On Love

What Happened To Your “Perfect” Partner?

So many clients have come to me with relationship challenges.  This has led me to think a lot about what makes for healthy and enduring relationships, and what might also make for enduring but unhealthy ones.

Very early on I remember working with a client who told me she had just ended a very painful long-term relationship.   She believed that she had found “the one,” this very special person who met all of her needs, understood her deepest desires, and fully shared her life goals.  She shared that being with this person was like looking into a magic mirror.  The mirror had shown her that while she and her partner looked different on the outside, on the inside they were identical.

And then it was suddenly over.

What Went Wrong?

How does this happen?  How can we be SO WRONG about another person?  How do so many people find themselves in destructive, disappointing or hurtful relationships?  Why is it so hard to see that we are making the same dating and relationship mistakes over and over again.  Most importantly, how do we fix this?

The Search for the Perfect Partner

We are each still searching for our “perfect” other half, but the connection will never be perfect. There will always be cracks where either light shines in or love drips out.  Some partners will meet more of your needs and some will meet less.   But none will fit perfectly.

(illustration of an old film projector or film real)

The Cleaner the Canvas, the Better the “Projection”

When you quickly believe that you have found your “perfect” partner you most likely are experiencing projection.

When therapists talk about projection it’s the idea that all of us have the ability to project, like a movie, the story we want or need to experience directly onto the “blank screen” of a new partner.  What makes this other person so perfect is that you don’t really know them well enough yet.

The young girl at the beginning of this chapter was most likely projecting her ideal image of a partner onto the young man that she had so recently met.  In a way she was exactly right.  The image that she saw in her magic mirror was most likely her own thoughts, her own needs and her own desires, all projected powerfully and skillfully onto the face and body of her new boyfriend.

Scientists who study love have a name for this relationship faze:  limerence.  This is the usually brief and early period in an intimate relationship when everything seems perfect. 

It’s only as you really get to know someone over time that the perfect projection begins to unravel.  As it fades away it is simultaneously replaced by the real but imperfect person actually standing in front of you.  And it’s this real person, who hopefully meets just enough of your deepest and most important needs, who will make the relationship worthwhile. 

Be Patient and Accepting Of Imperfection

There is no perfect fit.  The search for an appropriate life partner takes courage and patience.  But if you keep looking you can find just the right person for you, with whom you can share a lifetime while you are each growing into your best selves.  And you will find that this perfectly imperfect person is more than good enough.


Dr. Andrew RIchlin, Licensed Psychologist
Dr. Andrew Richlin writes for Teens, 
Young Adults and Parents on the challenges and opportunities in relationships… etc. and for parents and adults 


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