. jham123
    September 22, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    “Divisive differences include conflicting values, temperament, communication and sex drive. It creates a push-pull dynamic in which the “pursuer” feels consistently rejected and the “distancer” feels perpetually put upon.”

    Absolutely correct.

    I’ve always described myself as Pepe Le Pew and she is the unfortunate Cat that got mistaken for a skunk…..

  1. January 24, 2013 at 11:39 pm
  2. August 2, 2011 at 8:15 pm
  3. February 12, 2011 at 6:24 am
  4. December 17, 2010 at 6:33 pm
  5. December 2, 2010 at 10:56 am

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