Relationship Intelligence: The Key to Picking a Life Partner. ~ Mark Wolynn

Via Mark Wolynn
on Aug 3, 2013
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For over two decades, I have worked with men and women from around the world to help them improve their relationships.

I have noticed a common thread of unhappiness and disappointment throughout, a mélange of musical partners and dead end relationships—patterns which can be avoided once we understand the hidden dynamics operating behind the scenes. Let me start by telling you about Trent.

Trent was ready to foreclose on love. All of his relationships had been short-lived. None had lasted more than a year and he no longer trusted in his ability to make good choices.  The women he chose fell into one of two categories: the “chronically dissatisfied” or the “Damsels in Distress”—the ones he felt he needed to save.

In the first category, the women seemed to come equipped with old anger brought forward from the past. No matter how giving or loving Trent would be, their anger often seemed to explode in his direction. “You never give me enough.” “You never see me.” “You never reassure me.” “You never….”  The accusations were relentless and often seemed to be unrelated to Trent’s behaviour.

Reject Your Parent, Reject Your Partner

These particular women, Trent later learned, felt that they had never received enough from their mothers. Believing they had been short-changed by the one person who was responsible for caring for them when they were small, these women projected a feeling of deprivation onto their partner, the next person in line to care for them. Their complaints about each “love gone wrong” all shared a similar quality: “He didn’t give me what I needed. He never gave me the love I deserved.” The more they clung to this early feeling, the less likely they could see their partner for who he really was and for what he was truly able to give.

The women in the second category felt very familiar to Trent. He could rescue them from their deepest pain. He could understand their hidden needs. He could read between the blurred lines of their desires and their dislikes. In the initial months of the relationship, Trent would feel inflated like a hero. A champion of love.  That is, until his feelings disappeared and his heart felt like a block of cement.

As a boy, Trent would try to ease his mother’s unhappiness. For as long as he could remember, his mother was sad and lonely.

Unhappy with the love she received from her own mother, she was equally unhappy with the love she received from her husband.

Trent’s father could do no right in her eyes and, eventually, with all of his attempts to please her thwarted, he began spending more time away from home. From a young boy’s perspective, Mom was alone and Dad was absent. That’s when Trent, sensing a hole that needed to be filled, dove in. He was a good boy, sensitive and caring, the perfect rescuer—skills he would employ in later relationships. He would give his mother what his father could not, and imagined that his love made her happy. Trent became the gleam in his mother’s eyes. He became her raison d’être.

Overwhelmed Children Can Become Overwhelmed Partners

While it felt good to try to make his mom happy when he was young, it became burdensome as he grew older. He realized that he could never give her what she needed. He could never fully take her pain away. It had been a fruitless undertaking.

A parent’s role is to give to a child; a child’s role is to receive from a parent. When this order is reversed, a child can struggle in later relationships.

This was the case with Trent.

Feeling responsible for making his mother happy drained Trent emotionally. Her love felt inundating. Her needs overwhelmed him. That same feeling pervaded his later relationships.

Confusing the needs of his partners with the needs of his mother, Trent found himself shutting down without understanding why.

The natural wants and desires of his partners felt like a cascading torrent of demands. His body would tighten to the degree that he would say yes when he meant no and no when he meant yes. When Trent’s relationships reached this point, they rarely lasted very long.

Trent’s early dynamic with his mother caused great suffering in his relationships. His baffling shutdowns and rapid departures were destructive forces that both embittered him and enraged his partners. Intimacy and longevity with Trent didn’t stand a chance.

Choosing unhappy women he felt he could save, Trent would initially be the hero, only to become the villain by leaving the women who loved him. Having hurt several partners, and numbing himself one too many times, Trent finally took time off from his relationship pain and put time into understanding his relationship patterns.

Breathing Can Clarify Your Feelings

In taking time for himself, he learned to set an inner boundary with his mother. In his mind’s eye, he visualized standing far enough away from her where he could relax enough to feel his breath filling his body.

With his breath flowing, he could feel the emotions and physical sensations that gave him cues to know what he wanted and what he didn’t want.

