Celebrating 10 Years

Holiday Humbug and the Fantasy of a Blissful Relationship

The holidays are “supposed” to be a time of joy and renewal. Very often, the hectic pace and overwhelm of the season renews something quite different than what we expect. It brings up old patterns, attitudes and emotions that can have a negative impact on our experience, particularly our experience of our partner and sense of connection.

It’s often difficult enough to stay connected to one another within the context of everyday life. The sense of disconnect we might feel during this time of year, because we find our partner is so preoccupied with other people and events, can amplify the subtler sense of disconnect we may feel at other times. If we take a closer look at the distance we are feeling, we might discover something we didn’t even know was there to begin with.

The Fantasy Bond

When we first deeply connect with someone, there is a kind of ecstatic euphoria that develops. This first blush of love colors our experience of almost everything, from the sacred to the mundane. All is not as it seems, suggests psychologist Robert Firestone, who coined the term ‘fantasy bond’ to describe a way of relating that fuels the fire of this initial ecstatic euphoria, while, in fact, substitutes for a truly loving relationship.

The fantasy bond is most poignantly characterized by a blend of physical closeness and emotional distance. Genuine feelings of love, respect, and attraction are superseded by a false sense of security, connectedness and protection. Telling evidence of this shift can be found in the initial whirlwind of night after night of hot, torrid sex slowly dwindling into the occasional, often unsatisfactory, romp.

We often chalk this change up to ‘real life’ intruding upon our beautiful bubble. The job, the house, the kids, the dog, the mortgage and, of course, the holidays, along with a hundred other things, become alleged obstacles to authentic engagement, as well as an awfully convenient excuse. The reality is those who establish a relationship informed by a fantasy bond value routine over spontaneity and safety over passion. They go through the motions of relationship, while failing to bring the energy, affection and independence that once characterized their connection. An intensely emotional time, like the holidays, can rattle this cage of routine and safety, amplifying not only the sense of disconnection, but discontent.

What’s the Why?

There is risk in connecting deeply to another person, where we may lose the attraction and respect we held for him or her. On the other hand, we also risk losing ourselves in the relationship, as a result failing to maintain the uniqueness that initially drew our partners to us. When a couple loses these genuine feelings of attraction, respect and honor of uniqueness, they may also lose their relationship. Rather than acknowledging and challenging the toxic patterns that have developed in their relationship, they may sink deeper into the illusion of relationship they are perpetuating, or simply throw the relationship away altogether.

The good news is couples engaging in fantasy bonding are often aware something isn’t quite right. Neither partner may be able to quite put his or her finger on it, but it’s also something that’s not lost on either of them. That’s where the holidays become, not just a source of irritation, but a springboard for change. That deepened sense of disconnection should ring like a clarion bell, sounding the call to the joy and renewal that is the harbinger of the season.

Unraveling the Fantasy

Like most things, fantasy bonding happens on a spectrum. This can range from the fleeting deep connection that inevitably slips back into the complacency zone to living separate lives under the same roof. No matter where you find yourselves on that spectrum, unraveling the fantasy bond boils down to understanding the way you are engaging with one another and the obstacles you are consciously or unconsciously creating because of that engagement. Once you and your partner have mutually acknowledged the patterns contributing to the ‘not quite right’, you can move on to creating change.

The centerpiece of the fantasy bond is this interplay of physical closeness and emotional distance. If we look a bit more closely at that we realize what we’re talking about is fear. The risk of losing our connection to our partner or losing ourselves in the relationship outweighs the reward of being fully present. At the same time, we don’t want to be alone, so we set up this delicate balance of ‘I’m here, but I’m not’. This leads us to disengage socially, emotionally and sexually, setting up a path to harbored anger, resentment and a subtle, ever-present sense of discontent.

How do you release yourselves from the shackles of the fantasy bond? By giving each other the best possible gift you can this holiday season—fearlessness. A mutually agreed upon willingness to show up and be fully present, taking on the risks of entering a truly loving relationship, setting aside the illusion of security, connectedness and protection and re-making that ‘beautiful bubble’ into an everyday reality. That reality, full of genuine love, respect, and regard for each other’s uniqueness and independence, will melt those shackles like a snowfield under a warm winter’s sun.

Have you experienced a fantasy bond in your past, or in your present relationship? I’d love to hear your questions and comments!


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