The most efficient and time honored way to unravel years of powerful neurological circuitry sustaining early mental models and beliefs is through committed, genuine, and enduring relationships. Perhaps the best example of this is marriage.
The function of marriage or relationships that are anchored by life commitments is to repair the damage of the past. But, there is no guarantee. Unless the commitment is to the relationship itself above all else (not simply the other person), we are unlikely to endure the friction necessary to “dissolve” the protective barriers surrounding our childhood mental models and grow out of narcissism into maturity.
A few points are worth noting before presenting a summary of how and why we initially make lifetime commitments based on illusion only to later surrender them in the face of a greater reality that creates a more abundant life:
1. All change involves loss—even positive changes.
2. Change involves ambiguity which is interpreted by the brain as “danger”.
3. Early courtship is fraught with illusions and destroying them too early in the process might destroy the burgeoning relationship before commitment is solidified.
4. I would strongly recommend that anyone considering a life commitment to another person listen to Finding and Keeping the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. in audio form.
The decision to make a life commitment to a mate is a decision to unite with someone who has the power to change everything in your life. In relationships destined to become real, this change usually starts out good but gets rocky at some point after commitment is formalized. However, it is worth noting that the eventual fruits of healthy relationships are usually gathered by couples who are willing to risk everything over time to discover who they truly are. In other words, relationships with life mates are designed to transform you into who you were born to become before you compromised parts of yourself based on parental imperatives. In short, it is relationships themselves that offer the most efficient pathway to recover our wholeness and along with it our innate potential.
A highly summarized version of the logic of courtship and marriage (based on psychoanalytic theory) is nicely described by Dr. Hendrix and goes like this:
1. The function of marriage is to repair the damage of the past.
2. Infatuation or early love is like anesthesia that presents the other as somewhat perfect, or at least the best answer you have found to what you have been searching for all your life.
3. Since we don’t know the love object (no big rubs yet) as they truly are, courtship love (anesthesia) helps us to maintain the illusion that they are the answer to all our unmet needs.
4. In essence, the anesthesia keeps us from discovering that our love object incarnates the “worst” qualities of both our parents.
5. The more difficult our developmental history the stronger the anesthesia needed.
6. Hence, a more powerful dose of illusion and often physical attraction will be needed when there is a lot of reality to keep out of awareness.
7. All of this is to get the loving couple to commit before they learn the reality behind all these powerful feelings.
8. This is clearly the time to introduce some (but not too much) reality into an emotionally charged state fraught with fear, illusion, and the sensing of what is ahead with or without sensing that the stakes are the kind of life you will choose to live.
Just to complete the story this is what happens after marriage:
9. Each partner quickly realizes that, not only is the other not what they imagined, but are in fact exactly the opposite.
10. This leads to a power struggle that can last a short time or a lifetime. Most divorces end as a result of power struggles and the function of marriage (repair) is never realized.
If the couple has the maturity and commitment to resolve the power struggle then they may be fortunate enough to experience the following in stages of various lengths:
11. Toleration—“I’m not going to argue all the time and just gut it through”
12. Acceptance—“ He or she is simply different and that is OK”
13. Appreciation—“The ways in which he or she is different may actually be a good thing for me”
14. Recognition—“The ways that he or she is different from me actually represents the missing parts of me. If each of us accepts and incorporates the missing parts of ourselves, we can both become whole and relate to each other as two complete persons in a mutual relationship.”
15. Only at the point of recognition does genuine love even become possible.
I hope this adds a meaningful dimension to your understanding of the function of marriage and committed life relationships from the courtship stage trough the rough waters of personal growth and eventually to a lifetime of personal growth and happiness.