The heart wants what the heart wants?

Our choice in love is influenced, unconsciously, by what we have experienced as children, in our family of origin.

A question that often comes up in interviews with couples is: “Why did I fall in love with him/her?”. Psychologist John William Money says that we are guided by a sort of “Love Map” that each of us has encoded in our brain and which identifies what we like and what we don’t like, the colour of the eyes, of the hair, the timbre of the voice, the smile, the physical appearance. This map also outlines the personality traits that best suit us: affectionate, strong, of few words, chatty. In practice, therefore, this map provides us with typical characteristics that our ideal partner must possess. It creates, on an unconscious level, a model to which we refer in our choices and which orients us in one direction rather than the other.”

But what is it about this map that guides us? Certainly, it should be remembered that our choice of partner is conditioned by the experience of love we have had in our family of origin. Some authors talk about voids to be filled, that is, I choose my partner in reference to what I have had and what I have not had. In this case, we speak of “an imprinting of the emotional experience lived with our father/mother and which orients the search for a man/woman as or different from him/her“.

Roberto tells me: Over time, I understood that I saw in my wife the same characteristics of patience and goodness that belong to my mother, whom I lost many years ago.”

There can also be two very different things that unconsciously guide our choice of partner. Or the person we fall in love with is the one who is best able to implement the very behaviour that have made us suffer in the past, from which the so-called mummy or daddy issues originate. Or, the exact opposite, it may happen that a partner is chosen who can implement “corrective behaviour, impersonating roles and characteristics opposite to those of our family of origin.”

An interesting answer to the question: Why him or her?comes from the so-called Imago Theory, developed by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly (1980). This theory is based on the observation, already noted by Freud, that individuals do not interact directly with their partner, but with a mental representation of them. The Imago is the internal image of the one who could make me feel unique by finally satisfying my relational needs“. The correspondence between the real characteristics of a potential partner and the Imago can make us feel attracted to a certain person because it reminds us, on a deep level, of our first attachment figures with their strengths, but above all defects. Rosalba told me one day that she had been attracted to her husband because his blue eyes were the same colour as her father’s, with the difference that he was much more talkative than her father whose silences she had often suffered as a child.

Another element that seems to influence the fact of choosing one partner over another has to do with how much the characteristics of a partner are apparently opposite to oneself. This is explained by the fact that each of us as a child experience that certain inclinations and characteristics are not allowed or even sanctioned. Thus, in adult life one can be attracted to individuals with characteristics similar to those inhibited but having the ability to externalize and express them. For example, an extroverted person who has been punished for their spontaneity, and therefore does not allow themselves to be spontaneous, may find an open, sociable individual attractive. However, what has been learned in childhood remains present in the individual and, in the long run, the partner chosen because he or she is spontaneous may be criticized for being “too spontaneous” or even chaotic or impulsive. Marina told me: I was attracted by Alessandro’s depth and ability to listen and by his reserve, but now I can`t stand his muteness and

Introversion anymore.”

A final point concerning the choice of partner starting from the Scheme Theory.  According to this concept, people may unknowingly find attractive and fascinating, someone who generates familiar feelings and who confirms a pattern introjected since childhood. This theory also confirms the idea that establishing a relationship with one partner rather than another activates the hope of healing the relational wounds of the past by choosing a partner with characteristics similar to the attachment figure who was less present: this with the hope of finally obtaining the attention, affection or esteem not received as children. Unfortunately, this perpetuates the pattern: you could choose a partner with characteristics that will prevent you from having any kind of response different from that received as a child.

This was Francesca and Daniele’s discovery: We both found ourselves looking for the attention we didn’t receive as children, but paradoxically we discovered that Daniele resembled Francesca’s father, who was absent a lot during his childhood, and Francesca resembled Daniele’s mother, who had been very critical of him as a child. At some point we realized that either we changed our patterns, or we would continue to suffer. Instead of being disappointed by what wasn’t coming and expecting something from our partner that had to do with our unresolved needs as children, we began to care for each other with a fresh outlook, one of compassion for our childhood wounds and proactive about the challenges of the present.

(Source: – Author Lucia Coco-De Angelis psychologist, Transactional Analysis psychotherapist. Certified EFT therapist. Trainer of Hold Me Tight groups).