Connect2 Marriage Counseling

How Did You See Your Parents Treat One Another?

If you want to know how your partner will treat you under stress, watch how his/her parents treat each other.

So, why am I asking you this question? Because what you see growing up is set indelibly in your brain; they’re called neural pathways. And because people behave based on their pathways, even if they were set by the age of five. In case you’re wondering, yes, you can change your behavior, mindset, and actions – while knowing that in the first 200th of a second, you will react as though you haven’t changed. But you’ve learned how to ride those moments out until your revised, healthier response arises.

If you haven’t done the work required to change those early paths that were laid down from what you saw, heard, smelled, experienced, and felt, most likely you are repeating your parents’ behavior to one another. Or rejecting it wholeheartedly, yet still struggling. If your folks had a healthy, secure marriage, you’re probably in good shape. But since many people did not come from healthy, secure families, you might be in a world of hurt. Especially interpersonally.

If you want to know how your partner will treat you under stress, watch how his/her parents treat each other. You won’t necessarily get gender-based behavior; it could be either parent’s style. This is crucial to pay attention to while you’re dating.

I’m a huge proponent of explicit communication. If your partner exhibits behavior that doesn’t work for you, say so. (If you’re around others, let him/her know you want to talk about something later. Then find a time soon to discuss it.) First, be transparent (e.g., I want to say something that might be hard for you to hear, and it’s really important to me.) Then state what happened and how it made you feel, and that you don’t want to be treated that way. Use ‘I’ statements, not “you” statements (e.g., When we working on the project together, you got short and said words I don’t appreciate hearing. I felt belittled. Please don’t talk to me that way.)

Now, if you’re like most people, you don’t like being called out like that. So, breathe through the defensive wave that arises, and let it fall before answering. Might take 10 seconds. Or more. Then respond in a positive way (e.g., I heard that you don’t like it when I speak to you in a short way, using hurtful words. I apologize. I will work on this, and I’ll make mistakes. Please give me a little leeway. And let me know when I do it, so I can get better at this.) I realize that’s idealized, but do your best!

I believe in you. If you’re reading this, you want better, healthier relationships. Practice (and remember, no one is perfect; s/he’s just perfect for you).