When you think of your mother, does your heart open with compassion or tighten with resentment?
Do you allow yourself to feel her tenderness and care?
The way we receive our mother’s love can be similar to how we experience love from a partner.
Sally had been married to Dan for 26 years. From the outside looking in, they seemed to have it all. Dan—a CEO for a large financial institution—and Sally—a hospital administrator—were the proud parents of three college-educated children who were all doing well.
Once their nest was empty they had to face the fact their hopes for a happy retirement had dimmed—their marriage was in trouble.
“I feel like he is not interested in me,” Sally complained. “He’s distant much of the time. I don’t get enough of his attention and rarely feel connected to him. He always seems more interested in the children than in me.”
Unbeknownst to her, Sally described her mother similarly to the way she described Dan. “My mother was emotionally distant; I never felt connected to her. I could never go to her when I needed something. Whenever I tried, she didn’t know how to take care of me.”
Sally’s unfinished business with her mother appeared to fall squarely onto Dan’s lap.
At some point in her childhood, Sally decided to stop going to her mother for support, and she eventually left her childhood home feeling she didn’t get enough. Sally blamed her mother for not supplying her with the attention she craved; that arrow of discontent would later be aimed at Dan.
In Sally’s eyes, he too would fail at providing her with the support she needed. Partners often unconsciously choose a mate who will draw out the unhealed wounds in their family systems.
Like the perfect mirror, the chosen partner reflects what sits unclaimed and unfinished at the core of the other.
Who better than Dan to provide the emotionally distant love Sally required to help her complete her unfinished business with her mother? What’s unresolved with our parents doesn’t automatically disappear—it serves as a template which forges our later relationships.
Many of us have experienced this with a partner. When we feel we didn’t get enough from our mother, we often feel we don’t get enough from our partner.
It’s a harsh reality, but it’s true more often than not.
The same holds true with our father; our unresolved relationship with our father will also show up in our love life. A woman, for example, who rejects her father, can repeat the fate of her mother by attracting a partner who behaves similarly to the father she rejects.
In this way, she brings what she dislikes about her father back into her life. Not only that, but by reliving her mother’s experience, she joins her mother in her discontent.
A man who rejects his father might not have the resources to commit to his partner. Let’s say he was extremely close with his mother and not so close with his father—a very common dynamic for many men. A man in this situation is likely to experience resistance when he bonds with his partner; he might find himself shutting down emotionally or physically, fearing his partner, like his mother, will want or need too much from him.
The remedy is a closer bond with his father.
When a man rejects his father, he can distance from the source of his masculinity. A man who admires and respects his father is generally at ease in his male strength, and is more likely to pass on what his father has given him. In a relationship, that can translate into an ease with commitment, responsibility and stability. A man will often emulate the traits of his father he admires most.
The same is also true for women.
A woman who loves and respects her mother is generally at ease in her femininity and more likely to express what she admires about her mother in her relationship. Conversely, a woman who’s closer to her father than her mother is likely to feel unsatisfied with the partners she selects. The root of the problem is not them; it is the distance she feels toward her mother.
A woman’s relationship with her mother can be an indicator of a how fulfilling her relationship will be with her partner.
Rejecting our parents only brings us suffering. The emotions, traits and behaviors we reject in our parents often live on in us; it’s our subconscious way of loving them—a way to bring them back into our lives. Even our bodies will feel some degree of unrest until our parents are experienced inside us in a loving way.
Thich Nhat Hanh explained, when you’re angry with your parents:
“You get angry with yourself. Suppose the plant of corn got angry at the grain of corn. If we’re angry with our father or mother, we have to breathe in and out and find reconciliation. This is the only path to happiness.”
It makes no difference whether our parents are living or deceased; if we want peace in our love life, we must be at peace with our parents.
Mark Wolynn is the Director of The Hellinger Institute of Northern California and co-director of the Hellinger Learning Center in New York City, Mark is one of North America’s foremost Family Constellation facilitators. He conducts workshops and trainings in family therapy throughout the United States, Canada, England and Latin America, as well as for the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Social Work, Western Psychiatric Institute’s 4th-Year Psychiatry Residency Training Program, Kripalu and the California Institute of Integral Studies. Mark is a regular presenter at hospitals, clinics, conferences and teaching centers. He specializes in working with depression, anxiety, obsessive thoughts, fears, panic disorders, self-injury, chronic pain and persistent symptoms and conditions. Check out his website for further details.
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