In response to a commenter on a recent blog, I’d like to explore the notion of choosing the same “bad for me” mate.
It is my belief that when a person is born through the current age s/he is actively making a model of both who s/he is and who s/he is attracted to. Assuming the child is heterosexual, a child who has a loving opposite sex parent who is kind and attentive, then it’s likely that s/he will look to duplicate that later in life. The person gets a template, if you will, from the opposite gender parent. Dads are their little girls’ first boyfriends. Moms are their little boys’ first girlfriends. If this relationship is found to be loving, fulfilling and nurturing, then it’s likely the child grows to choose a person with similar qualities in a mate.
When a child does not have the “romantic interest” parent available then there is room for his/her own interpretation of what qualities and characteristics the future partner should possess. There are two scenarios that have been present in my practice. First, the adult female who was raised without a father in the home and no other male who took major positive interest in her development and second, the man who had no male role model and a domineering, strict mother who treated him more like a mate than a child who needed rearing. I have done no research, but I see these in my practice and each tends to lead the now adult child to choose what s/she knows, or at least thinks s/he knows.
The woman tends to look for the fairytale partner who dreams of cohesiveness and picket fences. She tends to focus more on the dream than the relationship. I hear things like “but we’re married so that means…” When pressed to explore the relationship aspects that are causing challenges there tends to a realization that she doesn’t know how to relate to an adult male in a sensitive intimate way without the inclusion of sex. For me, intimacy with a mate is the crux of every relationship. Of course there are many challenges to maintaining a positive nurturing relationship, but I find with some predictability that the father/daughter relationship, or lack there of, plays an important role.
The male who enters my therapy room with the mother who raised her “own mate,” has similar problems reaching a point of intimacy with his mate. The lines for him may have been blurred. He may be looking to his mate to mother him a bit while not being able to focus on the aspects of the relationship that need adult interaction like adult communication that means his opinions have value, he may resist asserting his position in the marriage because he may feel like the “child” in the relationship. He may choose a woman who is driven, goal oriented and strong because then he will not have to lead in a way that is uncomfortable. It seems to me to be a duplication of the relationship with his mother who either consciously or unconsciously, dimmed the light on his natural leadership potential.
These couples require specific attention to learned norms for relationships to broaden the meaning to include vulnerability. Many times the challenges that made them seek relationship help are due to the resistance of one or more partners resistance those “learned norms.” Like the man who makes the statement, “she doesn’t value my opinion,” it appears that he is resisting how it was for him growing up. Thus, the conflict between what I know I want and what I think I know I want. The woman who is experiencing this type of internal conflict may be resistant to connect and be vulnerable though she has dreams of this really connected romantic partner. In my work, she historically left out her role in the connected relationships. She would then tend to only see how her partner doesn’t know her and what she wants.
Of course, there are obviously other factors that play a role in the challenges of all relationships. The missing relationship with the parent who shares the gender of future romantic partner is simply a common thread that I have noticed with some of the couples with which I work.