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Marital Attraction: Our Unconscious Attempt at Healing


By Renae Miller, MS MFT, LCPC, Agape Counseling, Ltd

Whether you have been married for one year, five years, 20 years, or 50 years, you may have asked yourself the question: “what was I thinking when I promised to spend the rest of my life with this person?” The mystery of attraction compels theorists to attempt to explain the science behind choosing a mate.

One of the theories that resonates the most with me and many of the couples I work with involves the idea that we choose a mate based on the unconscious hopes we have for healing wrongs done to us by our caretakers. To see whether or not this theory makes sense to you, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What are at least three positive traits of my mother/mother figure? My father/father figure?
  2. What are at least three negative traits of my mother/mother figure? My father/father figure?
  3. Now, looking at all the list of positives from both care-takers, choose the five most significant positive traits to me. Then do the same with the negative ones.
  4. How much does this list of traits describe your spouse/partner? Many people are surprised to see that much of what they love  and cherish about their spouse is a mixture of what they love and  cherish about both their caretakers. They can be just as astonished to discover that what bothers them most about their spouse is what hurt most from their caretakers.

Imago relationship therapy, developed by Harville Hendrix, suggests that as we choose a mate, we are looking to right the wrongs we perceive done to us in the past by our parents, and the relationship we choose would not be attractive to us unless the person displays both the positive and the negative traits important to us in our parents. The terrifying aspect to this revelation includes the idea that a person feels stuck to repeat the quest for healing for the rest of their married lives. The exciting aspect, and that which can bring freedom, is the idea that spouses can give to each other the things that deeply matter and can be a source of healing to the most precious parts of us.

Marriage is difficult and requires hard work, but for those willing to do the work, it can be the most deeply satisfying relationship of our lives. Some couples are able to attempt the work of healing each other’s wounds through reading an article or a book, and others require professional help. If you answered the questions above and discovered some of what you needed growing up and didn’t get, you may want to try and improve your relationship with your spouse. Spend some time thinking about small ways you can ask to get what was missing in your family of origin and ways that you can help meet the needs of your spouse from his/her family of origin. Time spent healing these wounds opens the possibility of being able to say to your spouse, “I chose to spend the rest of my life with you so that we could become the people we have always wanted to be.”

Renae Miller is a licensed professional counselor who got her training in marital and family therapy at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA.
She works with individuals, couples, and families in their quest for healing. For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact Agape Counseling at 309-663-2229. They are a group of Christian counselors, social workers, psychologists, and support staff committed to a therapeutic process which ministers to the whole person. Their Bloomington office is located at 211 N. Veterans Parkway, (next to Krispy Kreme). They also have offices in Peoria and Morton. Visit them online at