The characteristics that we notice the most in others (both positive and negative) are often traits that we have ourselves. It’s startling to consider that a negative trait in someone (which often elicits a strong response in us) is a trait we have as well. Thus access a reflection of ourselves through a relationship with another, especially a partner/spouse.
Long-term relationships are not for the faint of heart: there are trials, tribulations, and positive outcomes. A long-term committed partnership will offer painful lessons AND have beautiful experiences. We will experience a vast array of emotions on a continuum from elation and deep love to pain and even despair. Our interpersonal relationships reflect back ourselves and ultimately are an invitation to do our own personal growth IF we can get past seeing our partner as the problem. Intimate relationships demonstrate different aspects of our own persona and psyche, causing unconscious inner patterns to play out with others. When we have a powerful connection with another individual (whether that is a positive or negative relationship dynamic), what you bring to the interaction will impact your partner and trigger their unconscious patterns to play out with us. In addition, qualities that we admire in another individual can illustrate qualities that we may have lost or suppressed. This is why in the early romance stage of a relationship, people have said “He/she completes me!” This is why some embark on certain connections as a means to compensate or redeem a lost aspect of ourselves or play out patterns of an old version of our identity.
One indicator of maturity is when you realize that you are responsible for how you show up in the interaction in your marriage and that your partner doesn’t “make you feel” any emotion. Instead, you have full control over how you perceive an event or statement and how you respond.
An intimate relationship can shine a light on a part of yourself that you have denied or refuse to accept. Stated another way, the relationship can act as a mirror allowing you to see yourself more clearly. We have a tendency to pass judgments and dislike when our partner displays a trait that we have denied in ourselves. In essence, we as individuals, have a natural propensity to reject or hide parts of ourselves we dislike or are ashamed of. So it is important to practice self-awareness and self-acceptance, even for our shortcomings. It will help to notice which traits your partner exhibits that arouse a strong reaction because those may be traits you have and dislike in your own self. They are the ones being ‘mirrored’ in the relationship. As a result, our own healing and growth is the profound opportunity an intimate relationship offers us.
Article written by Piyanka Sen, a Master’s candidate in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.