Being the best partner — 23 October 2006
Could your parents’ healthy marriage be a disadvantage?

Much has been written about the negative impact parents’ poor marriage could have on their children. It is believed that an unhealthy relationship model seen by growing children may be detrimental to the youngsters’ eventual marital success. Research indicates that children of divorced parents have greater chance of being divorced than children of intact families.

Using the same logic, a good marriage should be a bonus to the offspring of that union. For the most part it is. Yet, among the children of happy couples there is a rare subgroup of young married adults one of whom struggles in the relationship because of the highly effective union their parents modeled for them. These young people expect to have the same wonderful marriage their parents had and often find themselves lacking in comparison.

The parents’ ease of connection, effective sharing, affectionate and joyous interactions may be unique and not easily reproducible. The young pair may experience the grief of not measuring up to their own hopes and expectations in emulating the same harmonious union their parents have created.

Some are so disappointed that they question their choice of a partner. Others tend to assign blame to the mate’s family for not training him/her well enough to be the ideal soul mate. Many question their own ineptitude in achieving the level of intimacy they were groomed to attain. Some assume that they have failed their parents, their mates and family by being a poor reflection of the ideal bond.

The self-criticism, blaming of the mate, assuming disrespect from others and pessimistic view of one’s marriage as compared to one’s parents -are unhealthy attitudes that lead to deep unhappiness. It is destructive to their relationship growth and improvement.

The disappointment, hurt, sadness, anger and dismay the young couple feel may be the signs of grief and depression cause by unmet personal expectations, self-reprimand and disdain. “Why can’t I have the marriage that my parents do?” “What is wrong with me (or us)?”

For some, anything short of matching their parents’ relationship feels like a failure. Few couples never make peace with their marriage, as good as it may be, since they are always comparing themselves unfavorably to a higher, sometimes idealized parental perfection.

Often all the positive comments, admiration, respect and positive feedback the young couple may receive about their relationship falls upon deaf ears as they continue to feel unaccomplished.

For some, the torment of one discouraged mate may create disharmony in the relationship leaving the other partner feeling at fault or blemished. Marital conflict may ensue due to the chronic displeasure felt by the “perfect” couple’s son or daughter . Instead of improving their relationship, they may end up descending into a relationship malfunction.

What every couple needs to be aware of is:

• Your relationship is unique. There never was and will never be another combination of mates just like you.
• One cannot emulate precisely all the elements of another couple’s marriage. You can analyze the lessons you learned from your parents’ ways and translate it to your relationship with your mate considering your own preferences and personalities.
• Your parents’ marriage is a seasoned relationship that has grown and evolved over the years to its current state. Comparing your new union to theirs is inappropriate and unfair.
• What worked beautifully for your parents may not be ideal for you and your partner.
• Your parents’ healthy connection was a general model of: love, caring, sharing and decency, which you can reproduce in your own style.
• Comparisons with anyone else’s interactions or level of happiness are inaccurate, unhelpful and defeating.
• The awe and appreciation you have for your parents needs to be now showered upon your partner.
• As children we tend to idealize our parents since we benefit from viewing them as perfect to assure our own safety. As adults we know that though perfection in relationships does not exist –a good example of healthy connection does.
• If you judge yourself as inept you misdirect your forward energy away from improving yourself and your relationship.
• Affirm your partner’s wonderful traits and being and assure him/her of how pleased you are to have made such a wise relationship choice. A valued mate is a loving and responsive partner.
• Speak often about the pleasing aspects of your union that are fulfilling to both of you. This will positively reinforce your bond, love and happiness.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life.

Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions.

Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column “Relationship Matters” for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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