What patterns do you bring from childhood into your relationship?
Mike the Baby
Mike was the baby of the family whose mother doted on his every inch of growth. He could do no wrong and Mom did not discipline him nor correct him. She did everything she could for him and didn’t request or demand anything of him. I’ll bet you can imagine not wanting to be married to Mike. Selfish and demanding, controlling and independent, believing he never needed to consult, ask or accommodate for anyone, let alone his wife as she worked an executive job and took care of their 5000 square foot home and two children, Mike was self-absorbed.
Susan the Dictator
Susan was the oldest of three with a father who disappeared when she was 7 and whose mother worked two or three jobs to support the family. Susan became responsible for her siblings and the house. She was the boss at 7 and a great dictator by 14. A good student, a responsible worker who put herself and siblings through college, Susan demonstrated domination and criticism, especially if something less than perfection was exhibited by her or anyone.
Mr. and Mrs. Baby – Dictator
Mike and Susan found each other in economics their sophomore year in college. Within their first year of marriage they disagreed on a number of issues, Susan and Mike both loved their corporate lives. When Susan had the twins, Mike was well on the way up the corporate ladder. By the time the boys were two, he was doing everything to avoid Susan’s demands, searching out fun and peace. He golfed every weekend, worked out each morning, and stayed late each evening. By year three Susan was promoted to VP, while at home she became quite the raging screamer. Mike now traveled at least two weeks a month in his new position and he was preparing for his second iron man.
When Susan found sweet texts to a colleague on Mike’s phone, she lost control of her emotions raging daily at Mike, who minimized it and refused to talk about it. Two months later when they were having bitter arguments, I met Mike and Susan in marriage counseling, both ready for divorce but not wanting it. They didn’t know how to fix their marriage or heal their feelings.
Self-Awareness, Family Pattern Awareness, and New Skills
We had to look at their patterns of getting what they want, of giving and receiving love, communication, expectations in marriage, power and control, taking responsibility, changing themselves and not the other, selfishness, autonomy, partnership, handling differences or differentiation and attachment.
Once they understood that their patterns from early childhood were still being played out in their marriage, they had a guideline for thinking differently. Susan learned to ask for what she wanted and when she felt safe, she learned how Mike got to be autonomous. Meanwhile Mike learned about sharing the responsibilities of parenthood, how to discuss differences and not avoid his own or Susan’s feelings. They both got comfortable with having conversations and understanding the other’s different perspective.
Susan did not have to be a dictator nor “perfect”. Mike did not have to be babied nor non-communicative. Neither had to be fearful. They could both feel safe and learned how to repair the little breaks in their secure attachment. Healthy emotional distance was allowed and differences in perception were allowed. She grew up and so did he. They both became more differentiated and attached.
When couples really understand the scripts they bring into marriage they become conscious of impaired safety and learn skills to secure their attachment, act autonomously, and show their love for their partner.
Identify Your Patterns
What are some of your patterns from your childhood? Was Dad emotionally distant? Was Mom alcoholic? Did your older brother get all the attention? Was your sister more beautiful? Did you live and your sibling die? Did Mom leave when you were four? Did Dad have affairs? Did Mom have PTSD? Did Dad have a stroke when you were in sixth grade? Were you forbidden to go to movie theaters because Mom was raped in one many years ago? Did Dad beat you when he caught you playing “Doctor” with your sister? Did you lie and sneak out of the house? Did you simply defy authority and leave in front of everyone? Did you get anxious over an 87% on a test?
How do Your Patterns Affect You and Your Partner?
Make a close examination of patterns that became established in your childhood and how they affected you. Also look at how they are affecting you in your marriage. And your partner. How do you unconsciously expect the patterns to happen in present time? What didn’t you learn that you now need to learn? That is the beginning of your skill-building marital journey.