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By Chandrama Anderson

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About this blog: I am a LMFT specializing in couples counseling and have lived in and around Palo Alto since 1969. I worked in high-tech at Apple, Stanford University, and in Silicon Valley for 15 years before becoming a therapist. My background i...  (More)

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Couples: So You Married Mom or Dad . . .

Uploaded: Jan 12, 2018
. . . in the guise of your beloved. First of all, you’re not alone. Most people marry someone who is much like a parent. Often it’s the more difficult parent, but not always. So don’t feel bad; it’s common. You may not even know it for a while after you’re married.

However, "If you don't forgive your parents you spend the rest of your life killing them in people who remind you of them." - A friend shared this with me.

How come? And what now?

The how come is:
1. It feels normal because it’s the way you grew up.
2. You’ve chosen this person as an opportunity to grow and resolve the issues you had with that parent—and your spouse.

For example, you have an angry parent that you either learned to hide from, fight back or froze in front of. Maybe you had a depressed parent who wasn’t consistently available for you. You never knew from day to day if you would be on your own or have your parent present and caring for you. Or maybe everything looked good in your family but you felt undercurrents that were off but no one talked about it. Maybe your parent(s) worked most of the time and you’re doing that yourself.

Now you have a spouse who shows some of the same behavior and you respond as you did growing up.

Whatever coping strategies you learned growing up I commend you for them. They got you through your particular situation. You needed them. Now, as an adult, they may not work so well with your beloved or in other areas of your life such as work, friendships, parenting, etc.

So what now? You have an incredible opportunity to grow and try new behaviors. This will help with your spouse and hopefully your family as well.

First, start noticing. What happened in a given situation? How did you feel? How did you react? Does it seem familiar? Even the word familiar came from “on family footing”. Maybe jot some notes for yourself on these incidents. Also notice if you’re overreacting because it reminds you of your parent and be careful to not put all of that on your partner.

Remember the emotional brain is triggered in 1/200th of a second, and the thinking brain is slower to come online. Just hang tight and let the wave of emotion rise and fall before opening your mouth (by this I mean several seconds, not a day or two).

Second, try saying something to your spouse in this format: “When _________ happened, I felt _______. I wish _________. For example: “When I heard you wouldn’t be home for dinner 10 minutes before I expected you, I felt disappointed, upset and that I’m not important to you. I’d missed you all day and looked forward to intimate time together. What I wish is that you’d told me by lunch time and proposed something to make up for our missed time.”

Readers, do you see how this will go over much better than yelling, nagging or arguing?

No one can tell you how you feel (or don’t feel). There’s no ½ of Velcro there to stick to. There’s nothing to disagree about since it’s how you feel and what you wish for. (Even though we don’t always get what we wish for.)

Sometimes when people realize this, they leave a relationship, only to find themselves in the same boat a couple of years later. You get to work it through. It’s your stuff. And you can. I believe in you.

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