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.
The 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.” Yeah, 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?
Think 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.
Complementary 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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