“Oh crap, I married my mother” were the words that came out of Jim’s mouth during a recent coaching session. Jim is a client that is in the midst of his second divorce. This statement could have just as easily come from Traci, another client who recently came to the realization that she had “married her father”. I can relate to both Traci and Jim because I also repeatedly engaged in relationships with my mother, a pattern I didn’t break until I was well into my forties.
When we were children, the majority of us instinctively favored one of our parents. For me, that parent was my mother. My father was very strict and he could be quite intimidating. (When he died, I was still pretty sure that I had never lived up to his expectations) On the other hand, my mother and I shared a very close emotional bond. My mother was my best friend and truest confidant. Shortly after my tenth birthday, my mother began slipping into a very dark mental state that would eventually require a significant amount of psychiatric care. I tried to do everything that a ten year old is mentally and emotionally equipped to do, all in a misguided effort to try and save her from her demons. In the end my mother succumbed to her thoughts and I was left looking into the eyes of someone who no longer recognized me. (For most of my life I carried a tremendous amount of guilt because I was unable to “rescue” her) A short time later, my father made the decision to send me away to boarding school, a decision that effectively brought my childhood to a close.
For nearly thirty years I held a grudge against my father. (We would later work through many of our issues and in the process become close friends) In my “mind” he should have tried harder to save my mother and keep our family together. I resented his failure almost as much as I resented myself for not being able to help her. Gradually, without even the slightest psychological awareness as to why, I evolved into a “serial rescuer”. Many years later, having left a trail of “damsels in distress” in my rear view mirror, I have become aware of WHY I became ensnared in this destructive behavior pattern. * It should be noted that most of us are not even aware that we are engaging in this type of behavior. We are on what I refer to as a “dysfunctional auto pilot”. Rather than highlight the specific dynamics behind each of my rescue missions, I would like to instead offer you some insights that have enabled me to finally move into a healthy, rewarding relationship with myself and my partner.
KEY QUESTIONS THAT WE MUST ASK OURSELVES
*Which of your parents did you find to be more emotionally UNAVAILABLE?
*Do you see any of these emotional traits in your current partner?
*Do you have unresolved emotional issues with a parent(s)?
*Have you forgiven this parent? Do you recognize that they did the best they could with their insight at the time? Are you willing to forgive yourself?
*Does your current relationship partner exhibit behavior traits that remind you of your unavailable parent? What feelings come up for you when you experience these behaviors?
*Do you find yourself trying to mold your partner into someone that you will be more comfortable with?
*Do you find yourself becoming frustrated, disappointed or disinterested in the relationship?
*Do you find yourself acting out or getting aggressive towards your partner?
When we harbor unresolved parental issues or conflict, we have a tendency to use our “adult relationships” as a means of working through these issues. This is where the dance begins! The universe has an uncanny ability to present us with the right people and opportunities to assist us as we work on the unhealed areas of our lives. For example, Sally’s father was very driven and successful. He was also emotionally unavailable. It is very likely that Sally will be drawn to men who are very driven and successful, men who exhibit the same qualities that she admired in her father. Sally will also have an expectation that her “man” will be available to meet her emotional needs. In the beginning of their relationship these needs will be met. During the “looking good” phase of any new relationship everything appears wonderful. Once the newness phase wears off, Sally’s “man” will re-focus his energy on the activities that drive him and make him successful. Sally will begin feeling less and less important and she will become angry and resentful of her “man”. Her “man” will begin to gradually pull away from her energy field and he will predictably exit stage left. Sally has just experienced “daddy” all over again. This experience has also served to reinforce her belief that “men suck” and can’t be trusted with her heart. The “wheels on the bus go round and round”….
HOW CAN WE AVOID MARRYING OUR PARENTS?
*Start by taking a close look at the questions above and answer them honestly.
*We must be willing to make peace with our parents and our past experiences. They do not serve us in the present moment.
*Be comfortable in being alone. We don’t need anyone else to complete us.
*When you enter into a relationship, take the time to get to know your significant other. I suggest waiting at least two years before getting married.
*Trust your inner voice. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not.
*If you find yourself trying to mold or fix your partner it’s time to step back and take a much closer look at your relationship. What conditions are you trying to create and why?
*Remember that we attract who we are. I strongly encourage my clients to make personal growth their top priority. It’s not about finding the right person it’s about BEING the right person.
*We must learn from our past experiences. Jim is going through his second divorce and Traci appears to be headed in the same direction. Once we have awareness and a reference point it becomes much easier to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
I don’t believe that any of us, given the choice would choose to marry our parents! I don’t believe that any of us desire to be in dysfunctional, angry or violent relationships. We can easily avoid this trap by taking a historical look at our relationship with our parents and by making a concerted effort to make peace with our past.
I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.