By: Michael Mamas
We’ve all heard it before: “I can’t believe I married my father!” (or mother). In a sense, it could be argued that we all are in relationships with our father or mother. But what do we mean by that?
We form our notions of a partner based upon our childhood family structure. Those notions run far more deeply than we can imagine. We are drawn to what is familiar. For that reason, we tend to gravitate towards people who have the characteristics of a parent. But perhaps even more so, we push our partner into that role. We subconsciously expect them to act a certain way, and we accommodate, support, and enable that behavior.
Certainly, there are parts of our childhood family dynamic that we like and parts that we dislike. We are not nearly as capable of detaching ourselves from our heritage as we may like to believe. It is all too ingrained. Instead of denying that it’s true, we do better to acknowledge the truth and find ways to work with it constructively.
There are aspects of our family heritage that we love and that are supportive to our lives. This can include positive qualities of our father, mother, or siblings. Our father may have been very loving and family oriented, for example. Our mother may have been understanding and patient. We do well to embrace these attributes and enjoy them. These good qualities can be passed down through the generations as they are ingrained on a cellular level.
We also need to acknowledge and work with the qualities of our heritage that we feel are unhealthy or inappropriate. We need to see how we may recreate our childhood family dynamics through falling into an old role or pushing our partner into a certain way of behaving. Working with these issues is not an easy thing to do. One of our parents may have been controlling or needy. Perhaps they were angry and abusive. Very few people understand that they push their partner into being their mother or father. But for the dynamic to heal, it must be perceived and our part in it must be recognized. Such self-honesty is a challenge. When a particular situation happens and we observe a behavior of our spouse that reminds us of our parent, we might do well to ask ourselves how we enable, invite, or encourage the behavior.
The simple truth is we are largely a product of our heritage. To completely extract ourselves from it is not realistic. However, we can be discerning and nurture the attributes we love and that provide support our lives. We can use these positive traits to help cultivate a relationship that is fulfilling.
The bottom line is that we do well to acknowledge and embrace the aspects of our family heritage that are of value, and build upon them. At the same time, we can acknowledge the detrimental qualities so we don’t fall into their trap and, meanwhile, work to heal them. Ideally, we support our partner in this process without blame, without judgment, and hold the relationship as a union of the best of both heritages.
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