Being the best partner — 10 November 2006
Treat your partner as a unique being

One weapon some feuding couples resort to is to liken their partner to his or her parent’s or family member’s most unattractive attribute. “You are just like your mother/father”, is a statement that can rile certain people. Why are some people so offended when they are compared to their parent or relative? How should a loving mate respond?

Most young children adore their parents. They look up to the adults and aspire to emulate them in any way possible. They act with impatience about growing up so that they can quickly become “Just like Mom or Dad”. Idolizing the powerful parents, who are the source of all need satisfaction, marks the early developmental stages of many children.

Since children know no other role models, they tend to see their parents’ personalities and choices about career, conduct or values as the guiding path to their own maturation. Most pre-teen youngsters are affirming, admiring and affectionate with their parents and may even feel that their family is better than others.

As children reach adolescence, a marked change occurs in terms of their view of their parents. In the process of defining their own identity, teenagers tend to reject their parents values, choices and ways.

Suddenly the adoring child is transformed into a vocal critic, a sullen and disapproving teenager who may be even openly ashamed of his/her parents. During this time teenagers begin to identify their parents’ imperfections and may even magnify their faults to help themselves feel better about their own personhood. Though the process of forming their identity is natural for adolescents, the exaggerated negative view of the parent sometimes evolves into a lasting distaste.

The growing youngsters also develop a new view of their childhood and have a judgment about how well or poorly they were raised. They recreate their life circumstances to support their new vision of their parent/s.

As adults couple, they tend to develop their core support through their connection with their mates. For some, this new affiliation tacitly encourages them to view their parents less favorably. They now belong to a new team and the old team must pale in comparison. In the process of bonding with the mate, some adults open-heartedly talk about old hurts, parental misbehavior towards them and dislike of certain traits their parents possess. They may also talk of others in the family who have not engendered their respect due to faulty behavior or character.

Again, this behavior is meant to bond the new pair, not to serve as future weapon against each other. Regrettably, some people store the data and misuse it later.

While talking about what one does not like about a parent or family member, the individual divulges a fear about him/herself. Knowing that much of family reactions may be biologically programmed and/or learned, retelling the stories of old pain and hurt entails the fear about one’s predisposition to emulating this conduct.

If that individual is later labeled as being like the disrespected parent, one’s worst fears seem to be actualized. This association is taken as cruel name calling that violates one’s essence – not one’s behavior.

For example, one woman told her husband about the fears and terror she experienced when her mother raged at her when she misbehaved. She never voiced her fear about her own conduct, but was shattered when her husband accused her of being just like her mother whenever she became even slightly impatient with their children. Being misperceived was compounded by the betrayal she felt.

• Every person needs to feel special to his/her mate. Any unfavorable comparison to family members is deflating and damages one’s sense of uniqueness.
• Negative comparisons of your mate to a parent, whom he/she does not appreciate, is an unfair name-calling that should never be done, even in the heat of a bad argument.
• If you are concerned that your partner is exhibiting unsatisfactory behavior-speak to him/her about it without likening it to anyone else.
• Using a partner’s worst fears to achieve behavior change is only likely to backfire and is immoral.
• If you see unhealthy familial similarities between your partner and his/her relatives, assume that your mate is also aware of it and is fearful. Make an effort to reassure your partner that the circumstances, not his/her essence is the cause of the similarity.
• Holding your partner’s esteem, secrets, fears and insecurities with great reverence is a sign of a loving and decent partner.

Related Articles

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.

(0) Readers Comments

Comments are closed.