In light of the upcoming release of my new ‘marriage book’ (called, ironically enough, Don’t Get Married! Unless You Understand A Few Things First—and due out in a few weeks on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and other retailers), I want to share with you a very important, related topic:
Namely, how we pick our spouses and why.
Picture a coin.
You know how it has two sides?
Well, when we date someone, we see ONE side of the coin.
Let’s say that Sally likes the way Jonny opens the car door for her, and how he orders for her at the restaurant (and pays the bill without hesitation or negotiation!)
Sally likes THIS side of the coin.
Now, let’s take a look at the OTHER side of the same coin.
Turns out that, after several years together, Sally begins to notice that Jonny likes to have CONTROL over things, including HER things.
And, in doing so, he helps put her into an emotional position of being a helpless, dependent little girl.
She, of course, DOESN’T like this, even if she doesn’t quite know why consciously.
The problem is that she DID like the way he “took control” early on; but she DIDN’T know that this came in a “package deal” with the other side of the same coin.
To switch analogies for a moment: Sally liked the sun-roof option, but wasn’t aware that she’d also be paying for the upgraded stereo and leather too, as part of the whole package deal.
Now let’s look at Jonny’s side of the story.
He just LOVED the fact that he was so liked and appreciated by Sally for the way he took “care” of her early on.
But, as time went on, he began to resent how he had to always be the one to take the lead and to make all the decisions. He felt like he had another child instead of an adult partner.
Now let’s step back in time so we can see just why they picked each other to begin with.
As a child, Sally’s mother and father had a lot of anxiety about her. In fact, they overcompensated with all of their Comments to her about the dangers of life and their worries at any given moment about any given situation she was in.
She never really ever got a chance to test her mettle as she grew up, instead finding herself ever increasingly comfortable in her role as a helpless, somewhat hopeless little dependent. And, best of all, her parents seemed to react better and less nervous when she STAYED in that role.
This role, needless to say, was not healthy for Sally, but it’s what she knew and it’s how she was trained to be starting in her childhood.
So, naturally, when she began dating as a young adult, something in her subconscious mind told her the type of person she’d be most comfortable with; i.e. someone who would help her continue her childhood position as a helpless, frightened dependent…. Enter Jonny.
Now Jonny had it differently growing up.
HIS parents were constantly showing him how overwhelmed they were when he couldn’t take care of himself or when he screwed something up.
This, of course, was not fair to Jonny as a little boy. Little kids are SUPPOSED to screw up and they’re NOT supposed to be able to take care of themselves- that’s the parents’ job.
Nonetheless, he grew up thinking that all the stresses and worries of his immediate situation could be prevented and that his parents could finally be calm and tranquil and at peace if only he could develop the habit of predicting what would happen next so he could CONTROL it. This way, ‘problems’ could always be avoided.
“Going out to eat? I already know what’s good here at this restaurant.”
“Movie? I’ve got the reviews right here.”
“Buying something? I’ve already researched it.”
As long as Jonny was prepared and VIGILANT, his world (which includes his parents) would be okay.
So, of course, when Jonny was allowed and encouraged by Sally to continue to act out this way, he was able to continue to ‘solve’ his childhood fears of his parents (and now Sally) not being okay by taking and keeping the control.
He was, therefore, COMFORTABLE with Sally, who let him do this.
In other word, he was able to continue his childhood with Sally. (By the way, had Sally protested his taking such control on their first date, they would NOT have felt comfortable with each other and therefore they would NOT have ended up together! Often, part of what we ‘like’ when we’re falling ‘in love’ are these very things which prove to be unhealthy for us!—more in the marriage book)
So here we have a woman (Sally) who is prepared to continue her helpless role from childhood, together with a man (Jonny) who is happy to continue his “all powerful” childhood role.
Because after a while, we humans begin to RESENT the ones who help put us in and perpetuate these unhealthy childhood positions.
The only trouble is, we usually don’t actually consciously know that any of this is going on, so we don’t usually get mad at and contemptuous with our original caregivers.
No, instead we begin to become angry with the latest example of our original caregivers; i.e. our spouse.
Then, let the games (misery of many marital relationships) begin.
Seldom do we ever realize that our spouse is not the ORIGINAL person who hurt us this way. They are not the ones who originally put us in these unhealthy positions. They are simply someone who is pushing an already established button. (I describe more about these ‘buttons’ in the new “Don’t Get Married” book as well.)
And they (our spouses) will ultimately inherit our rage.
So, in the end, we act out our anger towards each other and proceed to build up first disappointment, then resentment, then, eventually, rage and contempt.
And it’s a long way back from contempt in a relationship, my friends, if it’s even possible at all.
We really have to remember that our spouse is actually just somebody else’s messed up kid, just like we are. And we have to help each other break out of the chains of our unhealthy childhood positions by changing the behaviors and reactions towards one another that reinforce these positions.
That’s what marriage is really all about: It’s what I call an “Emotional Laboratory” for INDIVIDUAL growth from our childhood positions.
Since we’ve already gone through the trouble of selecting each other for EXACTLY the WRONG reasons subconsciously, we’ve now got the perfect partners with whom we can also REVERSE our unhealthy childhood positions!
In other words, by choosing each other, you can say that we’ve also located and pinpointed each of our “boo-boos” from childhood. We found each other! I hurt you the exact way your caregivers did and you hurt me the way mine did!
Now we can either continue to hurt each other by triggering and reinforcing each others’ unhealthy childhood positions thus staying in childhood together, OR we can help each other reverse these childhood positions and heal from them.
If you choose the latter, please don’t forget to have plenty of empathy, Restraint, and to do LVACTM (Listen, Validate, Ask, Comment) with each other (more on this topic in my book LVAC Nation! or at my website http://www.LVACNation.com.)
This is hard (sometimes impossible) work my friends. (This is why the book is called “DON’T Get Married! Unless You UNDERSTAND a Few Things First”.)
You have my encouragement and my utmost respect for trying. After all, we’re all in this together.
Good luck, and all my best,
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.