Except in rare cases, most people recreate the circumstances they grew up with. They end up needing the same marriage help as their parents.
Although people who grow up in abusive homes tend to leave home at an early age, they usually waste no time creating with their spouse the very dysfunctional dynamics they couldn’t wait to escape.
Let me give you an example of how this works by sharing with you an email I received (names changed):
Ron and I had been married for 18 years until we separated in April. That was actually the 2nd time I left him during our marriage. Now we’re back together trying again and getting help.
To make a long story short, Ron was verbally abusive on and off during our marriage. He is a controlling man so much so that he would get mad if I didn’t wear the same color clothes as him or stand exactly where he asked during choir. He made me feel inadequate, stupid, and invisible.
After years of being abused, I became disrespectful, verbally abusive back, and would do the denial or doormat routine.
Oh, by the way, we’re both adult children of alcoholics. His father was physically and verbally abusive and mine was verbally abusive.
Ok, that’s the negative side of our marriage. The positive of our marriage is we love one another very deeply no matter how we’ve hurt or angered each other.
After I left Ron the first time, I was drawn back to him.
We have played music and sung together in a variety of venues, ministered together and in fact, had our own ministry. We prayed together, studied together, cried & laughed together. He made me feel beautiful, loved, cherished and he always made sure I was taken care of physically.
We were always very romantic with each other and our intimate life was extraordinary. Everyone that knew us felt “Ron & Dotti” were special and we felt so too.
My prayer is not only that Ron’s heart change and his eyes open to the harm he caused me but for my eyes and heart to be opened also.
Through your emails I’ve learned a lot of things I should have done differently.
Here’s my question: We’re back together, but I don’t want to be manipulated into an abusive relationship again. How can we prevent that? What can we do to succeed this time?
Dotti and Ron learned from their parents how to abuse and be abused. I’m sure they vowed to “never to be like mom/dad,” but I’m also sure that they never took the time and energy to learn any other way. So they built for themselves the only life they knew.
As much as Dotti and Ron did not want an abusive relationship, they didn’t know how to relate to each other in any other way.
Let’s say that when you grew up, everyone ate spaghetti with a straw. No matter how frustrating eating spaghetti with a straw was for you, if I served you spaghetti, you would ask for a straw. It’s all you know. You wouldn’t know what to do with a fork even if it was right in front of you.
If you need marriage help, the chances are good that your parents struggled in their marriage too. Research shows that if your parents had marriage problems or got divorced, then it’s likely that you’ll have marriage problems or get a divorce as well.
Freud documented well the impact that heredity and upbringing has on a person’s fate. We learn “tapes” early-on that we play again and again oblivious to how they consistently control (and destroy) our lives. But does that mean the destiny of your marriage was determined years ago? Does that mean your fate was sealed by your genes and your childhood?
Your past constantly vies for control of your future, but at the end of the day YOU have a CHOICE. Your domain is this moment, and every moment, when you can DECIDE to write a new script. At any time, in every time, you can decide to be the master of your destiny; rather than a victim to your past.
This, by the way, is the real value in understanding your past and your childhood roots. So that you can consciously REJECT what you know doesn’t work and replace old habits with new ways.
This, of course, is no simple task. Not only because it’s hard to break old habits and learn new ways, but also because most people are more comfortable doing what’s familiar yet destructive rather than what’s constructive but unfamiliar. In other words, most people would rather do what they know doesn’t work rather than work on something they don’t know.
But working on what you DON’T KNOW is exactly what it takes to be a “transition person.” A transition person is someone who breaks free from unhealthy relationship patterns that have been in their family for generations. You are by no means a product solely of your heredity or environment. There is a third element: YOUR DECISION. And that trumps ALL past events. You can DECIDE to be whatever you want.
By the way, this, in my opinion, is the real meaning of help…helping someone to acquire the ability to CHOOSE their behavior.
A successful marriage is not something that just happens; you have to craft it. It’s a result of deliberate and conscience decisions to make a new way in your relationship.
Of course, Dotti and Ron need to do the Marriage Fitness Tele-Boot Camp so they can learn new habits that will infuse goodwill into their relationship. But, in their case, coming from abusive homes, they also need to come to a deep understanding of the roots of their relationship instincts. Why?
You see, the benefit to understanding your childhood roots is, in the words of Freud, “to make the unconscious conscious.” In other words, the point is to be SELF-AWARE. You cannot beat an enemy you don’t know. You cannot defeat an enemy you don’t understand.
Being AWARE of your instincts (your “tapes,” your patterns, your scripts) is the first step to making a CHOICE to behave differently. Knowledge of yourself is the first step to making a DECISION to become a new self.
If you realize, for example, that your instincts are to control everyone and everything, then you could make the conscious decision to invite your spouse to participate in the family financial decisions. In other words, if you’re aware of your controlling, you can CHOOSE to give up some control.
Most people act based on instincts. Most people’s behavior is a reaction to circumstances rather than a proactive choice based on values. They have liberty but not freedom. What’s the difference between liberty and freedom?
Liberty is the right to choose. Freedom is the ABILITY to make a choice. A country can provide you liberty. Freedom comes from within. A country can offer you choices. But if you’re not in control of what you decide, then you are not free. To be truly free, you must cultivate the ABILITY to choose. Most people in America have liberty but not freedom.
Unfortunately, that space is very small for most people. Their environment provides a stimulus and old tapes provide a response. There is no conscious choice. So there is no decision. There are only instincts based on years of scripting. But awareness of your “tapes” allows you to widen that space between stimulus and response and gives you the time to make a CHOOSE based on your values rather than your past.
Bottom line for Dotti and Ron, and for all of us, is this: explore your childhood roots so you’re aware of your relationship instincts. Then, look out for those old patterns, make a DECISION to behave differently based on your values, and bring your past to its knees.
If you’re ready to script a new chapter in your marriage and learn how to make a new way in your relationship, then enter your name and email below. My free report “7 Secrets to Fixing Your Marriage” will not only help your marriage; it’ll change the destiny of marriages in your family for generations to come.
A little over a year ago I thought my marriage was over. She was moving out. Thank you Mort for giving me the tools that I needed to save my marriage. One year later and we are happier than ever and back together.
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