Jackie had a very controlling father. He set high standards for his family, and maintained very strict rules for the household. He was controlling, demanding, and aloof. He changed jobs frequently, and ultimately he suffered from severe depression. Jackie’s mother bore the brunt of his fierce anger and cold silences throughout their unhappy marriage, trying her best to protect the children.
When Jackie met Simon, she knew he was the man for her. It was love at first sight. Simon was everything that her father was not: warm, caring, responsible, a good listener, a good provider. He didn’t talk much, but he was always present. Jackie knew that she could count on Simon to provide the closeness she never experienced with her father, and that she would be important to him. He was her ideal partner.
Six years into the marriage everything is different. In Jackie’s eyes, Simon has changed. He had always been quiet, but now she perceives his silence as hostile and withdrawn. Instead of being the great listener she fell in love with, he stares at her blankly when she talks to him about her day. The blank, uninterested look replicatess the same attitude that her father directed to her mother, and Jackie feels betrayed, because Simon is not who she thought he was after all. Interestingly, the origin of this problem does not lie with Simon; it resides within Jackie.
As a result of her desire for a relationship with a man completely unlike her father, Jackie began building up an image of Simon long before she really got to know him. She identified some of his behaviors and patterns as being ideal, and assumed that he was everything she wanted in a partner. When Simon failed to live up to her assumptions, she was bewildered as to how he could have changed so much.
Now their relationship stands on the brink of dissolution. Jackie does not realize that she projected her image of the ideal man onto Simon, and Simon never understood that it was his job to live up to her expectations.
The disappointment that Jackie is experiencing was inevitable. She had unknowingly set unattainable goals for her husband, so it was simply a matter of time before he began failing to meet them.
But instead of seeing Simon for who he really is, Jackie is tied to her ideals. She staunchly refuses to let go of the idea that Simon has changed. She believes that if he has changed, he can change back, and then he will once again be her perfect partner.
Herein lies the trap that many relationships fall into: to be truly in love, not just in lust, requires empathy and understanding. But when one or both partners have unrealistic images of their mate, understanding is lacking, making empathy difficult to achieve.
For Jackie, the best way to move past this problem is to begin with herself. Jackie is not perfect; she has flaws and challenges that Simon can rattle off at lightning speed. As it turns out, she is very demanding of him. He has no friends and has a curfew. His visits with his parents are scheduled by Jackie, and there is no deviating from her schedule. Jackie is obsessed with working out every day, and is very picky about what she eats. She makes sure their meals are balanced and healthy, and junk food is not allowed in the house. Simon wouldn’t dare stray from the meal plan no matter what he craves. He finds it’s much easier to go along with Jackie’s plan because it keeps her happy.
In order to move into a place of empathy, Jackie has to be willing to compromise. She needs to realize that she, too, has issues to work on. She has to develop empathy and show some compassion for herself. Once she is able to do that, she will begin to develop and show compassion for Simon. As she moves away from the idealized image she has projected onto Simon and begins to accept that he is a human being with both flaws and needs, she will be less critical of his behavior. At this point, the relationship has a chance of surviving.
Once they begin to break down the idealized images, as a couple they will be able to co-create realistic goals and expectations for their relationship. It is in the co-creation of these new dreams that they begin to heal and save their marriage.
Carl Jung, a famous analytical psychologist, developed the idea of the “animus” and “anima”. The animus is an inner masculine aspect of the female unconscious mind. Conversely, the anima is an inner feminine aspect of the male unconscious mind.