Sunday, February 2, 2014

Mirror, Mirror … Understanding Why We Picked Our Partner

“We all attract certain people into our lives who have developed qualities opposite to the ones we are most identified with. In other words, they mirror our disowned selves, and we mirror theirs.”—Shakti Gawain
This is a subject of keen interest to me as a coach and for my own personal growth. For some time, I could not understand how I chose a life partner that turned out to be so unlike me and so contrary to my core values. How could he have changed so radically? We were so in love and in sync. When I took a deeper look, I found that the attraction to the qualities in my partner and his in mine were an attempt for us both to become whole.
The understanding that we are looking at our mirror image in the partners we choose will help us to better understand ourselves. We possess, but often stifle, what we term negative qualities in our partner. Perhaps our partner is angry, lazy, or judges and blames—the harsher our reaction the stronger the denial of that quality in ourselves.
Learning to Reinterpret Denied “Shadow” Characteristics
‘‘The shadow,’’ wrote celebrated psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung (1963), is ‘‘that hidden, repressed, for the most part inferior and guilt-laden personality.’’ Jung also wrote, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead to an understanding of ourselves.” We all carry our shadow parts whether we are aware of it nor not. We attract characteristics in others that we suppress. Attracting an angry partner, as I did, was a quality I suppressed in myself. 

It all goes back to childhood when our very survival depended on our parents. As children, we learn to please our parents to survive. It was not safe to show anger in my home with an alcoholic father. I muzzled my anger to such a great extent that I lost my own sense of self. The degree to which I concealed that quality was the degree to which I experienced anger with my partner, which was extreme. I needed to be more forceful in my life by stating my needs and my partner’s anger was teaching me how to find my own voice. When I could speak my truth, no longer was I attracted to that degree of anger and could move on to a healthier relationship.
On the other hand, perhaps we have a partner whom we overly lavish with praise because of their career success or creative gifts. This, too, can inform us of our need to foster those qualities in ourselves and can be a signal of a sense of unworthiness.
Taking Responsibility
Our judgments are our internal sensors telling us where we are out of balance. Becoming aware of our denied “shadow” qualities will help us to find balance within ourselves and in our relationships. We may still not like a quality, but we will be less reactive. If the behavior is extreme, we may choose to move on to another relationship. When we can accept ourselves for who we are and learn to understand the signals our emotions are giving us, we give our partners permission to do the same.