Recognizing Beliefs that Foster Marital Disillusionment

Partners meet. They fall in love and everything is wonderful – until within a year or two when they get mugged by the realities of daily life. Then comes the inevitable disillusionment. The partners don't conform to each others' fantasies and their flaws become more visible. This disillusionment phase is ripe for wrenching growth and for productive movement into the stage of differentiation.

However, instead of growing in ways that are required to manage this painful disillusionment, many partners never progress. Instead of making the transition beyond symbiosis, they get entrenched in circular nonproductive patterns. They meet the disillusionment with a pressing demand to continue their earlier symbiosis. They turn expectantly or hopefully to their partners with the common lament, “You aren't meeting my needs.” Then they chase after those symbiotic beliefs that are pervasive in our culture:

1. If you really loved me, you would know what I want, without my telling you.

2. If you really loved me, you would have the same needs for intimacy and closeness as I do.

3. If you really loved me, you would change your personality to please me.

4. If you really loved me, you would give me what I want in an ongoing way and it should be easy, effortless and enjoyable for you.

5. If you really loved me, you would give me what I hope for – long for – and expect. And of course you will do it on my time schedule.

6. If you really loved me, you would give up old friendships with other men or women from your past.

7. If you really loved me, you would never have sexual fantasies about anyone else.

Symbiotic partners do not recognize the destructiveness of these demands or the extreme difficulty of meeting them. They don't recognize that to even approximate a response to these demands would require a complex awareness of self and the partner's personality structure.

Partners who insist on symbiosis first hint at it, then suggest it and finally demand it. These partners end up stagnate in either conflict-avoidant or conflict-dominated relationships, in which they end up sacrificing their own growth to preserve a semblance of relationship.

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Dr. Ellyn Bader

Dr. Ellyn Bader is Co-Founder & Director of The Couples Institute and creator of The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy. Ellyn is widely recognized as an expert in couples therapy, and since 2006 she has led innovative online training programs for therapists. Professionals from around the world connect with her through internet, conference calls and blog discussions to study couples therapy. Ellyn’s first book, "In Quest of the Mythical Mate," won the Clark Vincent Award by the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists for its outstanding contribution to the field of marital therapy and is now in its 18th printing. She has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including "The Today Show" and "CBS Early Morning News," and she has been quoted in many publications including "The New York Times," "The Oprah Magazine" and "Cosmopolitan."

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