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Our Imago is also likely to have the qualities—both good and bad—that we lost in the shuffle of socialization. For instance, the anger you repressed because it was punished in your home, and which you unconsciously hate yourself for feeling, you "annex" in your partner. But eventually, seeing your own forbidden emotions in him makes you so uncomfortable that you criticize his quick temper.

All of this seems to be a recipe for disaster, and for a long time it was a depressing state of affairs that puzzled us. How can we resolve childhood issues if our partners wound us in the same ways our caretakers did and we ourselves are stuck in patterns that wound our partners?

When you're unaware of the hidden agenda of romantic love, it is a disaster. You inevitably repeat your childhood scenarios with the same devastating consequences. But when you understand that you've chosen your partner to heal certain wounds, and that this healing is the key to the end of longing, you've taken the first step on the journey to real love.

It's crucial to accept the hard truth that incompatibility is the norm for relationships. Conflict is a sign that the psyche is trying to survive, to heal by stretching out of its defenses. It's only when you don't have this knowledge that conflict is destructive. (We believe that couples who claim never to argue are often shying away from intimacy; instead of sharing all of themselves, they may develop parallel lives.)

Romantic love is supposed to end. It's the glue that initially bonds two incompatible people so they can begin to do what needs to be done to heal each other. The good news is that the power struggle is also supposed to end. The emotional bond created by romantic love evolves into a powerful organic bond through the process of resolving conflict.

With self-awareness we can correct what has gone wrong. But a conscious relationship isn't for the fainthearted. It requires reclaiming the lost, repressed parts of ourselves that we were told were dangerous. And it means learning coping mechanisms that are more effective than the crying or anger or withdrawal that has become habitual. It means reconnecting through honest conversation and extending ourselves to give our partners what they need to heal. This is not easy, but it works.

Relationships aren't born of love, but of need; real love is born in relationships. You are already with your dream partner, but at the moment, he or she may be in disguise—and, like you, in pain. (If your partner is abusive, you need to recognize your part in the attraction and learn how to keep yourself emotionally and physically safe. Unless you're conscious of the dynamic, you might think divorce will solve your problems—only to select another partner with similar characteristics.) A conscious, honest relationship can restore your sense of aliveness and wholeness, and set you on the path of real love.

For more information, see ImagoTherapy.com.

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