Rate Your Mate Part 1: Family Background

rate your mate part 1: family background, the three tomatoesIn my last 3 Tomatoes article I promised to educate, empower and keep you safe when it comes to your intimate relationships. I also told you that this process is not necessarily “romantic” nor always “fun.”

However, the process can lead to the best and healthiest romantic relationship you have ever had or will hope to have. So if we want to have this fun, healthy and loving relationship, we have to first take off our blinders and be willing to look at the reality of our relationships.

As we begin this journey together, family background is the first place to look when assessing whether your partner is right or wrong for you — the acorn does not fall far from the tree, as common sense tells us. You will learn how one’s family of origin (yours and his) sets the scene for future relationships. You will also learn what mental and emotional adjustments you need to make so that you will not repeat previous disappointments and hurts.

 Family Background: How the Past Predicts the Future

Perhaps some of you remember the matchmaker of long ago? That bygone prophet (usually a prophetess) of romantic coupling seemed to know instinctively what information she needed to make a match. Were the matches perfect? Did all the couples live happily ever after? Of course not. And there were more than a few Tevyas who wondered: “do you love or still love me?”

However, there was something “natural” and commonsensical to the process when the first thing her professional nose sniffed out was the kind of family her prospects came from. She found out everything she could about both families. When Mama and Papa asked the question: “will he be good for my daughter?” her informed answer was based on actual observation and knowledge of both families. The best matchmakers were smart detectives who could decipher the family puzzle and see how well the pieces fit together. They placed the new-generation puzzle piece next to each other and noted how family themes reappeared. If they saw too many clashing themes, they would mix up the pieces and start over with other possibilities.

As society evolved, matchmakers disappeared (although they now seem to making a comeback). We are basically more and more on our own now — making the most important decision of our lives. However, if you want a match made in heaven, you will need to put your feet on the ground and start at the beginning.

As children we learned many lessons about relationships from mom and dad that followed us into adulthood. Some lessons prepared us well for our relationship challenges ahead. Others may have compromised our attempts to form healthy and loving relationships. Without consciously knowing it, we were educated about love, how to handle conflict, how to treat the opposite sex, which topics were taboo and how to express anger and pain. We were fed the complex nuances of human interaction along with our daily bread, even though we were consciously unaware that any of this was happening.

As adults our behavior is unconsciously based on the experience of our early family life. It’s second nature. We react and act without questioning. When it comes to relationships, we often tend to choose partners who are familiar to us, acting out a second generation of mom and dad. It is for this reason that the first step toward relationship success is knowing what lessons we learned and did not learn about healthy relationships in our own family or origin.

The Unavailable Man

A common scenario is the woman who repeatedly chooses men who are emotionally unavailable. They may be charming and attentive and great in bed. But on an emotion level, they are simply nowhere to be found. An emotionally unavailable man looks just like a regular man. However, behind the smile is someone who is not in tune with his own feelings. He refuses to talk about emotional issues. He cannot accept his (or his partner’s) anger, fear, sadness or disappointments. Such men men rarely argue. They are simply not there to discuss or deal with emotional issues.

Why would an intelligent and attractive woman settle for such a partner? She too may be acting out an unconscious patterns. Perhaps one or both of her parents may have been absent emotionally. This quality of emotional unavailability feels familiar. It rings true. So it must be right. Unless she is willing to acknowledge, address and resolves the issues from her own family of origin, she will be destined to replay them over and over again.

So take an look at your own relationship patterns. Have you unwittingly chosen partners like one or both of your parents who were not there for you emotionally or physically? Or have you unconsciously found yourself in relationships that have been physically or sexually abusive like you may have experienced as a child. Or have your partners had untreated substance abuse or psychiatric problems like mom or dad?

The good news is that once you have done your own family background analysis (with or without a good therapist), you will be conscious of behaviors that you will need to avoid and finally able to pursue healthy and nurturing relationships. And for those of you who are currently in relationships that are really not working for you, what are you prepared to do with your new found knowledge? You basically have 3 options. The first is to do nothing and remain unhappy and frustrated. The second is to talk to your partner and see whether you are both willing and ready to work through your individual and couple’s issues. If he and you agree to do the work, then a wonderful transformation may be possible. On the other hand, if one or both or you are not committed to making changes, exiting an unfulfilled or even toxic relationship may be your only option. The choice is ultimately yours!

Do you have a question for Beatty? Email her at BeattyCohan.msw@gmail.com

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