The honeymoon phase: you meet someone, you begin a relationship and all is right with the world. The other person is sweet, kind, caring and they value who and what you are. We all love the honeymoon phase.
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Then it happens. Someone or something changes. Is your significant other upset? Why? Did you do something? Did they do something? Why is he or she being closed off? Why am I constantly angry at him or her?
After a period of toxicity, the romance comes to an end. Another failed relationship. Or was it? It is not a failure if something is learned from it. What went wrong?
The core concept responsible for both the honeymoon phase and the unraveling of it is projection. Projection is where you take your emotions and project them onto the other person. Instead feeling and experiencing your own emotions, you actually see them on the other person.
Are you feeling jealous? You see your significant other as untrustworthy. Are you unable to express yourself? Instead of owning your frustration, you paint your partner as controlling or stifling. It’s often a two-way street (both people projecting onto each other). It causes all kinds of miscommunication, misinterpretations, and ultimately dysfunction.
“That can’t be why my relationships fail, I’m not doing that…” ~ You
That’s the key to projection. It’s unconscious. We don’t know we’re doing it. It feels normal and natural. Projection is, in fact, an emotional defense mechanism. It’s your way of not dealing with certain feelings, thoughts, or energies within yourself. Let’s look at an example.
One hot summer day in 2002, my girlfriend (now my wife) is getting ready to go the beach with her friends. I see her in a small bikini and I get uncomfortable.
“It’s inappropriate,” I tell her. “You’re showing too much.”
She disagreed, we discussed it, and she left for the beach without changing. As kindly as she could, she told me just to deal with it. I felt hurt and angry. Not only did she not care, but she was the cause of my feelings in the first place. Or was she?
No, she was not. I was projecting my own insecurities onto her. My telling her that her bathing suit was too revealing was my way of saying “I am insecure. Other men will find you attractive, and you will find them attractive and I will lose out because I am old news and not that special. Therefore, please do not make yourself too attractive so I will not have this problem.”
That moment stuck in my mind because of how hurt and helpless I felt, and how inconsiderate I thought she was being. But I was wrong. It took many years to see that. My ego wouldn’t let me find fault within myself, so I projected my insecurities onto my girlfriend. It was my backwards and unhealthy way of dealing with those insecure feelings.
Have you noticed a pattern in your relationships, similar to the one I described in the opening of this article? How everything goes really well at first, and then the tide turns and things fall apart? Is it almost like clockwork? You need to play detective to get beyond what is causing this.
Start writing. Write about every failed relationship you’ve had and for each one, write specifically why it ended. Then walk away. A few days later, go back and re-read why each relationship failed. I’m almost certain you’ll notice a pattern.
Take that pattern and look in the mirror. If every past boyfriend or girlfriend shut down emotionally and wouldn’t communicate with you, could it be that you were hiding your real emotions and thoughts? If most relationships ended because your partner didn’t spend enough time with you, could it be that you were needy and insecure?
In these examples, you didn’t address your shortcomings. You instead saw the flaws in the other person that you believe caused your feelings – hence the projection. You didn’t see that you were putting up an emotional wall with your partner, but you accused them of doing so. You projected those emotions, thereby avoiding having to deal with them yourself.
This is one of the reasons why perfectly good relationships go sour. The key to moving beyond this is awareness. Being aware of your own thoughts and emotions will go a long way in solving relationships problems.
Awareness brings the focus back on yourself, and only with this focus can you truly solve your relationship problems. A relationship will not be fixed by focusing on the other person’s behavior. It can, however, be grown and deepened by looking in the mirror, understanding yourself and moving forward with that knowledge.
The better your relationship is with yourself – the better you know yourself, your bright spots and your dim spots – the better your relationships with others will be. When you learn to avoid projection and deal with emotions and thoughts that you truly own, your up-and-down relationship patterns will change for the better. Your life will have, too.