It’s not totally a bad thing that love is blind. Love is often based on idealization. In the early phases of falling in love, you put your partner on a pedestal and imagine that they are the most perfect person in the world, at least for you. Even after the honeymoon phase of a relationship, we want to think the best of our partners.
We love our partners despite their imperfections because we believe their good qualities far outweigh their bad qualities.
And maybe over time, our partners’ bad qualities will be fixed or outgrown as our partners learn to live up to their full potential.
Accepting our partners’ imperfections, warts and all, appears to be an essential ingredient of successful long-term relationships.
A relationship isn’t going to work if your partner is treated as a permanent fixer-upper who will never be good enough, no matter what they do to make you happy. The question arises as to just what is good enough in a long-term relationship.
Are there certain imperfections that you shouldn’t have to accept in a long-term relationship that must be fixed to your liking, or you should get out rather than settle?
Living with deal breakers and rationalizing them can extract a high emotional cost. You can’t feel securely attached to someone who cheats on you, mistreats you, doesn’t financially support you, and loves their alcohol and drugs more than they love you
. It’s not good for your self-respect if you settle for this sort of treatment day in and day out without any end in sight.
You might begin to suffer depression, panic attacks, and angry outbursts that seem to erupt from nowhere. Why would anybody put up with this stuff by trying to tune it out and rationalize it? Yet many people do.
We put up with this stuff and make excuses for our partners’ unacceptable behavior because we just can’t bear the thought of ending the relationship.
We’ve put our heart and soul into this relationship, and it breaks our heart to sadly acknowledge that the relationship may be a lost cause. Denial kicks in, and we heroically try to save the relationship, though it may be a losing battle.
Ironically, once our tragically flawed partners perceive that we can’t bear to walk away from a toxic relationship and that our threats of leaving are just bluffing, they realize that they can hold on to the relationship forever without ever having to change their ways
. It’s only when our partners see that we are truly weaning ourselves from a toxic relationship and becoming more independent from them that they might be motivated to change if they can change.
Grieving a failed relationship can’t be rushed but must be painfully endured.
Yet it is an endurance test that doesn’t last forever. And when it finally ends, and you come out the other side, you are free to live your life with dignity and hold out for someone who treats you the way you deserve to be treated.
Love is blind. The now commonplace phrase is often attributed to Shakespeare, who explored the concept in several of his plays.
But if Shakespeare gave the concept so much of its rich meaning, he wasn’t the first to introduce it. Chaucer had already coined the phrase in the 14th century, and the idea was depicted in images well before that, in representations of Cupid wearing a blindfold.
Arguably, then, the notion that “love is blind” has been around longer than our modern English, possibly as long as there was language to reflect on what it means to fall in love.
Though later theorists have much to add, Freud laid the foundation for most of our enduring ideas about romantic choice.
Freud had very specific reasons for believing that we can never see romantic matters clearly since, according to his theory, love operates under disguise, and the task of choosing a love object is led by the unconscious.
So what is the nature of this driving unconscious force? For Freud, all passionate love is an attempt to retrieve that first love between a baby and its caretaker.
Fairbairn emphasized the critical significance of maintaining attachment to caregivers, no matter how cruel or abandoning the caretaker proves to be.
According to Fairbairn, when faced with an abusive caregiver, a child will do anything to protect the caregiver’s image as good, including disavowing awareness of his or her flaws.
The child thus takes the only available alternative step: to locate the badness in herself (If I’m being yelled at and beaten, then I must deserve it).To quote
Fairbairn’s most famous statement:Given this set-up, when such a child grows up to seek a romantic partner and inevitably (as established by Freud) finds one with a resemblance to the original caregiver, they will be blind to the lover’s flaws and even compelled to adhere to playing out old, familiar patterns: suffering mistreatment and blaming themselves for it. In short,
Fairbairn explains the confounding behavior of people who find themselves with abusive partners and who remain blind (or partly blind) to the abuse.
More contemporary psychoanalysts (relational/interpersonal and attachment-based therapists) have developed further tools to help us understand how it is we can both know—yet fail to recognize—the faults in our romantic objects.
Many have traded in the language of repression for one of dissociation, choosing a model of mind in which we have different parts of us, or self-states, that come in and out of awareness.
According to Philip Bromberg, the analyst best associated with the self-state model, in cases of violence, for instance, where it’s impossible to hold the idea of the loving partner in conjunction with their cruel or frightening behavior, the mind acts to preserve the attachment by denying conscious access to the threatening experience.
To put it bluntly, we can literally fail to process—to think and remember—the hurt our loved ones cause us.
