When Deborah, 38, and Scott, 39, (* not their real names) sitting on the couch in my office during a couple counseling session, they described their chaser-spacer pattern. Deborah seeks more connection and affirmation than Scott feels comfortable giving. When Deborah sues, Scott withdraws because she feels criticized and unworthy.
Deborah put it this way: “I feel as lonely in my marriage as I did when I was growing up. I don’t think my parents cared much about me. They were fighting or threatening to leave. Eventually my father left. “I was ten years old and never went back. My therapist says my fear of abandonment is caused by Scott’s withdrawal, and I know he’s right. But it’s hard to give him space when I need peace of mind.” “.
Scott ponders, “When Deborah gets hooked and points out my mistakes, like ignoring her, it makes me feel trapped and discouraged. So I’m just leaving.”
What I explained to Deborah and Scott is that we tend to have a composite image of the people who influenced us in the past: their appearance, personality, tone of voice, behavior, and other traits. People often gravitate toward relationships that resemble their parents or the way they were treated.
For example, you might choose someone who is emotionally detached because one of your parents was like that. Psychoanalysts refer to this as “repetition compulsion.” It is an unconscious tendency to want to fix the past, to recreate it, to improve it.
Inaccurate childhood memories and unrealistic expectations
Everyone has assumptions about how relationships work based on their previous experiences. These assumptions, which include how others treat you, can lead to unrealistic expectations, misunderstandings, and disappointments.
“Humans are unique in the amount of error we pass on to our offspring. This is problematic because children do not have the intellectual or emotional basis of experience to know whether their parents’ messages Thus, a woman who was constantly told that men could not be trusted fulfilled this belief by choosing men whom she could not trust or provoking men to behave unreliably. ”.
Joshua Coleman, Ph.D.
Most people marry with unrealistic expectations that their partner will restore the whole thing. They have a faint memory of their childhood and try to recreate it. The truth is that even in families where parents did their best to nurture their children and maintain stability, there are endless opportunities for things to go wrong.
In Keep the love you findHarville Hendrix, Ph.D., writes: through repetition, they harden into lifelong defenses of character to obey the original mandate of ensuring our survival.They are the only way we know how to protect ourselves in what we perceive as situations. threatening “.
For example, Deborah clings to Scott as she pulls away from her. This behavior dates back to his childhood, when he came to his father and he moved away from her. However, Deborah focuses on the few times her father took her to the beach and bought her ice cream. Because he idealized his father, Scott rarely met his expectations.
Or, Scott withdraws at the first sign that Deborah is criticizing him. He reproduces the first patterns of experiencing harsh criticism from his demanding father. When Deborah makes critical remarks, she pulls away and pulls him away. He is afraid of being controlled by her, like her father.
When you approach someone, you may bring up unresolved issues from the past. In Deborah’s case, she was unaware of her fear of abandonment until after she married Scott. Due to the inconsistency of his caregivers, he developed an anxious affectionate style. It’s hard to separate from Scott and see him as a person with good qualities and flaws.
Similarly, Scott’s avoidant affectionate style developed as a result of having a father who was controlling and insensitive. Fear of Scott’s trapping arose after the birth of her son when Deborah began to need more support (she found parenting a challenge due to ineffective models).
Once Deborah and Scott became aware of how differences in their affectionate styles contributed to their chaser-spacer dynamics, they were able to discuss it and feel less activated. They learned to empathize and be more understanding.
Most experts believe that the first step to getting out of the shadow of your past is to become aware. That means taking a more realistic picture of your childhood. Do this by talking to one or more of your parents, siblings, or close friends. Try to keep an open mind, even if your childhood memories differ significantly from yours.
Then examine the extent to which childhood experiences affect the way you experience your partner’s behavior. Pay close attention to how your parents handled conflicts. Did they communicate effectively, argue for extended periods, or sweep things under the rug? If you rarely spend time together discussing issues, this could cause you to overreact to your partner when he or she strays from you. Then acknowledge the damage done to your childhood and focus on healing instead of guilt. Find out how the unhealthy dynamics of your upbringing can influence your thinking about your partner. You can develop an acceptance perspective by focusing on your strengths rather than your shortcomings. Make a plan to repair any damage. For example, attend couples counseling and read books together such as Dr. John Gottman Eight Dating: Conversations Essential for a Love Life.
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