Many of us grew up witnessing relationships that may have been accepted in the past, but would not be considered healthy by today’s standards. It is important to understand how the residue of these past relationships may still be influencing the way you relate to your spouse/partner.
The Relationship Past versus the Relationship Present (Then versus Now)
For many of the couples I work with, equality, mutuality and compromise are the new norm to strive toward. Anything that doesn’t reach this standard is considered unfair and will not be tolerated.
In the past there was usually one dominant voice in the family (usually the husband/father) and this person set the tone for the relationship—in contrast, today’s couples work to create relationships where each spouse/partner has a voice. The challenge is to have a voice while remaining open to your partner’s voice.
Why should this matter to you?
Unfortunately, you may have internalized some unhealthy relationship rules of the past, even if you’re not fully aware of them. These relationship rules can impact emotional intimacy, communication, your ability to empathize and compromise, and even physical intimacy. And the worst part is that these outdated relationship rules can exert their strongest influence on you (and your relationship) as your marriage/relationship matures and your spouse/partner appropriately requests greater intimacy from you.
Evidence that your past relationships are casting a shadow over your marriage/relationship can be seen when you behave in ways that resemble one (or both) of your parents. Don’t immediately reject this possibility, although your knee-jerk reaction might be to dismiss it. In a couples counseling session recently, one husband recently bellowed, “I am NOT like my father and never will be!” He later realized that he was invalidating his wife’s feelings…just as his father used to do to with his mother.
Relationship Help: So What’s the Solution?
If we start with the assumption that we’re all vulnerable to repeating relationship patterns from our past (both healthy and unhealthy patterns), then the goal becomes to be mindful of the unhealthy patterns that are being played out in your marriage/relationship and nurturing the healthy ones.
Here is a question for you to reflect upon:
Which unhealthy relationship patterns did you witness as a child and how might you be repeating some of these in your own marriage or relationship?
Until next time,
Rich Nicastro, Ph.D.