In time, he was able to differentiate between his desires for closeness and sensations that alerted him that he needed to step back and integrate what he was experiencing.

At the same time he distanced from his mother internally, he maintained a warm connection with her externally. Instead of continuing the pattern of giving to her, he was now able to receive from her. He could take in her love without having to give anything back.

Bonding with the Same-Sexed Parent Can Strengthen Your Relationship

Trent also developed a deeper bond with his father. As a boy, he often witnessed his mother ridicule his father. Not only was it painful to watch, Trent felt he didn’t have his mother’s permission to love him. He couldn’t love them both. Were he to openly love his father, Trent felt he would secretly betray his mother.

His feelings for his father were also obscured by the fact that his mother preferred his company to his father’s. Trent stood in his father’s place as his mother’s emotional partner. Feeling responsible for her emotional needs, Trent had little option to stand anywhere else. It was as though his father had been shoved behind a curtain where Trent had no access to him without his mother pointing the way.

In getting close with his father, Trent discovered what a great guy he was. It was shocking to learn that his father had always been there waiting for Trent to come to him. Trent just couldn’t get to him, and his father had no way to pierce the dynamic that separated them.

The experience of reconnecting with his father was extraordinary.

With his father at his back, Trent felt as though he was tapping into an endless source of strength and masculinity.

Eventually, it changed the way Trent felt about himself. He now felt ready to resume looking for a partner. But he had questions.

After understanding the dynamics of his own childhood confusion, Trent wondered what sat on the other side for women. If a close relationship with his father was crucial for his ability to bond with a woman, what kind of relationship would a woman need to have with her parents so that she could have the best chance of succeeding with a partner?

What type of woman would make a good partner?

Here’s the bottom line: Look for a woman who genuinely adores her mother. If she has remained trusting and vulnerable to her mother’s love, if she delights in receiving her mother’s tenderness and care, she will receive similarly from you. Your relationship will also be strengthened if her mother and father—whether they stayed together or not—demonstrated care and respect for one another. Now let’s turn the tables.

What type of man would make a good partner?

Here’s the bottom line: Look for a man who reveres his father. If he credits his father for being his role model, guiding him through life’s challenges, you are in good hands. A man who admires his father wants to emulate what he admires most in him. Choose a man who feels loved and supported by both parents, yet sees himself as being a bit more aligned with his father. If he was his mother’s emotional partner, and was distant with his father, don’t expect an easy road ahead.

If he attempted to satisfy his mother’s unmet needs and supply her with what she felt she couldn’t get from her husband, look out. This man is likely to have difficulty appreciating your needs.  Fearing that you will want too much from him, the way his mother did, he is likely to put his guard up by shutting down physically or emotionally when he feels he’s getting too close to you.

Our partner’s relationship with his or her parents can be a trusted indicator of how frustrating or fulfilling our relationship can be. If there’s one takeaway, it would be this:

A solid bond with the same-sexed parent can be insurance that your relationship will endure.

With this principle as your guiding light, you now hold an essential piece of the relationship puzzle and can be more prepared when it’s time to pick your life partner.

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Assist. Ed: Jade Belzberg/Ed: Bryonie Wise


About Mark Wolynn

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.


121 Responses to “Relationship Intelligence: The Key to Picking a Life Partner. ~ Mark Wolynn”

  1. Renee says:

    A lot of powerful wisdom here to chew on, thank you. Bleak ending though if you happen to be a person who didint have a strong relationship with their same sex parent…Message: Healthy people wont be interested in you because they'll project that you likely will not be able to show up successfully in a longterm relationship. Thats somewhat disheartening…

  2. This article speaks to me in many ways. As a woman who has had a difficult relationship with my mother, I've seen the way that imperfect foundation has hindered my romantic relationships. I've spent lots of time analyzing and making peace with both my mother and father, but replacing those early experiences is nearly impossible. Do you see hope for healthy relationships for those of us who still struggle with parental relationships?

  3. Sarah says:

    I agree with Renee- there's truth in this article, but as someone with lifetime struggles with her mother, I feel like your prognosis for me is pretty dismal… Isn't there a responsibility in writing this kind of thing to offer alternative endings for the situations that life presents?

