There are many perspectives on why relationships don’t always last, and more than one theory has validity to it. I’m going to present a theory I call the “broken mirror” theory.
Attraction has many levels to it, as well as a deep psychology underlying what draws us to certain people. But one general concept seems to have more influence in attraction than others: the people we are attracted to are mirrors of ourselves and our histories.
However, it’s not quite so simple. The mirror doesn’t just reflect ourselves as we consciously know ourselves, but reflects more brightly the unconscious parts of ourselves that we’ve disowned over the course of our lives. Disowned parts tend to be emotional and self states that we’ve learned over time aren’t healthy for us, for one reason or another. For example, if we were raised not to cry or be emotional, it’s possible that we disowned this part of ourselves and became more emotionally moderated. Therefore, we may be attracted to someone who is more emotionally open.
Another example of this could be someone who’s raised to constantly show happiness and cut off negative emotions could be attracted to people who are more direct, and possibly mean to others at times.
Both of these examples show how the mirror reflects an unconscious part of ourselves. We’re attracted to something that’s buried within us, but that we access through someone else.
Complicating this picture is the influence of our caretakers and their role in our emotional development. If we were raised by parents who habitually yelled and demeaned us, this becomes a subconscious part of what we seek in a partner since there’s a “comfort” in being yelled at and demeaned in a love relationship. We find comfort in playing a similar role in our current relationships as we played in our families when grown up.
Basically, the people that we are attracted to mirror ourselves and our lives. We are subconsciously drawn to people who show up on our subconscious radar as having the potential to bring us “home”. Home is where the comfort zones are, as well as the disowned parts of ourselves that we want to reclaim, as well as having positive traits that actively we seek out.
The problems enter the picture with the combination of projections and repair fantasies. When we are attracted to someone, we would like to believe that the positives play the biggest role in our attraction — and this may be the case, consciously. However, subconsciously, attraction is a longing for repair in areas that we’ve not been able to repair with our caretakers.
For example, a woman who was ignored by her father during her childhood finds a man that at first showers her with attention, then he begins to cut off from her and she again starts feeling neglected and ignored.
Flipping this example, a man who grew up trying to avoid an emotionally overbearing mother may at first give love and attention in a relationship, but retreat and become neglectful as more attention is sought from him.
Basically, we subconsciously hope to repair these problem areas of our childhood through current relationships, and these childhood issues are also reflected in the mirror.
What Causes Breakups?
First, it’s important to highlight that frustrations alone don’t “break the mirror”, nor do frustrations directly break up relationships. People often break up and get back together several times before ultimately parting ways. What we’re looking at here is what causes people to ultimately break up, rather than breakups that are only temporary.
Projections play a big role in “breaking the mirror”, which leads to the ultimate breakup. The real trouble comes when we see qualities of our partners that we don’t like — the parts that really annoy us and trigger us emotionally. You probably are aware of these parts of your partner.
The more we are triggered by something, the more likely it is that these are also latent part of ourselves being stirred up. Someone who tries to be nice all the time may be attracted to someone with a temper. More than likely, the person tries to be nice all the time probably has a passive-aggressive side, and a latent aggressive side. Being directly angry is probably threatening (otherwise there wouldn’t be a need to be nice all the time). Underlying the passive-aggression is a history of unresolved anger. But, it becomes easier to recognize the partner’s temper and blame the partner for the anger in the relationship. What’s not being owned here is the “nice” partner’s own anger.
This example illustrates how we have blind spots to ourselves. These blind spots are often recognizable in the people we choose to be with, but we do our best to remain in denial that the qualities we dislike the most in our partners are most likely a latently loaded part of ourselves as well.
So, as we see, the mirror is a complicated mirror. The people we are attracted to come with our life’s history, latent and disowned parts of ourselves, and surface desires, which are all reflected back at us.
Why Do Relationships Ultimately Break Up?
The mirror breaks — the reflection is no longer accurate. People don’t necessarily break up because they don’t like the way they are being treated or because they are angry, as much as relationships break up when one partner starts to internally “change” in ways that is no longer accurately reflected in their partner’s mirror. (This manifests as the feeling of being ready to actually move on, rather than just time off).
When change is created in a person, it restructures the perspective on how they view their lives and themselves. While the past history technically is still the same, different parts of the history become more attuned to and highlighted subconsciously and consciously. The more friction in the relationship, the more likely it is that changes will happen separately. When this happens, the mirror with the current partner is no longer an accurate reflection. Therefore, we disconnect.
The result of this is that a person may need a different mirror to reflect where they are now. The old mirror has re-aligned to the point that it doesn’t as accurately reflect where a person is currently, consciously and subconsciously. Strong relationships tend to reinforce positive and aligned mirror images that become increasingly tough to break. This is the reason that it is best when couples grow and change together. As couples change together from a position of alignment, the mirrors begin to reflect more positive than negative, as subconscious elements become repaired through this process of growth together. But, when couples grow separately (usually through prolonged relationship stress), eventually the mirrors break and we search for a different reflection of ourselves to meet our needs.
How to Avoid Breaking the Mirror
– Learn about yourself, so you can own the parts of yourself that you tend to project onto your partner. Keep in mind, the more that an element of your partner upsets you, the more likely it is that there is piece of this in yourself that you don’t want to see.
– Communicate with your partner. More communication re-aligns the mirror and makes it reflect more accurately, which strengthens it.
– When your relationship isn’t functioning as well as you’d like, seek professional help. With this comes the process of re-aligning and growing together, which strengthens the mirror as well.
Contact Nathan Feiles to inquire about therapy.