After the Honeymoon: Idealization and Disillusionment
A while back, I read that the honeymoon phase of most relationships is about 16 months. In that first 16 months, the “other” is glorified, idealized, and thought to perfectly complement us. The “other” does not have to be a person. We can also glorify and idealize a new cause or new passion, such as yoga, shamanism, qigong, or meditation. During this honeymoon phase, we feel we have found what we’ve been looking for all of our lives. But what happens after the honeymoon?
Often, after a period of time, what once seemed perfect is seen in a new light. We start to find fault with what we previously found faultless. Qualities that attracted us now start to turn us off. We start to view the other—the situation, the process, or the person—with a more critical eye. A woman might be attracted to a man she feels is very protective and reliable, and then start to see him as boring and unimaginative. A man could be attracted to a woman whom he first sees as alive, fun-loving, and free-spirited, but over time he may start to see her as without much substance. So which perception is accurate? What is the reality of the person—or the situation—that we now see with new eyes?
And what do we do now that we view the “other” more clearly?
This is the tricky part in any relationship. Do we look for someone or something else that’s going to meet our expectations by complementing us in a more perfect way? Or do we continue to remain involved with the person or situation despite the change in our viewpoint?
When “the honeymoon is over,” we wonder what attracted us in the first place. What has turned us off? What are we looking for? Are we destined for constant disappointment?
During and after the 16 months, the other is simply what it is or who it is. It’s our perception that changes. If the other is a person, that individual may find that we seem different, too. Whatever happened to perfection?
Of course, “after the honeymoon,” we relax more and are less likely to try to hide the aspects of ourselves other may not like. After the “honeymoon” of 16 months or so, can we form a new relationship based on what is real, as opposed to what we thought was real? Can we recognize that as we shift from glorifying to disdaining, the disdain can be as much of an overreaction as the glorification?
What is the middle ground? How can we be with another and let that person be who he or she is? We don’t have to stay in a relationship or situation that is clearly not healthy or worse, is toxic for us. But we do have to learn to recognize how much of our own unfair and unrealistic biases and expectations we bring into relationships and situations.
Some years ago, I was talking to a wise Jungian analyst. I asked him what he thought he did that helped people. He didn’t muse about making the unconscious conscious, or helping people to individuate. He simply reflected on my question, and then replied, “Carl, I think what I do is just hang in there. I just hang in there.”
Sometimes, after the 16 months, there’s a benefit to just hanging in there and letting things unfold. Then we have the opportunity to let the situation reveal its true nature. We can see ourselves and both our realistic and our unrealistic needs.
What we should not do is put the people we care about in prisons just so that they will continue to meet our expectations. As the poet William Blake wrote, “He who binds to himself a joy/Does the winged life destroy/ But he who kisses the joy as it flies/Lives in eternity’s sunrise.”
How much of our perception is determined by our unconscious projections and expectations? How much is based on the reality of the situation? As we go from relationship to relationship, passion to passion, cause to cause, situation to situation, those questions never go away. Again and again, we will experience idealization and disillusionment. But we do have a choice about what we do when we start seeing more clearly and realistically.
If we hang in there after the honeymoon is over, we create an opportunity to have a loving, rewarding relationship based on reality rather than fantasy. We always have the power to change ourselves and our responses to people and situations, even if we can’t alter our circumstances to the degree we would like. We always have the power to change our story. Knowing this, we can be fascinated and even amused by our very human habit of idealizing people and situations only to become disillusioned by them after the honeymoon.
When have you become disillusioned with something you had idealized? What woke you up to the truth that what you had idealized wasn’t perfect after all?
And what do you do when the honeymoon is over? Do you hang in there, or seek a new passion?
Is there something you are idealizing now? Why are you idealizing it?