The romantic story of love tells us that our search for a partner is inspired – above all else by desire to find someone, who can make us happy. But the truth is a little bit more confused and peculiar for one of the oddest aspects of love is in tracking down a mate. We don’t in fact look out just for anyone who seems kind, good and attractive. We look out for someone, who will fulfill a number of pre-existing psychological requirements, which could include: subterranean appetite for frustration and humiliation. We are constrained in our love choices by what we’ve learned of love as children. Adult love is in central ways a search for rediscovery of emotions first known in childhood. In order to prove exciting and attractive, the partner we pick must reawoke many of the feelings we once had around parental figures. And these feelings, though they may include tenderness and satisfaction, are also likely to feature a more troubling range of emotions, perhaps a desire to prove ourselves to someone, who is always slightly skeptical of us, or feeling of shame around sexuality, or a need to cheer up someone with depressive tendencies. We can find ourselves of rejecting certain candidates in adulthood, not so much because they are wrong, as because they feel a little bit too right. That is, we dimly intuit that they’re not going to make us suffer in the ways we need to suffer in order to feel that love is real. The romantic view of love suggests that we end up in bad relationships by mistake. The psychological view suggests that we end up in tricky places by unconscious intent; without being fully aware of our wish, we need our partner to have a failing that our parents once had so that we can repeat the flawed, but potent, dynamic we once had as children. Though in most cases, we’re drawn to people with the very same things as a parent, occasionally a relationship pays tribute to a parent’s failings in a slightly different way: we act towards our partner as our parent once acted towards us. We push the partner into the role we once inhabited as a child. We may leave our partner uncertain where they stand or deeply aware of their inadequacies. We may shout at their failures or complain of their inadequate performance in the eyes of the world. It seems we are fated either to seek out the fault of a parent in a partner or to mimic the fault of the parent with a partner. Either way, the fault of the parent is central to our love choices. Without it, we may simply not be able to feel passionate or tender with someone. We might imagine we would only be attracted to admirable traits, to perfection, to very positive things about a loved one. Yet, just below the conscious radar, it is the failings that lure us in. Because we don’t automatically see what we’re doing, it can be helpful to actively try to compare past and present. For example, to reflect on how a parent is feeling, and then to audit how we often feel around a partner. Correspondences can be as striking as they are humbling. We become aware of the tricky strips we’re following to want to leave a relationship at once. But, this implies we might easily be able to overcome the sort of people we’re attracted to. A less dramatic but still hopeful strategy is to try to deal more successfully with our compulsions within an existing relationship. What this involves is accepting the extent to which we’re liable to be dealing with the issues in our couple with some of the immaturity of a child, the child we were when we first encountered the compelling flaws of our parents. We should feel sympathy for ourselves for facing a double challenge in love. We’re attracted to adults who have some of the failings we knew in childhood. But then in dealing with these failings we have none of the resources, wisdom and competence that someone who had enjoyed adequate parenting in relation to them would have been able to master The failings we’re most attracted to become those we’re least set up to deal with We love a slightly distant person but we can’t deal with the silences We’re drawn to free spirits but we can’t deal with the attendant anxieties In other words, our emotional legacy doesn’t just involve an attraction to certain failings It also involves a style of responding to these failings that’s stuck at the level of traumatized childhood. And typically involves panic, terror, cold withdrawal, projection, shame and obsessive rigidity We should untertake an unusual thought experiment To imagine the responses that an ideal, mature person might display in relation to the challenges we face. We should imagine what the mature person might do in relation to a partner who was often working or who made them feel ashamed of sex or who’s career was in decline. A mature person would’t be pleased or unfazed but they would have the inner skills to navigate the rocks calmly. They would resist jealous rages or silent sulks They would know how to wait for the right moment to deliver a point They might have the inner freedom to make a joke out of a problem They wouldn’t have to crush a weaker party Keeping such possibilities in our minds helps us to see that our own instinctive responses aren’t necessary or normal They are the responses of people who underwent a lot of trouble before they had any idea of how to cope with it We should create a zone of possibility in which we can regularly imagine having a different and more constructive response to our partners audities We should accept that the way to have a better relationship is likely to lie not in firing the partner We are with them for tricky but firm reasons but in doing some internal work to learn better how to cope with the problems we face with them We can come to accept that being uncomplicatedly happy in love was never going to be our leading psychological possibility given our childhoods. But that we may gradually learn to make our peace with character traits in our partners that are as troublesome as they are compelling.