Romantic relationships are shaped by family history–sometimes in seemingly crazy-making ways.
Suppose your mother was a talented cook, and you have fond childhood memories of spending time with her in the kitchen. It would make sense if, as an adult in a romantic relationship, you enjoy preparing meals for you and your partner. This is one way you learned to experience love when growing up. By the same token, maybe you are drawn to romantic partners with culinary skills. You feel uniquely cared for when your partner prepares you a delicious meal.
So far, so good. Few clients argue when I suggest it’s human nature to repeat positive experiences from their childhood later in life. But what if I told you you are equally likely, via your adult romantic relationships, to repeat negative experiences from your childhood?
Suppose your father was an alcoholic, and you witnessed his drinking cause profound suffering for your family. Common sense would suggest you would do everything you could to avoid the pitfalls of alcohol in your adult life. Yet how often do you see children of alcoholics become alcoholics as adults? Or maybe you never drink a single drink, but you find yourself–as if by some reverse magic–married to an alcoholic. Why would someone repeat the negative patterns of their family past?
When you’re a child, you don’t really get a vote about your parents’ behaviors. If your father drinks away your college fund when you’re growing up, there’s not much you can do about it. But human nature seeks to complete unfinished business. Your unconscious mind tends to think like this: Sure, I couldn’t cure Dad’s drinking problem when I was growing up. But what if I borrow this problem for a while, then fix it in myself? You essentially become a stunt double for your father. Or you seek a partner who is a stunt double. Your unconscious mind reasons: Although I couldn’t fix Dad’s drinking, surely I can fix my romantic partner’s drinking. So you unconsciously seek out a partner with a drinking problem.
The key is to recognize you are driven by both conscious and unconscious motivations. Overcoming certain relationship challenges requires you to make your unconscious conscious. It’s about awareness. It’s about courageous self-reflection. This is often the first step toward letting go longstanding relationship patterns which no longer serve you.