Our Relationship ‘Normal’
There is a certain amount of truth to the idea that we unconsciously pick and marry a spouse that has some attributes of our parents. It’s not because we are playing out some deep, complex psychological pattern, so much as this was the relationship that was modeled for us. We choose the mates we choose partly because it matches our normal—what we expect a relationship to look like—partly because we have something to work out from the relationship that was modeled for us, and partly because we have things to work out for ourselves internally.
We are really just a collection of unconscious habits. These habits develop over time. Some are inherited, some are conditioned and some are socialized. When we partner with another person, our habits and their habits tend to fit together; kind of like a lock and key that goes both ways. The habits and patterns we each bring to the relationship then inform the way the relationship gets set up in terms of communication style, expectations, tolerances and boundaries, and conflicts.
If we think about ourselves, our relationship and how we relate to the partnership in this way, we realize there aren’t just two, but three “people” in the room: us, our partner and the relationship. Understanding this can better help us to see the nuances and subtleties of how we arrived where we are, how we act and react and what motivated us to pick the mate we picked and the deep structures of our relationship.
If we go back to the notion that we marry our parents, or choose a partner that resembles our parents, what we’re talking about is the symbolic value of that person for us. For instance, if one of your parents was always kind and that made you feel safe, you may label that as a “good” trait and seek it out in your mate. On the other hand, if one of your parents was aloof and emotionally unavailable, you might unconsciously seek those traits out in a mate because, symbolically, you are trying to repair and heal your relationship with that parent.
Self-awareness is Key
We also choose the mate we choose in order to fill some unmet need in ourselves. Obviously, the primary need is love and acceptance, but there are other, more subtle needs that can drive our decisions. Going back to the notion of conditioning, if we grew up in abusive household, we may choose a mate who is either subtly, or potentially even blatantly, abusive. That’s not because we are seeking out abuse, but rather because, at some level, we have associated love with some kind of pain, whether it’s social, emotional, psychological or physical. It’s our normal, what feels familiar. Recognizing the nature of this pattern can help us to shift that normal into something healthier and more beneficial.
Human relationships are complicated and developing a certain level of self-awareness can help us to understand why we make the choices we make, particularly when it comes to our mates. That self-awareness is tied to developing a keener sense of social and emotional intelligence. As we become aware of our own patterns and motivations, we can better navigate the waters of relationship and find our way to calmer seas. A good couples or marriage counselor can help you become aware of the unconscious patterns in your relationship and shift those patterns so that the individuals and the relationship have a healthier, more satisfying relationship.
We invite you to call our office for a free 15-minute phone consultation at 860-258-4171. We’re happy to discuss your specific needs and to answer any questions you have about counseling and our practice.