  4. Mark Wolynn says:

    Renee, it doesn't have to be disheartening. We can’t change what was, but we can change what is. A new relationship with our same-sexed parent is possible, even if he or she is deceased. Read more about how to do that in my blog post What Your Feelings about Your Mother Can Tell You about Your Life:

  5. Christie says:

    Yes I agree Renee.. what are we to do… give up? it seems very disheartening.

  6. Mark Wolynn says:

    A new relationship with our parents is possible as long as we don’t get stuck in expecting our parents to change or be different. It’s we who learn to hold the relationship differently. You can read more about this in the blog posts on my website.

  7. Alison says:

    I like the ideas in the article but what about the people that do not have strong bonds with their parents, either parent. My parents were extremely dysfunctional. I love my mom, but we are not close. We have a relstionship but I do not agree with the way she parented. My father is a mean and abusive person I no longer feel the need to endure. So, not fitting into either category that you described, which I can’t be the only one, then what does someone like myself do?

  8. Jessica says:

    Didn't work for me. My husband adored and revered his father yet he was emotionally distant with me, a womanizer and an enabler to our alcoholic son.

  9. Jane says:

    Interesting read. Makes me think about what my mom dying a few months after I was born means for my relationships. I was lucky to have a loving grandma but I definitely do not adore my stepmother who married my dad when I was 13. What I am asking is how much does not knowing my mother affect my relationships? Could this be why I am often insecure?

  10. Penelope says:

    I found this article extremely simplistic, with a dangerously homogenous conclusion. Millions have problems with their same sex parents – this article writes them all off as not being good candidates for partners. A shame because when people learn and grow from their past, (people can overcome hurt from bad parenting and learn to be truly free), they then become wise and invaluable people and partners.

  11. Cara says:

    While I agree that one's relationship with his/ her parent (either parent) can be an indicator of relationship viability, it is only one indicator. This article misses a deeper point. I believe that a person's level of self-awareness is a MUCH better indicator. It's a person's ability to observe, contemplate and eventually understand the functional and dysfunctional patterns in their own relationships with either parent, siblings, and especially past romantic partners that builds a great partner! The most important aspect in any relationship however is that it's built on a solid friendship and a foundation of love. I am a woman who loves and respects my mother however when I am looking for advice and an unbiased opinion, it's my father that I turn to. I once asked my father what the most important thing was in a good relationship (he has a great one). He said "Trust and Respect". He's right.

  12. MoreThanThat says:

    Disheartening is a good word for this article. Its as if it equates searching for a partner like shopping for a car. Pick the most predictable and reliable. Go with science and statistics. Yes it's upseting to be in a dating pool where it seems others are searching for partners who come from a good family and have a very close and bonded relationship with their parents. It's a bit frustrating to see this article in a yoga & meditation community blog. Yoga and meditation is what helped me heal and recognize I am in charge and responsible for my own happiness. I deal with my sufferings and am responsible for aligning with my true purpose. My mother (an addict) and left when I was two. My father is a pedophile. I have no relationship with either of them. I made peace with feeling burdened by their poor choices and freed myself of the guilt , shame and feelings of responsibility. People evolve, change and grow. We are not locked into any of our circumstances. I have experienced first hand what a deterrent it can be when you come from less than ideal beginnings, but there is also something to be said for the road less traveled. I think when it comes to people and relationships you are doing yourself and others a disservice by the judgements you make about their level of compatibility based on something outside of their control like the 2 people who gave them life.

  13. Mindy says:

    ??? Um, you have the genders reversed. Look for a woman who has a good relationship with her FATHER and a man who has a good/not fused relationship with his MOTHER. Otherwise, I totally agree with the premise that relationship with one's parents–especially early on–can greatly affect one's intimate relationships later on

  14. alrishi says:

    This article is way too prescriptive for my tastes. Rather than look for a partner that has a good relationship with their same sex parent, I prefer to look for a partner that has consciously engaged with their childhood and sees how the inevitable traumas have affected them. This means facing any shame they might have internalized so that some light has been shined into the shadow. Anyone with courage can do this.

