What is the psychology of why we choose our partners?
As a psychologist and couples therapist, I’m often asked what my view is on what brings couples together, on what that attraction is, and the psychology of why we choose our partners. My answer revolves around the concept of the Imago which I’ll explain below. Warning: if you’re looking for an answer that is about soulmates or karma or fate or beshert, you’ll be disappointed. My answer is based upon psychological principles.
You know that old cliché that we marry our mother or we marry our father? Well, from a psychological perspective, there is certainly a great deal of truth to that. I’m trained and certified in Imago Relationship Therapy, which is a really powerful and successful form of couples therapy (for more on Imago, click here).
In this theory, we speak about the Imago which is Latin for image. Deep inside our unconscious, we hold this image of our “perfect” partner. This image, the Imago has all of the sights and sounds and smells and feelings we gathered while we were growing up. And guess what, our model for that is very strongly based upon our primary caregivers, usually our parents and sometimes also our extended family. The Imago is also based upon our neighbors and the books and newspapers and magazines we read and the television and movies we watched. And these days, of course, it’s also based upon the ubiquitous Internet.
And we take all of those images record and store them with our own unique logic, which is based upon some combination of our genetics and our upbringing and our developing personality. The kicker here though, is that the unconscious image we have created as the Imago not only includes the good qualities we witnessed, but also the negative traits of our caregivers. As children, we’re like sponges and we absorb it all. And so, when we meet someone that is close enough to this Imago, this internalized blueprint, our radar goes up. And if they have enough of those qualities or we believe that they have enough of those qualities, we fall “in love” and enter that first stage of relationship, the romantic stage, the honeymoon stage.
The honeymoon stage is easy though, as we focus upon the positive qualities of the Imago. The challenge in most relationships though, is when the honeymoon stage “wears off” and we’re left with this person who has many of the negative traits of our primary caregivers! That’s where an experienced couples counselor or relationship coach can be of support. In a followup article called What Are The Three Stages of Relationship I write more about the second stage, the “power struggle” and how to successfully navigate it. For now, just mull over the concept of the Imago and see how it applies to your current relationship or past ones if you’re single right now.
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.
Wonderful article. I’m curious how one can consciously change their Imago to support a relationship that is based on unconditional love?
Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for your kind words, looks like you found your answer on the “What Are The Three Stages Of Relationship” post. Let me know if I can help in any other way.
Thank you! At 49 years young, I absolutely agree with this theory though I always have. My experience has revealed this to me…not my yogic/karma/past-life path. I am currently living with a man for the first time in my life! His first time too. And gosh, he basically is my father (I would never tell him this though). We are both aware of our patterns and willing to do this relationship one day at time. That’s all we can do as we are both scared out of our wits and have serious commitment issues. My sister even married a man with the same birthday as my father! Thank you for so simply stating such important insights.
Thanks so much for sharing your experience and for your courage at leaping into a new form of relationship. Yes, we all do face challenges and the sooner we bring consciousness to what plays out in relationship, the sooner we can heal parts of ourselves in need of healing.
Wish you the best in your relationship!
You have opened a very complicated subject here and expressed it beautifully. As one who has pondered this subject more than most I greatly appreciate your approach. You open possibilities we can notice without over or underwhelming. Well done.
I wonder about the evolution of relationship picks in a divorce prone time. My grandparents never seemed to have considered divorce a possibility while I consider it likely. Used to be you picked one partner, now you pick one to go with your outfit. Would love to read your comments on this “evolution.”
Thanks for your kind words, I appreciate them, especially from someone as wise as yourself. Regarding divorce and relationship blueprints, I think it’s apples and oranges. The blueprints are the same, yet the gestalt of the newest generations has changed. When it’s “hard” or challenging, rather than rise to the challenge and honoring the commitment, they move on. This creates the “same sh*t, different day” syndrome, as they still are selecting new partners from the same template. They never get through to the other side.