conflictcouplesI’ve posted a number of articles and videos on the psychology of how we come together to form relationships and the stages of relationship: the honeymoon stage, the power struggle stage and the conscious relationship stage.  Now I’d like to share some deeper truths to help you understand what occurs in these stages.

Let me remind you first about what is called the “Imago Match” which is a key concept of Imago Relationship Therapy, which I’m certified in.  Imago is Latin for “image” and it means the internal, psychological representation of that idealized partner we have stored deep in our unconscious.

The Imago embodies all of the positive AND negative qualities of our primary childhood caregivers.  Usually these are qualities of our parents, yet they could also include other caregivers, extended family, teachers, friends, television and movie figures, etc.

So, we have this Imago in our psyche and when we meet someone who is potential partner material, we begin to do an unconscious search to assess how good a match to these qualities.  We then begin to engage in three separate, although sometimes simultaneous processes.

These three partner selection processes are the “3 P’s of Relationship Dynamics” and are:

1. Pick

2. Provoke

3. Project

Let’s look at them first in the context of the honeymoon stage of relationship.  In this stage, we are flooded with the “love hormones” such as PEA and oxytocin which are like speed and heroin respectively.  Consequently, what we see in our potential partner are all of the good, positive qualities of our primary caregivers.  We’re feeling so good, so euphoric that we ignore or minimize the negative qualities.

We “picked” this partner because we recognized that they had enough of these positive qualities to begin this potential dance of intimacy.  At the same time, we will also be on our best behavior and “provoke” or inspire them to treat us in the best way that they are capable of treating us.  It’s kind of like when a politician is running for office and presents their best face and makes all of the right campaign promises.  Sound familiar?

And, we will also tend to “project” these positive qualities upon them as well, whether they truly have them or not.  We will see the in them in the best possible light, give them the benefit of the doubt and possibly even stretch the facts a little bit to squeeze them into the mold that we are looking for.

Now, the honeymoon phase generally lasts only so long, as the “love drugs” circulating through our system have a finite lifespan and we build a tolerance to them.  We now enter the power struggle phase of relationship.  In this phase, we quite clearly see the negative qualities of our primary caregivers in our potential partner – loud and clear!

And, our wise unconscious has “picked” someone that has those qualities, even though we didn’t see them at first or we ignored them.  It continues to amaze me how incredibly astute our unconscious “radar” is at finding a person with these traits.  Has this happened to you?

And if they don’t express enough of these negative traits, we will “provoke” them into expressing them.  Yes, incredible as it sounds, we will unconsciously manipulate them into treating us poorly.  And if they are unable or “unwilling” to do so, or they’ve done too much personal growth work and don’t fall for our setups, we will “project” these negative traits onto them!  Have you ever thought to  yourself, “You sound just like my mother!” or “That’s something my father would do!”

These are the “tools” our unconscious uses in the first two stages of relationship: pick, provoke and project.  And it’s not a bad thing or a negative thing.  My belief (and the belief of the Imago theory) is that we come together in relationship to heal those wounds of childhood, to heal ourselves and our partners, and to become whole.  So this process needs to happen.  It ultimately is a very good thing.

What many couples require however, is the support of a good couples counselor to help them navigate through the power struggle phase into the conscious relationship phase.  It is here that we become more aware of the 3 P’s and begin to own our projections and manipulations.  It is here that we begin to see who our partner really is and begin to see who WE really are.  It is here that we can have a rich, deep, even more passionate relationship.  That is my goal as a couples therapist.

What are YOUR thoughts about the 3 P’s?  Have you had a similar experience?  I would LOVE to hear from you.

Thank you so much,

Dr. Adam Sheck

If you’re interested in more of my thoughts about relationships and creating passion and purpose, please download my Free Special Reports, “20 Rituals For Romance!” and “The Secret To Owning Your Mission!” by subscribing to the Passion Doctor Newsletter at the top of this page.