Kathyrn was in love.  She had finally met the ‘one’; strong, handsome dependable, fun, the most perfect man, the love of her life, the one she had craved for.  Alex was kind, caring, thoughtful, attentive, always remembered anniversaries, bought her presents, the sex was just wonderful – like nothing she’d ever experienced and – he adored her.  She floated on a cloud.  She knew it would last for ever.  Within a month Alex asked Kathryn to marry him and just three months later, she was walking up the aisle of the most picturesque church.  It was a fairy tale wedding, she wore a full length cream wedding gown trimmed in lace.  It cost a fortune.  Her bridesmaids and pages were dressed in a delicate shade of purple.  The marquee, the speeches – everything was wonderful.

Fast forward three years.  Alex is still the same.  He tells Kathryn he loves her ten times a day, prepares little surprises, he is kind, they never argue, but ……but she’s not happy.  There’s something not quite right.  She realises with a shock that she is just that incy-bit bored.  Heaven forbid; this can’t be.  She blames herself.  There must be something wrong with her.  After all, her friends are all dead jealous she’s ended up with such a catch.  But it’s worse, she’s begun seeing another man. It’s all very innocent at the moment, just the occasional lunch, though he has suggested that he might book a room for the afternoon – and well, why not?  It’s just a bit of fun; nothing serious. 

Kathryn feels awful.  She can’t carry on like this.  She decides to end the relationship and confess to her husband.  She can’t live with the tension and guilt any longer.  Alex is shocked but sad and loving.  Kathryn is very upset.  Alex puts his arm around her, but then admits that he too has been having an affair with one of her friends for the last year.  Suddenly her mood changes.  She feels faint, sick, then furious.  She attacks him, throw his tea over him, scratches his face. She runs upstairs, opens the bedroom window and start throwing all his clothes outside.  She shouts at him,  ‘Go back to your whore and don’t let me ever see you again.’  And then when he has gone, she  collapses on the sofa and cries her eyes out.  

 Relationships between romantic couples work by projection.  In the first intoxicating magic stage of attraction – falling in love – we imbue our partners with all the qualities we most crave.  They become our idealized selves – a projection of our  deepest desires.  They may be suitable ‘vehicles’ for projection in that they possess  qualities that match up with the ideal, but like other special ‘objects’ we own  – our Porsche, our Bang and Olufson sound system, our state of the art kitchen –  they are invested with meaning,  our meaning, and they become extensions of our personality. Since we created them, they can never let us down.  We feel good about them and thus we feel good about ourselves.  

In most relationships, the romantic stage does not last very long.  Bit by bit couples come to realize that that the prince of their desires is a bit of a frog after all.  The progress of any long term relationship is marked by a thousand deaths.  It has to be so.       

Relationships develop and grow, not by continuous desire and adoration, but by disillusion.  Disappointments build up and coalesce into the resignation that our partner is actually not the one we craved – that person doesn’t exist in reality –  they are their own person – quite separate – nothing much like us in fact, and at times they irritate the hell out of us.  But we get used to them, we can communicate, work together, they are there for us.  Such people grow together. A new study by Kira Birdett from Michigan University’s Institute for Social Research shows that the longer a couple stays together, the more irritating and demanding they find each other, yet the closer and more comfortable they were are each other.  Maybe familiarity doesn’t so much breed contempt and give us permission to ‘project’ – express what it is about ourselves that we find irritating in our partners.    

But for those vulnerable souls who desperately need to have their illusions reinforced, this accommodation may come as a shock, and may cause them either to redouble their efforts to maintain the romance or act out their ideal in affairs.          

Alex and Kathryn managed to maintain their wonderful confection for three years, but underneath behind the decoration, the hearts and roses, their cake was beginning to go stale.  Eventually, unable to sustain the accretion of make believe, it collapsed.  In her shock,  Kathryn could not understand what she ever saw in Alex; he was the most treacherous, deceptive, despicable person, she had ever known.  Overnight he became the repository for all of her negative projections.  Everything she hated about herself was dumped on Alex in a frenzy of self justification.   The fact that she also was also having an affair was just dismissed as natural justice.  Alex was mortified and in shock.    For them, there had to be a separation – a major death – before they could move on.  Kathryn refused to have any contact with Alex and it was nearly a year before her anger abated and she could begin to miss him and feel sad.  Alex felt too guilty to be angry and took medication for depression.  They both realized that their affair partners meant nothing to them.  For both it was a way of escaping the cloying romanticism of their marriage.   

There was a happy ending.  This, after all, is a Valentine story.  A year after they parted,  Kathryn contacted Alex.  They met, apologised to each other and with the help of Relate, agreed to try again.  They came to understand their romanticism as a way of protecting themselves again their innermost fears of control and abandonment.  They allowed themselves to be much more open and honest to each other, dared to express their fears and reveal the aspects of character that they were most ashamed of.  To their surprise, these were remarkably similar.  As they understood each other, their confidence grew and they dared to express their irritation and so, like many other couples, they developed a more realistic sense of love; a stronger attachment.  Kathryn still misses the romance, but now this is more a treat they plan for themselves than a need born out of desperation.  Later that year, Kathryn became pregnant.