Soulmate Projections

Soulmate Projections

All relationships, all relationships, begin in projection. Often, when I make that pronouncement, someone will seize upon this simple categorical statement and take vocal and emotional exception. “But sometimes you just know,” they insist. “You know this is the right one.” This kind of urgent energy reflects the belief that the perfect partner, one’s soulmate,” could be known in an instant. Of course, we all do have some level of intuition, which some of us rely on more than others do, and sometimes to good effect. We “sense” something to be true, we feel it” in our bones.” But we are also often wrong.

I often wonder if this great initial insight had proved true over the years, whether the relationship with that soulmate had genuine staying power. Was the eros connection as strong today as it was in that first moment? I suspect not, for it seldom is. But such is the power of an idea, an emotionally charged idea whose proper definition is a complex. A complex is simply an idea with a lot of energy that knocks around with a life of its own in our psychic cellar.
One of the great false ideas that drives humans is the fantasy of the soulmate, or magical other – the idea that there is one person out there who is right for us, will make our lives work, a soulmate who will repair the wounds in our personal history, one who will protect us from suffering and, if we are lucky, spare us the dangerous hardships that come with growing up.
Virtually all popular culture is fueled by this idea and its fallout – the search for the soulmate, finding him or her, discovering that they are also human, and the renewed search… Listen to the next ten songs on the radio. Nine of them will be about the hunt for the soulmate.

We cannot know the depth and power of this drive because it is unconscious, and because it was programmed before consciousness was there to reflect upon it. Sometimes we will be aware of a certain quality that comes from our relationship with a parent. For example, our partner must be steady and trustworthy, or offer the sense of security a parent once did. More often, the problems of the parent-child relationship are calling the shots. How many abused children have formed relationships with abusers, helplessly replicating the patterns. How many adult children of alcoholics find addictive personalities to bond with? Often these patterns lie deep in the unconscious and do not emerge for years. Sometimes a person ends a relationship and consciously seeks a quite different person to be with, only to repeat the familiar patterns that characterized the previous relationship.

What is repetitive here is the unconscious pattern, not the outer appearance. Who in their right mind would seek out someone and say, “I want you to repeat my childhood wounding. I will love you because you are so familiar.” But we do this all the time. It is truly frightening to realize how little one is conscious in the formation of intimate relationships, how powerful our programmed desire is for what we have known. What is known is what is sought, even if what is known is wounding.

And so, our soulmate is loaded up with all the messiness of our psychic history. If there is an enemy that owns us, it is the power of that history with its ability to overtake consciousness, distort our perspective, contaminate our choices, and seek its own replication. Among the several tasks of marital and individual psychotherapy is the confrontation with this history. This encounter is sometimes shocking, occasionally depressing, and always humbling. Just as the mature adult may look back on the choices of adolescence with painful recognition of how little one understood, so too the unconscious patterns which drove one toward a certain kind of relationship may one day come to the surface. And what we then see is seldom a pretty picture.