Is Your Big Ego Stopping You From Finding A Healthy Relationship?

“Wow! That guy’s got an ego the size of Texas! Who does he think he is?”

Ever heard someone described that way? Sure you have. But throwing shade at someone by accusing them of having a big “ego” (not to be confused with egotism) isn’t really an accurate sentiment. In truth, someone who has a well-developed ego is more likely to be thoughtful and reasonable — not, as we’ve come to believe, a self-important asshat.

Sigmund Freud introduced the concept of the ego — one of three separate but interacting systems that drive human behaviors. The other two are the id and the superego. Briefly, here’s how it all works:

Id: Your id is all impulse. It demands immediate gratification of your needs. According to Freud, all infants are born with an id which ensures our basic needs of food and comfort are met.

The id says: I want this candy bar and I will steal to have it.

Superego: Your superego is the “right or wrong” component of your personality. It’s in place to control the id’s impulses. The superego is often equated with your conscience.

The superego says: It is completely wrong to steal this candy bar.

Ego: Your ego is the decision-making part of your personality. Although it seeks pleasure, it does so with realistic strategies. It’s the part of you that drives conscious decision making.

The ego says: I’m tempted to steal this candy bar but that would be wrong. Instead, I will find a lawful way to get it.

So, how does all this fit in when it comes to selecting a mate?

Many clients come to therapy with this burning question: “Why do I keep choosing the wrong kind of partner?”

If you’re also stumped by this frustrating conundrum, there may be a simple(ish) reason for it: You may be picking these partners from a part of your personality that isn’t designed to make the best relationship choices. 

Here’s how it works:

Let’s take the prototype of the “bad boy.” Many folks are attracted to this type. He’s irreverent and incorrigible. He may also live his life slightly outside of the law. In essence, he’s exciting.

Bad boys light up our ids like Roman candles on the 4th of July. Our association with a bad boy may even allow us to flex our id muscle more freely than we normally would — even if it’s only vicariously. The bad boy says, “Life with me will be thrilling, wild, and unpredictable!” And, oh boy, does our id love the sound of that.

Unfortunately, the bad boy likely has an overdeveloped id (or underdeveloped ego) from which he makes his decisions. And, in the long (or short) run — you’re going to discover his impulsiveness and irresponsibility do not a solid, long-term relationship make.

So, if every partner you choose lives life driven by his id — and/or who activates yours — you’re going to be in for some repetitive relationship disappointments.

So, instead, why not choose a partner from your superego? After all, it clearly knows good from bad. At first blush, that might seem like a reasonable move. But our superego operates from an ideal of perfection — not one of true intimacy. You’ve heard the term, “He (or she) looks good on paper. The superego recognizes there are enough good qualities about this person to consider him/her as a potential partner. It confirms your standards are being met — especially during the falling in love stage.

There are a couple of red flags to watch out for here. The first is whether or not someone who “looks good on paper” is actually that terrific. Lots of folks hide behind good jobs, great educations, and social dexterity to belie the dysfunction within. And, hopefully, you’ll figure that out pretty darn quick. Second, if you’re simply checking the boxes — making your choice based on a person’s resume — how long do you think that relationship will be satisfying for you? A couple of years? Tops?

That’s why choosing a partner from our ego — the moderator of both our id and superego — is the healthiest approach. The best relationships will always be those with a functional balance of spark and practicality. A passionate friendship, if you will. When it comes to relationships, our ego will always steer us in the right direction. Why? Because it carefully takes into account the messages from both our id and superego.

The id says: I must be with this person no matter what.

The superego says: This relationship is a disaster waiting to happen.

The ego says: All this excitement feels good. But I need to carefully consider the pitfalls — and  if a relationship with this person would really be optimal for me.

I realize the title of this article is misleading. It’s not your ego that’s getting in the way of finding a healthy relationship, more likely it’s your id or superego. Because the bigger your ego, the better your chances of finding a long-lasting and fulfilling relationship.

Next time you’re choosing to partner with someone, stop and ask yourself where in your personality this decision is coming from. If it’s not from your trustworthy and well-developed ego, it may be wise to take a huge step back.

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