In a two-parent family, the first relationship that a male
has with a woman is with his mother and the first with another male is with his
father. Similarly, the first
relationship that a female has with a man is with her father and the first with
another female is with her mother.
A further issue is that the first marriage relationship that children in
two-parent families witness is that between their parents. All of these different relationships
have a profound impact on children and how, as adults, they feel about
themselves and feel towards each parent and toward other males and
females. Indeed, there is
considerable evidence to show that adults often repeat within themselves how
their parents felt about themselves and repeat their parents’ relationships
with each other in their intimate relationship with another. For example, if a daughter witnessed
her father being hypercritical of her mother and her mother being passive in
the face of such emotional and social violations it is likely she will attract
a man like her father into her life.
She does this for several subconscious reasons:
- to redeem her sense of self in the face of a male (her father and partner)
- to redeem her sense of self in the face of a female (her mother and herself) who was passive
- to establish an intimacy with herself so that she ceases to be enmeshed with the insecurities of others – each parent, partner, friends, work colleagues and relatives
The first two redemptions are only possible when the third one is at least in the process of becoming established. Becoming one’s own person, one’s own intimate and one’s own champion are essential responsibilities that each person cannot afford to miss taking up. When we do not take ownership of our own lives we pass the buck of responsibility onto a life partner in two possible ways and in so many words:
- “I am nothing, so you must live your life for me”, or
- “I am nothing, so I must live my life for you”
The greater the lack of relationship with self is, the greater is the enmeshment with a partner. Inevitably, such enmeshed relationships go into conflict in order to wake up each partner to their lack of intimacy with self and their collusion with their dependency on each other. Nowadays, because people no longer have to lie in the co-dependent bed they have made, there is a steady rise in marital separation and divorce. The divorce rate is one in three in Europe and one in two in America. However, when the parties to the split do not reflect on what brought about the breakdown in their relationship, there is a distinct possibility that each of them will carry the same emotional baggage into a second intimate relationship. Statistics indicate that second intimate relationships break down faster that first ones! The statistic that is never quoted is the much higher divorce/separation rate individuals have from self. The only way that the rising couple divorce rate is going to change is by individuals learning first how to create intimacy with self before embarking on the road to commitment to another.
It appears to be the most difficult challenge of all to become married to oneself, before you decide to commit to another. The reason why it is such a difficult challenge is that there are not too many models of self-sufficiency out there. The other reason is that dependency is very much fostered in most relationships, either through over-protection or dominance of the other. When the relationships within the family were and continue to be of an enmeshed, co-dependent nature, it is very challenging for the young person to become independent. Nonetheless, if any progress is to be made in the development of stable marriages and families, the marriage to self needs to become a priority.
It comes as an eye-opener to a couple that neither is responsible for the happiness of the other. On the contrary, each person is responsible for their own happiness and the love and support of another is a much appreciated bonus, but not something the receiver is dependent upon. Relationships grow from each person bringing a sense of their own fullness to the relationship and the enjoyment of the fullness of the other. When the latter occurs, each partner walks away from this fulfilling encounter with an ever greater sense of their own fullness and separateness.
Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist. Tune in to Tony’s RTE Radio One programme on Relationship, Relationship, Relationship, on Wednesday, 7th June at 7 p.m.