Have you ever wondered how in the heck your spouse can get under your skin the way that he/she can?
Does your partner’s behavior sometimes impact you on such a visceral level that you’re left vibrating for long periods of time?
I hate to be the bearer of news that might inflict deep psychic horror and disbelief – but you might have married one of your parents.
Did You Marry One Of Your Parents?
Okay, slowly peel yourself off of the floor now. Obviously, I don’t mean this in a literal sense – and not everyone will report this to be true.
Just consider the possibility that your partner shares some traits with one of your previous primary caregivers – the good, the bad, or both.
This is the topic of jokes to many, and there are still others who had never considered this until they found themselves on the couch at a therapist’s office, read a self-help book, or watched an episode on the subject on Oprah.
I can’t tell you how many people in my practice are filled with shock and awe by this realization.
For some, it’s a kind of funny moment – but for others, this realization can be quite upsetting, depending on what kind of experience they had with one or both of their parents.
Others struggle to wrap their brains around it at all. As light as a topic this might seem, it can be painful and stir up a lot of trouble for people in their current relationships. People can get caught up in destructive cycles that go round and round endlessly.
Why Did This Happen In The First Place?
According to Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., a co-creator of Imago Relationship Therapy and author of numerous books including, “Getting the Love You Want,” there are very good reasons why people unconsciously select partners with qualities – good and bad – of one or both of their parents.
He says, “We either overcompensate for what we didn’t get from our parents or blindly re-create the same painful situations.”
For example, are you deeply angered or hurt by your partner’s criticism? Does it cause more emotional reactivity than you would expect to have with friends, co-workers or acquaintances? Why would he/she have the power to rattle you in that way?
I believe our intimate partnerships and parental relationships are actually incredibly similar in the way we seek out “attachment” with these people. (I encourage a further look at “attachment theory” which is another very intricate subject on its own).
Parental relationships and intimate partnerships will typically be the most intense relationships we ever have – and have the ability to cause us the most pain – far more than friends, co-workers or acquaintances.
The similarity between these relationships is part of the key to understanding why we might be so emotionally triggered by things our partners do – particularly if they were also done to us when we were growing up and developing our sense of selves – and how we relate to others.
Hendrix talks about the idea of mate selection based on an unconscious pull to someone who causes us pain in a similar way to our parents – in order to “do over” the earlier wounding and make it right….
We probably don’t immediately notice the harsh side of our partners, but are swept up in all the positives – which are likely many. It’s sort of like the “honeymoon” phase where romantic love is in full swing and it’s not until we settle in do the little things start to come up and drive us up the wall.
In layman’s terms, your wife does something that reminds you (consciously or unconsciously) of a parent who might have hurt you this way, and you react like a lion on the attack.
Deep Down Your Fights Feel Uncomfortably Familiar
You might even have said, “I swear, you’re just like my mother!” It’s not only the negative traits that attract us but the positives as well.
However, it’s the “negatives” that get all the attention because of the emotional turmoil and relationship conflict it can stir up.
So, if a lot of us subconsciously pick partners who ultimately “trigger” us in some way, are we all destined to a life of occasional or frequent intense irritation, upset, or in some cases, rage?
Part of the answer is at least being aware of this phenomenon – and what your sensitivities are. Another part is talking about it openly with your partner and exploring ways you might both modify your behavior.
If communication itself is an issue in your relationship, this might be a bit more challenging.
Empathy and understanding are incredibly important when dealing with this subject matter. If an intolerable level of conflict and cyclical arguments continue then perhaps couples counseling would be helpful.
There are “Imago” therapists who have been trained specifically in this work.
I believe that by finding someone who at minimum comes from a theoretical orientation that accepts the “past impacting the present” and that parents influence how we are in relationships – you’d be off to a good start.
Consider It An Opportunity To Heal
If you think you’ve married your mother or father – don’t fret.
I believe most of us are in marriages where this comes into play for at least one partner – often both. It doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed.
On the contrary, if you come to an understanding of the forces at work, you are primed for the potential to have a very satisfying relationship.
If there are attachment wounds you suffered from a parent, you have a wonderful opportunity to heal yourself within your marriage.