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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Your Parents' Relationship Can Affect Your Beliefs About Relationships

While it might be common knowledge that people are affected by their early childhood experiences, many people don't realize that their relationship choices are affected by their parents' relationship (see my articles:  Looking at Childhood Trauma From an Adult PerspectiveAre You Living Your Life Feeling Trapped By Your Childhood History?, and Letting Go of Childhood Trauma That Affects Your Adult Relationship).

Your Parents' Relationship Can Affect Your Beliefs About Relationships


Most of the time, this occurs on an unconscious level so that it remains out of awareness.

Many people don't realize how affected they are by their parents' relationship until they're in therapy and a skilled psychotherapist helps them to start making these connections.

Let's take a look at a typical example in the form of a fictionalized scenario:

Emma
Emma started therapy because she was deeply unhappy in her marriage.

After five years of marriage, she questioned whether she wanted to remain in the relationship or if she wanted to get a divorce.

Two years into her marriage, Emma discovered that her husband, Carl, was cheating on her when she found emails from another woman (see my article: Coping With Betrayal in Your Relationship).

As she continued to delve into Carl's old emails, she found emails from other women that dated to the beginning of her marriage to Carl.

Your Parents' Relationship Can Affect Your Beliefs About Relationships

When she confronted Carl about it, he apologized to her and promised her that it would never happen again.  He told her that he would never want to do anything that would jeopardize their marriage.  He said these other women made him feel attractive, and he realized he was being selfish (see my article:  The Connection Between Infidelity and the Need to Feel Attractive).

At that point, with some misgivings, Emma told him that she forgave him, and they decided to put the matter behind them.  But Carl's infidelity was never far from Emma's mind.  Even though she wanted to forgive him, she didn't trust him.

Your Parents' Relationship Can Affect Your Beliefs About Relationships

Shortly before Emma began therapy, she received a text message from a woman who claimed to be having an affair with Carl.  She told Emma that she was determined to have Carl to herself and Emma should divorce him.

Initially, when Emma confronted Carl about the text message, he denied even knowing this other woman.  But Emma didn't believe him and as she continued to press him for an answer, he admitted that he had been seeing this other woman for several months (see my article: Infidelity and Broken Promises).

After that, Emma told Carl that he had to sleep in the guest room until she figured out what she wanted to do, and that's when she started therapy.

Emma felt highly ambivalent about her relationship with Carl.

On the one hand, she still loved him and she didn't want to give up the marriage.  But, on the other hand, she felt hopeless that he would ever stop cheating and she felt there was no future to their relationship (see my article: Your Relationship: Should You Stay or Should You Go?)

At one point, Emma told her therapist, "All men are dogs," which she used as a rationalization for remaining in the relationship.   She felt that no man would ever be faithful in his marriage, so even if she left Carl, she would only find another man who would also cheat on her.  She said, "Maybe it's better to stay with the devil I know than with the devil I don't know."

As Emma's therapist listened to Emma's family history, she began to see why Emma felt this way.

As the oldest of five children, Emma helped her mother, who was overwhelmed, to take care of the younger children.

Emma's father was hardly around.  He worked two jobs and on the weekends he went out by himself.

Her parents argued in front of her about her father cheating with other women. Her mother would cry and plead with him to end his affairs, and he would argue that, as a man, he had a right to his freedom.

Your Parents' Relationship Can Affect Your Beliefs in Relationships


Her mother often told Emma, "All men are dogs."

Emma felt very sad for her mother because she knew that her mother was very unhappy.  So, she tried to be as helpful as she could in an effort to try to make up for her mother's unhappiness (see my article:  How to Stop Being the "Rescuer" in Your Family).

But no matter how much she did for her mother, Emma could never make her mother feel happy.  She continued to hear her parents arguing late at night about other women, and this situation never changed until her father died when Emma was away at college.

Emma's father's death, due to a sudden heart attack, was all the more troubling because he was with another woman when he died.

Soon after he died, Emma's mother found out that he had other children from his numerous affairs that she never knew about while he was alive.

One of the other mothers contested his will in an effort to get money for their children, so Emma's mother was drawn into a long, protracted legal battle, which she eventually won, but it left her broken hearted.

A few years after that, Emma's mother died, and Emma felt that her mother died of a broken heart.

As Emma and her psychotherapist talked about the possible connection between her feelings about men and her parents' marriage, initially, Emma denied that there was a connection.  She was so convinced that all men were unfaithful that she wasn't open to looking at the possibility that there could be other men who don't cheat on their wives.

But, over time, as they continued their discussions and Emma's therapist asked her if she knew of married couples where the husband didn't cheat, Emma suddenly realized that she had numerous friends and family members where the husbands were faithful.

This was something that Emma had always known, but if was as if this information and her attitude towards men never connected--like these two factors remained separate in her mind.

Gradually, Emma came to realize that her views about men were very ingrained from an early age based on her parents' relationship and her mother's warnings about men and that she had never questioned her views.

Emma also realized that she was exposed to her parents' problems at too young an age to fully understand.  She came to see that, as a child, she took on a parental, protective role with her mother instead of being the one who was mothered and protected (see my article: Having Compassion For the Child That You Were).

Emma and her therapist did a lot of work to help Emma grieve for the younger part of herself who took on an adult role before her time.

As they continued to explore her feelings about her marriage, Emma realized that she had taken the same long-suffering role that her mother took with Emma's father.  Emma's therapist told Emma that this might be her unconscious way of holding onto her mother, and this resonated with Emma (see my article: Holding Onto Grief as a Way of Staying Connected With a Deceased Loved One and An Unconscious Identification With a Deceased Love One Can Be an Obstacle to Change).

Several months later, Emma had a stronger sense of self and she decided that she no longer wanted to be with a man who was cheating on her, so she filed for divorce (see my article: Letting Go of an Unhealthy Relationship).

Your Parents' Relationship Can Affect Your Beliefs About Relationships

Two years after the divorce, Emma met a man who eventually became her second husband.  At that point, she no longer believed "all men are dogs," and she and her husband were happy and faithful together.

Conclusion
There are many ways that your parents' relationship can affect your relationship choices and how you see romantic partners.

Most of the time, the effect is unconscious.

You might experience your views not just as your personal views but as "the truth," especially if your beliefs are deeply ingrained from a young age.

Psychotherapy provides an opportunity to look at long-held views, discover the origin of those views and gain a different perspective.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you realize that you are caught in negative beliefs and recurring negative patterns in your relationship, you could benefit from working with an experienced psychotherapist who has the skills and knowledge to help you discover the origin of your recurring patterns so you can begin to make changes.

Psychotherapy can help to free you from the effects of your early childhood history, so rather than continuing to be enslaved by your history, you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.



































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