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I’m passionate about love and relationships—and I know how easy it is to get swept up in the wonderful feeling that comes with falling in love.
But, is this spark or instant attraction real, or an illusion? What I’ve noticed is that this loving feeling can be nothing more than a hopeful fantasy, rather than the real thing.
In fact, I find that it can distort the way we see our relationships, and how we feel, often ignoring the warning signs that something is not right.
Projecting our fantasy means that we’re projecting what we need onto a person, rather than seeing the real person, and it’s fairly common in the honeymoon phase of a relationship.
So, how can we distinguish the difference between real love and a hopeful fantasy? How do we know if what we’re feeling is real love?
Why we’re attracted to our parents and how this blocks real intimacy
Our past can cloud our judgement and get in the way of choosing a partner. We internalise the behavioural characteristics of our parents, and often look for them in a partner, to recapture the loving feeling we desire, and possibly didn’t get from a parent. Resultantly, we end up projecting our fantasy onto a partner, while searching for those loving aspects we’d hoped for.
Have you wished a parent had rescued you, loved you, or taken care of you?
When we catch a glimpse of these loving attributes in another person we can be drawn to them like a magnet. Therefore, the feeling of love can often be a projected fantasy—a search for our unmet needs.
Have you ever wondered why you always look for a father figure in men? Or, do you seem to attract women who like to take care of you? Seeking the love we hoped for from our parents in a partner means we do not grow. We hope that a partner will fulfil these aspects, but the truth is, we need to develop them within ourselves.
The man who is looking for a mother to take care of him will never grow up and take responsibility for himself. The woman who wants a prince to rescue her does not learn to take care of herself. The person desperately searching for love outside of themselves will not learn to love themselves.
Many stay stuck in relationships because they’re holding onto the hope that someone else will meet their needs. Many of the couples I see become angry when their partner does not meet these needs, but they do not know how to meet their own needs.
You cannot achieve real intimacy if you’re treating your wife like your mother. Holding onto the hopeful fantasy of obtaining your unmet needs, and projecting them onto your partner, will sabotage intimacy.
How we relive our past and repeat our patterns of abuse or abandonment
In the hope of feeling loved as children, we protect ourselves by shutting out feelings of hurt or abandonment, which can cause us to feel worthless and unwanted. So, we seek relationships to feel good about ourselves and attain that feeling of being loved.
Individuals who felt unloved as children often avoid negative feelings in order to feel better. By projecting the fantasy of being in love, they can also attach to relationships to feel good and to avoid self-loathing. They protect themselves against the feeling of abandonment or hurt caused by a parent by seeking love or happiness in a romantic partner.
We can, unknowingly, hold onto the parent who hurt us, by seeking abusive or unavailable partners. By idealising the abusive partner, we deny the abuse to uphold our positive image of them, often repeating this pattern of accepting abuse, in the hope of feeling loved.
As a therapist, I have found that looking for love by attaching to those who will hurt us, will never meet our needs or fix our past, but it will highlight our past wounds. In fantasy love, our choice of partner is about staying attached to the internal parent, to receive unmet love from them, so the real relationship can never develop.
How to avoid attracting the wrong partner in your life
Many cannot resist a person who makes them feel wanted or special momentarily—even if the person does not want to commit. Many times, we ignore the warning signs that something is not right with the person, just to feel good and wanted.
But, it leads us to feel worse about ourselves. Instead, we repeat the pain and relive the past, until these patterns are resolved in psychotherapy. It can also cause us to stay in unhealthy relationships and not protect ourselves.
How to attract the wrong kind of partner:
>> Choose a partner mainly because they make you feel good or wanted instantly.
>> Jump in too quickly before you get to know the real person.
>> Avoid the warning signs or red flags that alert you something is not right.
>> Ignore early signs of possessive, controlling, or jealous behavior.
>> Ignore your gut feelings or instincts that tell you something is not right.
Something is not right if:
>> You are feeling pressured to be in a relationship against your own desires.
>> You get a sense that the person is not telling you the truth and things do not add up.
>> All of their ex-partners are projected to be “bad.”
>> One minute they love you and, all of a sudden, they discard you—and then come back.
>> They cannot handle criticism—so you avoid addressing issues.
>> They cannot take responsibility for their behavior and blame others or make excuses.
>> The relationship goes from idealisation to devaluation if you speak your mind or express a different point of view.
>> You feel you have to please them or agree with them, or they get “prickly.”
>> You feel you cannot be yourself and walk on egg shells around their sensitivity or mood.
>> They went from admiring you, to wanting to change everything about you, once the honeymoon phase wore out.
Checklist to ensure you’re in the right kind of relationship:
>> You can express yourself freely without fear of being judged or criticised.
>> You’re allowed to have your own point of view or do things your own way.
>> The person does not try to change you, but accepts and embraces who you are.
>> They enhance you—not drain you.
>> They bring the best out in you.
>> They consider your needs and feelings and have empathy for you.
>> They are truthful and don’t tell you what you want to hear to win you over.
>> You feel trust, honesty, and respect from them.
>> They feel comfortable with who they are and do not need constant reassurance.
>> They share their thoughts and feelings with you.
>> They let you be your own person and show interest in you.
>> They don’t put you down.
>> They make themselves available to you and want to commit to you.
Often our unfulfilled needs can get in the way of mate selection. Using these check lists can ensure that we do not lose grip on ourselves and what is important in finding real love. It enables us to determine the potential partners who might be wrong for us.
In my experience, the way to have a healthy relationship is to let go of needing what we didn’t get from our childhood, and giving up the expectation that a partner will meet those needs.
Ask yourself if what you’re feeling is real or an illusion.
Real love cannot occur if we’re searching desperately for it. It comes from developing confidence in ourselves and being our real selves. Real love comes from having self-acceptance. When we love who we are on the inside, we can find healthy love, based on a solid foundation.
No one else can change how we feel on the inside. If your father or mother never made you feel loved—how do you think a partner will be able to do this for you?
Author: Nancy Carbone
Image: Mirostav Hristoff/Flickr
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Social Editor: Sara Karpanen