    Children are born into their family situation and don't have control over the dynamics between their parents or between the parents and themselves. Most people I know have troubled relationships with one or both parents, so to limit oneself to only those who have great relationships with their same sex parent would greatly reduce the dating pool. Perfect parenting doesn't exist, so what's important is that someone be willing to face their imperfect childhood with courage and compassion.

  15. Kelly says:

    I have to disagree about the woman a man is looking for should have a good relationship with her mother. My mother is a dysfunctional raging alcoholic and I have learned not to enable my family's behavior and have established boundaries for my own peace of mind. Doesn't mean I don't love them, it just means I will not be an active participant in their dysfunction. I am not close to my mother because of her lifestyle choices and the impact those choices have on me. My mother being an active part of my life causes chaos, drama and stress. My parents being together? I was conceived at a party and my sperm donor moved away and never found out my mother was pregnant. He died in the 1990's. My step father was an abusive alcoholic. I made my peace. I look at my brothers and their drug addicted, jailbird, alcoholic lifestyle and know that is a result of not breaking those unhealthy patterns. So the fact that I don't have a relationship with my mother and the fact that my mother and step father aren't together and I don't have a relationship with him either makes me someone not appropriate for a relationship? WRONG I have fought my demons and I have overcome them. I'm strong and independent. It has not been easy and I do deserve to be loved just as much as someone that has a white-picket-fence healthy relationship with their parents and comes from a white-picket-fence family. I usually enjoy this blog, however this one just pushed a button. I'm not damaged goods. I'm a complete and whole person and this blog makes it sound as though my childhood and HEALTHY ADULT CHOICES and things over which I have absolutely no control somehow make me "less than". Time to go breathe. Peace out.

  16. kld272 says:

    We are born into things, because patterns get repeated until they become resolved. Sometimes we have to take responsibility for our own parental disappointments. I think the article showed how Trent did that. There is tremendous benefit to looking at our issues from a systemic perspective like Family Constellations. There is much insight and perspective gained as a result of looking at the 'big picture'. Once we can connect the dots and fill in the gaps by looking at un-resolved trauma that occurred in the system, shifts happen and life changes for the better. It's not about changing what happened, it's about changing how we look at it.

    Hidden dynamics and unconscious family loyalties can not only show up in relationship challenges but also health conditions (chronic illness, anxiety, depression etc.) and financial struggles, to name a few. My medical doctor first introduced me to this model and it has provided me with many profound insights and much healing. An unconscious love and loyalty to our family system can cause us to unwittingly carry on the fate, secret agonies, and unresolved traumas of previous generations. Google it, check out the author's site and 'see' for yourselves how you may be have become entangled and unknowingly re-living your family's unfinished business.

  17. fruitaliniyogi says:

    I think this is a little negligent of people who genuinely have parents who are not worth adoring or bonding with. Yes, it's important to get over those childhood traumas and habits learned about relationships from early life.

  18. Some of us have parents that we can not revere or adore because of abuse and neglect. Your advise seems to throw us out of the circle of desirable choices?

  19. Love Blonde says:

    Was really excited to read this until I realized that your solution is bonding with parents? Ok… so what if one parent went to prison and you never knew them, in fact didn't know they were alive until a year ago, and the other parent abused you physically and emotionally? Then what?

  20. Mary says:

    I feel that this article is a bit narrow minded… I agree with clearing resentments and what not, but I also believe that a person is capable of having healthy, balanced and loving relationships with others regardless of his or her relationshio with the same-sex parent. Every situation and every relationship is unique. Although close, respectful bonds with parents may be percieved as ideal, it doesn't have to determine the pattern of intimate relationships. I would have to agree with Annie on this one.

  21. Mary says:


  22. kimberlylowriter says:

    Interesting article. As someone, though, who didn't have a close relationship with either parent, what should I do esp. since BOTH are not expected to live for more than a year because of illness?

  23. kimberlylowriter says:

    I can relate to this. Both of my parents made it very, very clear to me that they don't want to have close relationships with me including my father with terminal cancer. What do we do when that's the case?