So then, if Bromberg and others are right, and our minds are so armored to blind us to the faults in our loved ones, are we all doomed to stumble through romantic misadventures?
Relationship scientists have distinguished between necessities, luxuries, and deal breakers when it comes to our preferences in picking a romantic partner.
A necessity might be some minimum standard of good looks or sexual chemistry. A luxury might be needing a partner who is the sexiest person you’ve ever met.
A deal breaker might be someone with whom you feel zero sexual chemistry. We might be too picky if we’re holding out for luxuries when our partner provides all the essential necessities.
But we might be settling if our love makes us blind to the deal breakers in the relationship, and we aren’t getting the essential necessities we need for the relationship to be truly good enough.
The major deal breakers are infidelity, alcohol or substance abuse, physical, emotional, or verbal abuse, and failure to contribute to family finances.
These are frequently cited reasons for divorce or marital dissatisfaction. Nevertheless, many people live with relationship deal breakers despite their unhappiness with these behaviors.
They remain blind to these problems, see them but minimize them, remain hopeful that such behaviors will change over time if they keep working on it, and make constant threats of ending the relationship, hoping to motivate their recalcitrant partner to change their ways.
We free ourselves from toxic relationships once we overcome our loss aversion. Once we choose our own self-respect over our attachment to our irreparably flawed partners, we become capable of leaving a bad relationship without looking back and without regrets.
On a certain level, it’s a relief to finally extricate oneself from a toxic relationship. We are free at last. Yet it is also horribly sad.
All the dreams we had of what the relationship could have been must be mourned as not meant to be. We must let go of the sense of failure that we couldn’t make a toxic relationship work.
We must let go of the sense of unlovability that we didn’t deserve to be treated any better than what we got.
We must convince ourselves that we are better off on our own and that we deserve to do better and can do better in the future.
We must trust that we will choose more wisely in the future. All these emotional adjustments are a tall order and take time.
“There are… good reasons why a child sucking at the mother’s breast has become the prototype of every relation of love. The finding of an object is, in fact, a refinding of it.”
Since anxiety around the incest taboo prevents us from choosing a parent or obvious parent stand-in for our lover, we must disguise the resemblance.
The real attraction to our romantic choice is therefore repressed or out of view—so that we can never truly know what we love about the person when we love them.
Add to this befuddlement the fact that we tend to idealize our romantic partners, just as we idealized our parents in early development. For Freud, new lovers desire to experience their romantic objects as perfect, something that also gratifies our own narcissism—someone so wonderful loves me!—increasing our euphoria and unwillingness to let a more sober view of our beloved take shape.
Much of Freud’s view has infiltrated popular understanding. Today, it’s hardly shocking when partners complain—You’re just like my father or mother!
But questions remain: What makes one unconscious resemblance the glue that happily binds, while others lead to torturous attachments?
Scottish psychoanalyst Ronald Fairbairn, a prominent figure in the development of object relations theory, offered a framework for understanding what’s going on when painful aspects of a primary (parental) relationship get repeated in adult romantic choice.
Despite the challenges of dealing with love blindness, psychodynamic therapy offers hope.
For people continually drawn to destructive partners, the solution is to become aware, with the help of a sensitive analyst, of early patterns with caregivers and of how they repeat in current relationships.
As Fairbairn and Bromberg suggest, distorted seeing will be far more prevalent in those whose primary attachments were problematic and involved dissociating negative experiences.
Treatment therefore includes becoming attuned to feelings and fantasies excluded from awareness, and facing the pain and disappointment around how our caregivers—present and past—have failed to love us as we needed.
In the end, to see clearly in love, we must stop seeking to revive and repair our early attachments and shift from the wishful romantic mode to a more tragic one, where greater acceptance of reality grants us the power to alter our romantic destinies, but also lands us in the mature territory of ambivalence and grief.
To lean to love without illusion—or with not too much of it—is also to grieve.
We must let go of the fantasy that we can achieve the perfect wished-for love we never had, and only then can there be hope for new experiences, where to love is to be able to see and know the other, truly, by first seeing and knowing oneself
Freud, S (1905) Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905). The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume VII (1901-1905) p 222
 Bergmann, M (1987) The Anatomy of Loving, New York: Columbia University Press, p 159
 Fairbairn, R.W. (1943) The Repression and Return of Bad Objects, New York and London: Routledge p 66
 Bromberg (1994), ”Speak! that I may see you”: Some reflections on dissociation, reality, and psychoanalytic listening. In: Standing in the Spaces: Essays on Clinical Process, Trauma and Dissociation. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press, 1998