Good Love starts with good unconscious attraction. How does this unconscious attraction happen?
I remember a client of mine, Rufus, who found himself discovering the unconscious workings of the attraction in his relationship decades after his marriage. Throughout his analysis he learned how that unconscious attraction worked which helped him save his marriage from shattering.
Izzy & Rufus
“I remember my wife and I in High School. She was sweet and wild and I was empathetic and reserved and we just became friends as if by magic. I can’t tell you how it happened, it just felt like it was always there. Like we were friends in some past life and found each other in this new life.”
“Izzy got me to do sports with her and got me to hang out and do things which was a super stretch for me. I’m a super-introvert and have no problems sitting at home reading or playing video games. Throughout those years I saw her get with guys, break up with guys, deal with hear breaks, deal with family issues. Her life was always a whirlwind and I was there whenever she needed someone.”
“High School was ending, prom was over, and I had been sitting on my feelings for Izzy for a long time then. I’m a self-attacker in my mind. I could give you millions of reasons why I wouldn’t have been a good boyfriend to her and could rationalize everything. I was going to be moving out of state so why should I take her away from her family? I’m not worth that. She has good family ties in our small town and I had none so for me it would be giving up little to move and for her it would be her giving up everything. I’m a virgin so I’d be awful. I had never kissed anyone so I wouldn’t be satisfactory to her physically at all. I was going to be broke in college so how could I support her.”
Rufus got silent at this point as he was laying on the couch.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I was thinking if there were anymore reasons I wasn’t good enough for her. There are more it’s just been years since I’ve thought of them. Oh! The main reason. I was going to ask her to marry me. We weren’t even dating. It was an all or nothing. This wasn’t totally out of the blue or anything. It was unsaid that her and I would end up together. Our parents got along well and Izzy and I got along well. Weird small-town stuff I guess.”
“I was at her dad’s house during the summer right before I went to college and just asked her. I was ready for the worst. She would say no and I’d be eternally embarrassed and I would go home and vow to never speak again to anyone. Strait up dooms day scenario. She said yes. I thought she was ridiculous, but I was seriously happy. I’m usually pretty even in my feelings, but that day I was really happy. It was weird to feel so much.”
“She always did this thing where she would ask me what was wrong with me when nothing was wrong. I swear that I’m not feeling sad, but she keeps telling me that I look sad. I use to let it roll off my shoulders, but now I just feel myself get mad and defensive when this happens. It feels invasive and hurtful which makes me want to walk away from the relationship at times when it gets really bad.”
We explored what he experienced at these times of interaction with his wife and he explained how he could feel the sadness, but it wasn’t his. I asked him what he thought would happen if he asked her, “Why am I so sad?” He spoke much about the turmoil he was in due to his discoveries in analysis, but that he’d try asking that since he really struggled every time this came up. It made him feel paranoid about the relationship.
He came to me a few weeks later and explained what happened when he asked his wife that question when she asked him why he looked so sad when he wasn’t.
“Izzy just broke down crying and told me about a horrible trauma she had gone through during High School that she never told me about and how guilty she felt for not telling me and how paranoid she felt that if she told me I wouldn’t love her anymore and that if she had told me back then I wouldn’t have ever asked her to come with me to make a life away from this nowhere town. She didn’t know this, but I had gone through the same shit during High School and since I was so reserved I never said anything.”
“It was strange & good to bond over this shared trauma we had. We both talked and listened to each other in this new way. I cried with her…I never cry…and she held me. It was so reverse but so real and completing. I’m glad she’s letting herself come see you to help her with this because you helped me with the same thing. This is the love I crave to have with Izzy.”
How Unconscious Attraction Happens
Rufus has the good quality of being stable in feeling, but would take it too far by repressing any action. We can see this repression functioning by his self-attacking thoughts of how he’s not worthy of Izzy when he was going to ask her to marry him. Izzy has the good quality of being full of life and energy, but that energy would become destructive impulsivity which would get her into some messed up situations. What was the unconscious attraction?
