This is my own personal opinion, borne out by many clients I have encountered. I haven’t heard it from other therapists, and it certainly is not the usual explanation given in my profession. But it is my opinion:
When we are small children, we all need love, and we need it consistently. We need love that is intelligently given, so that, for example, as children we are given age appropriate challenges that we can master – thus building or self esteem. We also need to be loved just for existing, for being our parent’s pride and joy because we lie in our beds at night breathing.
Most people don’t get the kind of love they need. Many have parents completely unable to love them. When we grow up we still need that love we didn’t get. The longing to be loved doesn’t go away just because it is time to move out of the house.
So we wind up picking someone as a partner who has enough of the attributes of the parent (or combination of parents) that they “feel” like the parent we most still want to be loved by. In essence, we are picking a psychological stand-in for that parent. And then we work really hard to get that person to love us. But – because we are so good at picking stand-ins, we have picked someone who can’t love us either. Often, because it really is the parent this partner represents to the child in us, this hurtful partner is hard to leave.
Many battered women fall into this category, and the sad thing is that if their parent was abusive they may have repressed any memory of the abuse ( for self – protection) and still pick people capable of abusing them. When they hear this possible explanation, they can’t apply it because (1) they have forgotten the abuse, and/or (2) their denial of their parent’s cruelty keep them from acknowledging it. People want to believe they had good parents, otherwise their view of their childhood and their parents falls apart, leaving them with what feels like”nothing” to hang on to, to be their base. They “lose” their parent.
This makes it hard for them to do successful therapy and strengthen themselves enough to leave an abusing partner, or one that simply is not well suited to them. I have found, however, if the therapist will address whatever the person needs right now in therapy, then this in itself strengthens them to the point where they able to remember, work through whatever childhood issues they need to and make sense of their lives and their previous choices. Best of all they are now free to choose a partner who can love them, as they deserve.