Portland Therapy Blog

Portland Therapy Blog

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Nourishment and Why We Choose The Partners We Do

Posted: August 08, 2016 by Jon Fox

We all need nourishment on a daily basis. Not only from food, (which I love very much), but from our friends, coworkers, and loved ones. I’ve noticed some synchronicity between the work I’ve been doing with several of my clients in the past few weeks. We’ve been focusing on how we take in nourishment (or caring or love or support) from our partners, or block ourselves consciously and unconsciously from taking it in. It is not uncommon to block this nourishment. Here's one explanation:

I was listening to a live video talk from Harville Hendrix and his wife, Helen Hunt a few weeks ago. They have both been Marriage and Relationship counselors for decades and Hendrix has written some great books on improving your relationships such as one of my favorites, “Getting the Love You Want”.

Hendrix mentioned that one of his and Helen’s main beliefs is that we seek out a partner that has both the positive and negative qualities of the caregivers who raised us as children (parents, grandparents, siblings,etc. ). This might sound like an old idea and it kind of is because folks like Freud had similar notions. However, Hendrix and Hunt expand on this in many ways using their Imago Therapy and “Safe Conversations” approaches, and highlight the validated scientific basis for this with our new knowledge of how the brain works with current neuroscience.

We will not only seek out a partner who is cold and distant during our most vulnerable times because our father was this way, but also because we don't have as many receptors in the brain to take in warmth and caring when it comes our way because of our experience with our father. In choosing a mate, we unconsciously select the mate with this cold and distant characteristic because we crave the corrective experience of having this type of person give us warmth when we’re feeling most vulnerable.

We might not trust the nurturance when it comes our way from our current partner because of old wounds around not getting it when we needed it most. Or we take in the warmth and caring and new neural pathways are formed in our brain. We feel the safety, security, and love with our partner that we’ve longed for. Remember, that our brain is very changeable as we experience new things over time.

Of course, our partner is not always able to give this warmth to us when we need it because of their old wounds and because they are craving empathy for their hurt at the same time. This makes for a tough game where you both feel stuck. You and your partner are both craving empathy and understanding, but neither wants to initiate. Time to turn mindfully towards yourself and direct empathy and compassion towards yourself. It takes practice, but the more you practice, the deeper the pathways in your brain you’re forming to both give and receive nurturance. And when we give ourselves warmth, we’re more able to initiate some warmth again with our partner. If they can take it in, we are likely to have caring coming back our way. A quick tip for finding some empathy for our partner is to find the “grain of truth” in what they're saying and focus on that in a way that encourages, (not discourages), their openness with us. It takes cultivating courage in ourselves and at the root of courage is heart.

If these ideas spark some curiosity in you, feel free to respond to this post with your comments or questions. Keep feeding your partner and yourself.

Tags: relationship and family

Jon Fox

Licensed Professional Counselor


I use mindfulness-centered, somatic therapy approaches to help you discover your unique strengths and inner resources.

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PTSD, Relationship / Marriage Issues, Codependency, Political Climate