We can see that Rufus was deficient in his ability to do what he wanted and what would give him gratification in his life. Rufus called it reserved, which is code word for emotionally dead. Izzy was deficient in her ability to slow down and think about what was actually going to be gratifying and what would actually end up being a mess.
This friendship they formed as if by magic isn’t magic at all. It’s the unconscious workings of attraction and attachment. Rufus unconsciously found in Izzy the outgoing and spontaneous energy he repressed so deeply while Izzy unconsciously found the stable and thoughtful energy within Rufus that she fought so vigorously.
In their 40’s, we’re seeing this essence of unconscious attraction reemerge. Rufus came into my office feeling hurt by Izzy’s decades of asking him why he was looking sad when he wasn’t. Izzy could always put her feelings onto Rufus and Rufus would deploy his normal defense of keeping steady and even keel (letting what Izzy said roll of his shoulders). This would then diminish the intense feelings Izzy was having about her depression and Rufus would come out fine because he didn’t have a large range for feeling feelings. This balanced repetition that brought the two lovers together decades before that had worked all this time started to fall apart. Rufus was in turmoil when he saw his normal defenses not working anymore and we had to find a new way for him to be.
“I feel like analysis has helped me break out so many bad habits, but it also feels like it’s destroying my life. Now I can feel and I’m so fucking overwhelmed. Billions of years of everything I had pushed down has been coming up and I feel like I have no space for anything.”
This is when we discovered that maybe he should ask her how she is doing. Rufus thought it was useless because he was feeling overwhelmed and he was always listening to Izzy and the problems she was having at work or with people. I pointed out that hearing someone speak and asking them to speak communicate two different emotions. One communicates that you’re a toilet and anything given to you will be flushed away, no harm no foul, while the other communicates that you want to hear what’s going on and that you’ll hold onto and care for the speaker and be there to support them with the issues. That one forms a relationship.
“Rufus, you’re bad with action and you found a good way to do ok while doing nothing. Asking her means you’ll have to do something instead of just being a passive toilet.”
I had wanted to say this to Rufus for so long. But, I understood that impulsive talk doesn’t get through to him. It was finally time to tell him.
“I’ve always had a hard time talking about myself and Izzy made it easy because she would just talk, I wouldn’t have to ask and if I didn’t have to ask I wouldn’t be asked.”
This was how the essence of their unconscious attraction helped mature their developmental short-comings within their relationship. Rufus, the husband who has the quality of being steady in emotions that would destructively morph into emotional deadness now could feel and ask his wife direct questions about herself. He had been afraid of being noticed. Izzy, the vibrant and energetic woman that would destructively morph into damaging impulsivity could now know that she was actually being listened to and heard and cared about which actually eased her need to be doing something. She was afraid of being forgotten.
“She was asking me what was wrong with me because it was the safest way to ask me to remember her. I always was stuck with my face in my computer working and she knows that I’m not much of a talker and…here I go with those words…unconsciously she found a way to get both of us to speak to each other in a deeper way than we ever had. We have been best friends since 9th grade and neither of us shared something that had hurt us so badly and that had unknowingly affected our relationship the whole time. We’re total opposites in a lot of things, but we make each other better. She’s the only Love I’ll ever need.”
Psychoanalysis & Love
Psychoanalysis has vastly different things to say about maturation and relationships than does the newer psychologies & behavioral sciences. Psychoanalysis understands that we unconsciously find a lover that has qualities we feel we don’t have, that we need or that we have unconsciously repressed. We form an intimate relationship with them to experience with them these qualities so we can obtain these good qualities within ourselves. At the same time, our lover is doing this with us. Completing each other. Finding qualities in us that they feel they lack, need or have repressed. We resonate with our lover, continuously making each other better, which develops and maintains a satisfying and long-term relationship. When this constructive balance becomes destructive, the relationship is in trouble. When this balance matures, we’ll find it’s the only Love we’ll ever need.