Calling your current partner by your ex-partner's name
Today I saw a client with a Freudian slip. He called his current partner, Rachel, by his ex-partner's name, Rebecca.
A very decent man, he worries deeply about whether he is doing the right thing for his partner. He divorced his wife, Rebecca some years ago. Now he's started a relationship with a new partner, Rachel. Last week they invited a valuer to their home as the first step to setting up a financial basis for their new relationship. David inadvertently introduced his current partner as Rebecca.
Rachel was upset. However, she got over it. Until he did it again the following day. He called her Rebecca again.
Rachel got upset again. She continues to be upset. She has accused David of wanting to reignite the relationship with his ex-wife. She refuses to be consoled. Rachel is now talking about breaking up the relationship.
And to top it all, David called her Rebecca for a third time.
David is distraught. He desperately wants this relationship to work. He will do anything to make it work. But he is now terrified that he is going to use the wrong name again. The very last thing he wants is to have anything to do with his ex-wife. He just cannot understand why her name keeps coming up.
What to do about a Freudian slip?
Most people would just laugh it off. However David isn't that lucky. Rachel has also been through a messy divorce herself. She has little confidence in relationships. She desperately wants this relationship to work but is always looking out for signs that might be another disaster like the last one. So being called the wrong name just confirms this to her.
What is actually happening is the result of a simple psychological process. When David was married to Rebecca he got used to having a woman in his life. That woman was always called "Rebecca". He called her "Rebecca" thousands of times. If there was a woman there, he unconsciously identified her as Rebecca, and use that name. After thousands of repetitions it became automatic.
Getting a divorce does not wipe your mind clean. David is so used to using the word "Rebecca", that when there is a woman nearby that he feels comfortable with, his mind automatically brings up the word "Rebecca". It doesn't mean anything. It is just an unconscious shorthand process. It may actually persist for many years in certain situations. But it still doesn't mean anything, except his mind is taking a shortcut.
Both he and his partner are going to have to dig deep into their store of compassion and understanding to get over this. But it is definitely not grounds for separation.