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Wow! My spouse can be just like my mother/father! How did that happen?

Have you ever been going about your daily life, when suddenly something your spouse says or does is so reminiscent of what your mother or father once said or did, you can hardly believe it?!?  It can be quite unsettling to see negative traits your parent(s) had now demonstrated by your spouse.

The positive traits are understandable.  It makes sense that we would choose to be with someone who has some of the same positive characteristics of our parents.  On the other hand, the negative traits can be disturbing.

By traits, I mean certain aspects of a person’s character that define who they are most of the time, including in times of crisis.  Some positive traits that you might have seen in your parents – and your spouse – are warmth, bravery, trustworthiness, gentleness, confidence, tolerance, fairness, lending support, being dependable, generous, hardworking and loving.  It seems natural that we would choose to be with someone who has the same positive traits as our parents because we grew up with those things and those parts felt good.

On the other hand, when you see the negative traits of your parents reflected in your spouse it can be very upsetting.  Examples of negative traits include being inflexible, fearful, sneaky, grumpy, attacking, stingy, impatient, intrusive and, at the extreme, neglectful or abusive.  We may wonder, “Why didn’t I see that BEFORE we got married?”  “How could I have chosen someone who says or does things my parent(s) used to do that I hated?”  Or simply, “How did this happen?”

Like everyone, your spouse has both positive and negative characteristics.  Of course, many of his/her traits are quite different from your parents’.  However, in this article, we’re talking about the traits that are the same.  You were unconsciously drawn to a person with the same traits as your parents because they were familiar.  This is what you grew up with.  This is what you know.

The contact you had with your parents was your first experience with being in a relationship.  From that, you learned how people behave.  You learned this on both a conscious level (meaning you know this) and an unconscious level (meaning you aren’t aware of this but it’s affecting your life anyway).  Later in our lives, when we find a person with similar traits, we tend to gravitate towards them because we (unconsciously) learned that that’s just how people behave. Whatever we were raised with we tend to think is ‘normal’ (until we’re exposed to how others live and operate such as at a dorm in college).

It’s shocking to consider that you unconsciously chose to be with a person because they have one or more of the same negative traits you grew up with.  This didn’t happen because you wanted it to, it happened because this is what you learned a relationship feels like.

A good example of this is a woman who keeps getting involved with men who are unavailable.  She hates that she falls in love with men who are overinvolved in their hobbies, workaholics, and not expressive of their emotions.  It doesn’t make sense to her until she gains insight into herself and considers that her mother was absent. (It doesn’t matter if it’s the same sex or opposite sex parent.)  Being in a relationship with someone who isn’t around or isn’t emotionally available is familiar to her.  She may not like it, but it’s what she knows and what she has gravitated towards.

The good news here is that once we learn the things our unconscious is drawing us to, we can change them.  We can decide with the conscious, knowing part of our brain to begin to do things differently.  Changing this part of yourself may mean deliberately dating someone different next time or finally learning how to deal effectively with your spouse who has this negative trait.

The first step to making this change is awareness.  Write down all the positive and negative traits of your parents or caregivers.  Next, write down all the traits of your current or past partners and look for similarities.  As a child, you just had to cope with, or survive living with, the negative traits of your parents.  As an adult, you can learn to deal effectively with people who have these same traits.  You don’t have to live stuck in a time warp!

If this insight intrigues you, call us.  Helping clients to gain insight and do things differently is exactly what the therapists and coaches here at Couples Therapy Center of New Jersey do every day.  We can help you make positive changes so that you can stop blindly repeating what doesn’t feel right.

Maintaining a happy, healthy long-term relationship can be so difficult with all the pressures and challenges in today’s fast-paced world.  Maybe you’ve tried counseling before with little to no results.  Maybe you ended up more frustrated or things improved a little, but only temporarily.  The therapists at Couples Therapy Center of NJ can help.   We’re all specialists in the area of intimate relationships.  We can give you the support, new perspective, and tools you need to have more love and excitement in your relationship. Can’t get your partner to come in with you?  No problem!  We see individuals, too. Call us at 908-246-3074 or email now to schedule your appointment.  Don’t wait any longer.  Start making positive changes today.

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