We all come from various family units. The traditional family is a long way away from the families we are forming today, but do the relationships we are exposed to at an early age influence the ones we are in today? Are we subconsciously re-living our parents’ marriages?
I was recently speaking to my friend (who is in a solid relationship) about the dynamics of her relationship. She said that the reason why she thought it worked so well between her and her partner was that she was a lot like her mother, and he was a lot like her father. Her parents have been successfully married for over 40 years now and are still going strong. She felt that in a strange way, because she is so similar to her mother, she was subconsciously looking for a man whose personality mirrored her father’s, because she knew that her parents’ partnership worked so well. Her father was the ying to her mother’s yang.
She had been raised in a solid home, and the roles of both parents worked seamlessly. She wanted to recreate this harmony in her own marriage, and so, many years later, when she met her partner, she knew that he was the one because of how much of his personality resembled that of her father’s (as strange as they may sound to some).
She first noticed the influence that her parent’s relationship had on her marriage when she met her partner, and as the relationship grew, she often found herself reacting to certain situations exactly how she had seen her mother react. She would often find herself mirroring her mother on certain subjects (often refusing to budge on views and issues she felt strongly about). Her mother was sometimes a stubborn woman. Luckily, her partner was a lot like her father, so he would often understand or give in, as her father would to her mother. She knew this wasn't necessarily right or healthy, but it was just the makeup of their relationship, and it worked for them. He was the calm when she was the storm, and she was the calm when he was the storm.
She said that the pattern continued, and she often acted like her mother would, she sometimes felt as if history was repeating itself. She would often say to her partner "we are just like my parents", or "I've tuned into my Mother". She felt that she acted this way because her parents had such a strong influence on her, and that was the only way she knew how to be in a relationship. Luckily for her, it worked, just as it had for her parents and there were so many similarities in their own relationship. Obviously, they added some of their own touches to the realstionship.
In comparison, I had another friend who was in a relationship with a man who had been raised in a family that was completely different to hers. She was from a modern family unit and he was from a very traditional one. In her relationship, she would find herself mirroring her independent mother and he would mirror his dominant father.
In her world, the women were valued and seen as equals, they were encouraged to get an education, pursue careers, socialize, and share all child and household duties with their partners. The women in her family were fierce, independent feminists led by her mother, and her father was a gentle soul who encouraged and supported his wife in all her endeavours and saw no issue in helping out around the house and with the children. In my friend’s eyes, her parents had a successful marriage, and spent many happy years together. She strived to do the same.
But sometimes opposites attract.
In her partners fahers world, a woman’s place was two steps behind a man. A woman was expected to be a traditional housewife who had to look after her husband’s every need and focus her time solely on her home, husband and children. Women had no place in the world working other than on what pleased their family. His mother was a submissive housewife who had made a huge compromise and quit her job in the peak of her career to become a housewife and his father was the king of the home.
His father would often come home from work and his dutiful wife would be waiting for him, dressed up in her finest clothes, with his dinner ready. She would not eat until he had eaten, and she would serve him immediately. She spent her days waiting on her husband hand and foot, with no real life aims or goals other than what pleased him. She was not encouraged to socialize too much, nor was she allowed to pursue any career goals. In his mind, this was the only job she should ever have, being a housewife. She lived to serve him. In my friends’ partners mind, this was the perfect woman and the perfect relationship, as in his mind his parents also had a long and successful marriage.
The influence of both of their parents’ relationships had a deep-rooted impact on them. They would often clash in their views and expectations of what a good realstionship shuld look like. Both were equally set in their ways and were subconsciously mirroring their parents. She was a free spirit who pursued many ambitions and valued her career which she felt she had worked very hard for and refused to give up. She viewed her role in the relationship as an equal like her mother. She expected her partner to help with household chores, the children and support her career goals like her father had with her mother. She worked hard and had little time to waste, she was often home later than him. She was constantly on the move, so she often overlooked household chores and didn’t cook a meal every day as his mother had done.
He, on the other hand, expected to be "taken care of", as his father had been by his mother. He could not understand why she couldnt stay at home and focus more of her time on him and their home, rather than her career and other ambitions. He despised eating out, as in his mind, it was a shortcoming of his wife if there was no food on the table when he got home, and worse still, he was often home before her, as she was working late or was otherwise engaged. He would be lax about helping around the house and cooking a meal himself, as he felt this belittled his manhood in some way as his father had felt, so he could not bring himself to do it. Why couldn't his wife be more like his mother as he was so much like his father?
This war of “I am man, you are woman” continued, and is still continuing. They are very open about it, and in a strange way, they embrace it. In the beginning, it nearly tore them apart, but they found a way to work through it, and because the love between them was so strong, they realised they are living in different times, made adjustments and compromised. She would try and pay more attention to him and pass on a few social and work activities to spend more time with him instead, and he would try and help more around the house, support her career goals, and stop seeing it as a chip on his manhood.
Even though they would still often find themselves slipping back into the roles of their parents, they worked hard to make their particular situation work for them. They realized that, although they had been raised in very different households by very different parents, their relationship was theirs to mould, and they were not their parents. Times had changed and they had to do what worked best for them. I am happy to say, they are still happily married and still making comprimises along the way. It is often as challenging but is equally as rewarding when they get it right and create their own harmony.
I've also known others who did not look up to or want to mirror their parents’ relationships and made conscious (or subconscious) efforts not to be like them in anyway, and instead created something completely different.
So, whether we are intentionally or unintentionally trying to create (or stay away from) our parents’ relationships, it seems they still have some form of influence over us. So yes, often our parents’ relationships do influence us, but it doesn't mean that we have to relive their marriages. We can create our own, to influence the next generation with.