Dear Dr. Yael,
I am writing to thank you for helping me get married over 20 years ago. At that time I was constantly rejecting people who were good for me and was attracted to people who were unhealthy for me. With your counsel, I married a really sweet guy who is an amazing husband and, Baruch Hashem, we have a beautiful family. I wanted to share this nachas letter with you publicly so that others would learn from my experience as well.
In therapy I recognized the negativity that I had grown up with and how critical my parents were of me and of each other. I began to understand that I was seeking out negative men who were in sync with my imago. It was you who encouraged me to continue dating my husband whom initially I was not attracted to – he was just too nice.
I wonder if both the shidduch crisis and divorce crisis are a result of people getting stuck in their negative imagos. I am approaching shidduchim soon with my own children.
They were brought up in a loving positive home.
Please share with your readers how you help people marry against their negative imagos. I know men and women struggle with this problem. May you continue to help people marry well and stay married. A Happy Former Client Dear H.F.C.,
Thank you for taking time to write and share your nachas with our readers.
To explain the imago therapy and how it relates to dating, I have compiled a story that is based on several client histories.
David is a successful attorney and works for a prestigious law firm. He is tall, good-looking and has gone out with many women.
Generally in therapy he would first discuss his professional successes and then begin talking about Shoshana, the woman that he loved. He was totally bewitched by her and would marry her in a minute if she would agree.
However, Shoshana kept refusing to make a commitment to him and always delayed talking about an engagement. When David met Shoshana, she seemed to be everything that he was looking for in a wife. She was attractive, intelligent and had a sparkling personality. However, as the relationship developed, he noticed that whenever they went to a restaurant to eat dinner, she always complained about the service or the food, no matter how good he thought the restaurant was. She would complain constantly about her job, but would do nothing to try to improve her working conditions. She was a Physician’s Assistant and could have found many other positions; however, she continued at her job without trying to change the situation.
Instead of focusing on these negative traits, David would focus on her discriminating taste. As far as her constant complaining about work, when she would rant and rave about her awful job, David would see her as a real trooper for putting up with such difficult working conditions. “Other people would have quit the job long ago,” he would share with me in therapy proudly. The thing that bothered David about Shoshana was that she was unavailable.
She would go out with him once a week on Motzei Shabbos or Sunday and insist on not seeing him during the week. She said she needed some “breathing space.” David agreed to her terms even though he knew that she was dating other men during the week.
She made it clear that he had no choice but to grant her more freedom. To compensate for the situation, David started to date Rena, a woman completely different from Shoshana.
Rena was devoted, compliant, and patient – and crazy about David. She would marry him in a minute.
David would tell me, “Rena is crazy about me and I am crazy about Shoshana. I really don’t care that much about Rena, and when I am not around her, it is as if she does not exist. I feel guilty, since I am just dating Rena to get back at Shoshana. I feel like I am taking advantage of Rena. Whenever I am not thinking about work or davening or learning Gemara, I am dreaming about Shoshana.” Rena happened to be prettier than Shoshana, was more educated (she was a physician), and was clearly more emotionally stable. Rena was dependable, warm, caring and, as David said, “charming to others.”
So why was David so attached to Shoshana who treated him so poorly? Why was he unable to see all of Rena’s wonderful qualities and willing to overlook Shoshana’s faults?
It should come as no surprise that David had a very critical distant mother who would often tune him out and be emotionally unavailable to him. His father was a workaholic who never had any time for David. He provided well for the family financially, but was not there for his wife or children on an emotional level.
When his mother got that distracted look, David would become angry and she would then punish him by spanking him and sending him to his room. His mother would not talk to him for hours and he remembers crying in his room. One day, when he was crying for hours, with both of his parents not available to him, he looked in the mirror in his room and saw his tear-streaked face. He said to himself, “What is the use of crying?” From that day on, he never cried again. Instead he became stoic, trying not to feel pain.
What was so attractive about Shoshana? Shoshana reminded David of his mother. She was always complaining, she hurt him constantly and distanced herself by dating other men. In therapy, David began to see this and understood that his “old brain” yearned for closeness with someone who was like his mother. In contrast, Rena was completely different. Shoshana was David’s imago; his imago was unhealthy. In therapy, David had to learn to let go of his negative imago. Baruch Hashem, David was able to realize that Rena was truly a healthy woman who would be an amazing wife.
Today David and Rena are happily married with a young mishpacha.
Your imago is your unconscious idealized image of your mother and/or father that influences your behavior and your marriage choices. If you have a good relationship with your parents, chances are you will have a healthy and good relationship with your spouse. You would still have to be careful not to over-react to your spouse when he/she acts like your parent in a way that upsets you; however, with some communication skills, this relationship can work.
The problem arises when you have a difficult relationship with one or both of your parents. Many times, individuals subconsciously try to marry someone in order to work out the issues that they had with one or both of their parents. If these are minor issues, there is a possibility that this can work, but there will be marital discord.
Dear readers, if you are stuck in a dating cycle and do not know why you are not finding the right person, please seek professional help.
Hatzlocha to all.