A Fox 26 viewer sent me this question:
Dear Mary Jo,
I am in my late twenties and grew up with a dad I didn’t really respect. He didn’t treat my mother very good, and was not faithful to her. He wasn’t involved with me, and I don’t remember ever feeling special. He went to work, and that was the extent of his care. I now find myself dating men exactly like him. I don’t want to; they just seem to be the ones who come into my life. What’s going on? Am I doomed to marry someone like him and repeat my mother’s mistake? Thank you, Kellie.
This is a common question, and many men and women date people like their mom and dad. After all, our moms and dads are our first mentors of what is normal. As we grow up we begin comparing our normal with other friends’ normal, and realize maybe a bit late that our normal isn’t normal at all.
When dating, feeling more comfortable around people who feel familiar to you, such as what you saw demonstrated by your parents is common and more likely. The problem comes about when you have resentment or anger from how one of your parents treated you. This unresolved anger and resentment doesn’t disappear, and often times are projected on to another person or partner.
For example, Kellie, states that her dad was never there for her. He didn’t treat her mother with respect, and emotionally wasn’t available. The anger and hurt she feels becomes projected on to the men in her life. She is actually bringing her dad and her issues with him back into her love life. The guy may or may not know what is going on, but one thing is for sure, he has a part to play and he plays it because Kellie has given it to him. This also allows Kellie to bond further with her mom, and maybe even say things such as, “All men are the same, or all men are emotionally unavailable.” Kellie watched this growing up, and it is “hardwired” into her emotionally and feels familiar. She will most likely act this out until she works through her feelings and forgives her father.
Many times you will see these dynamics acted out among your colleagues and friends. For example, if a woman grows up feeling closer to her father than her mother she may forever be unhappy with her choice of partners. The reason isn’t the partners she chooses, but rather her distance from her mother. A woman’s relationship with her mother is an indicator for how fulfilled she feels with a partner. The more distant relationship women have with their mothers is also an indicator of their trust and ability to work well with other women.
Parents don’t only affect their daughters; they also have profound effects on their son and his future relationships. For example, a very common scenario may be a son who isn’t close to his dad, but is very close to his mother. He may have difficulty with commitment and being vulnerable because he may feel that a woman will be too emotionally needy (since he and his mother are so close), and he will be reluctant to repeating that situation. He never learned or was mentored by his father how you can be close to a woman and still have your own space to do the things you enjoy.
The key for Kellie, as well as anyone who has past resentment and hurt from their parents, is to make peace. It is better to do this early before you date or marry someone, so these feelings aren’t acted out with someone unknowingly and new. What we reject in our parents doesn’t go away, but remains inside of us. Much of life is repeating old patterns, but when patterns are unhealthy repeating them for generations seems pointless and cruel. 90% of all prisoners have been abused as children. Unhealthy patterns of resentment, anger, and cruelty affect our relationships, our families and our societies at large. Below are suggestions for making peace with your parents.
1. Realize that your way of continuing the pattern of your parents is an unconscious way to bring them back and keep them in your life. Therefore, the first and foremost thing you must do is write down and make note of any good behaviors they had.
2. Begin to look for these good behaviors in others, especially with people you date.
3. If your parents are still alive, sit with them and talk honestly about what you resent, and seek to understand why your parents acted in this manner. Many times understanding helps heal resentment.
4. If your parents are deceased or unavailable, write a letter of what they did that was so hurtful or upsetting to you. It can help release the feelings if you put them down on paper. You may want to burn the letter or bury it. If your parents are old and not able to understand, giving the letter to them will only cause more suffering for all of you. It is not part of letting go or establishing peace.
5. Talking to a loved one you are dating or married to about your discovery will really help. They may feel lightened by your enlightenment, and also relieved to see the pattern of what has been created. When you understand a pattern you can usually work with one another in an effort to not repeat it.
Our parents are the first people we loved. They are the first people who are supposed to love us. When their expression of love is unhealthy as children we aren’t able to grasp it because we have no other comparison. Therefore, the way they expressed their love for you and your other parent is bound to leave a lasting impression. The key to establishing peace as an adult with your parent is to be curious, honest, and forgiving. They may have been a broken child inside a parent body. Understanding and not repeating the pattern is Kellie’s and our ultimate goal. –Mary Jo Rapini
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Tags: Parenting, Relationships, Family, Communication, Dating, Marriage, Unhealthy Relationships, Love, Resentment, Marrying Someone Like Your Parent