  24. Hels says:

    Agreed! I am someone who is lucky to have cultivated a great relationship with my mum as an adult. Indeed I am at home caring for her at this moment. It was not always this way however as she had a myriad of emotional/psychological issues, but did the best she could given these concerns.

    There are people who have had all kinds of upbringings, from parents who are mentally unwell, who nonetheless raise functional children, people with addictions and people whose parents do not live at all Plus there are also parents who create a loving stable home, but bring up their kids to believe they are better than others – I've seen the damaging effects on others first hand!

    This article misses the mark in quite a big way because the key aspect in the picture is how the adult takes responsibility for self care once they are old enough to leave the home. Self care can include seeking out support from therapists, coaches etc. I recommend reading this which deals with the topic much more mindfully. The conclusion within this article is too simplistic and stereotypical.

  25. Renee says:

    Okay, I read your suggested Blog post. Im wondering if many of us are taking your closing advise too literally? If I was on a "first date" tomorrow and the person had read this article and asked me, "are you close to your mother, do you feel you have a strong relationship?" The literal response would be, "I dont have a relationship with my mother." Regardless of any internal/solo work I have done to reframe my own unconscious triggers around my mother – it seems the person is asking a very concrete question that is based in what literally has transpired between us. Am I missing something?

  26. Christine says:

    Interesting reading the article then looking at all of the questions and comments that follow. Having been through a number of family constellation workshops, I can honestly say that this way of thinking highly impacted me and changed a number of dynamics both internally and externally in my life.

    It's not always about having the other person (parent) coming to the table and creating the bond with you, it's more about how we think, approach and embrace that person or parent in our life. If we constantly view someone with expectations hanging over us, or anger clouding our judgement of them, then we will not be able to live in peace or create meaningful relationships, as we will still have something in front to deal with, rather than focusing on the person or relationship in front of you.

    Whether your parents, or your partners parents abused, left, or held on too tight – the first step in becoming aware to it so you can consciously make a choice and make a change. If we know there are things that lend to certain behaviour or patterns, we can work with it much easier, than being unaware and no insight.

    I've personally experienced a number of issues in my own life and upbringing (broken home, abuse, death, etc, etc) and looking back at my past relationships these were influences that impacted me on every relationship I've had. Moving forward I've done a lot of work on myself and now feel strong and optimistic of what and who the future holds for me. No longer am I seeking a partner out of an unconscious unmet need, or a desire to rescue them – I feel confident with what I've learned and where I've come that when it comes to picking a partner I am much more prepared.

  27. Patricia says:

    Sorry about the long post but here goes. As a systemic family constellations facilitator and therapist, I have listened to the previous disheartened comments. However, I wholeheartedly support the premises of the article. It does not say you are limited by your relationship with your parents, unless you choose to be. The article does not say you are less desirable because you had a difficult relationship with your mother or father or they were absent altogether. That is your interpretation of the article. It also points out that you may have some healing work to do with your mother and father. The article mentions good indicators or insurance for a healthy relationship. As with any insurance, exceptions do arise. The point of insurance is to cover yourself in the event of problems or issues arising or to lighten your chance of problems or issues arising. The article provides the latter. The article doesn’t say that other relationships will not survive or thrive. It does say that issues may arise if the woman does not have a healthy relationship with her mother and/or if a man doesn’t have a good relationship with his father. So, if you do have relationship issues with your same-gender biological parents, whether they are alive or deceased, it’s up to you to take steps to heal the unhealthy relationships. This pertains to anyone who is adopted, has a surrogate parent, or is conceived with a sperm donor as well. It’s about taking responsibility for your own emotional wellness going forward. Over the past decade or two, it is scientifically being shown that we epigenetically inherit unresolved emotional issues or traumas in our family systems. The scenarios described in the earlier posts reflect these family traumas. Each generation that carries on without resolving the emotional traumas potentially passes the emotional holding pattern or trauma onto their children or grandchildren until someone addresses the issue. To avoid addressing the emotional issues by separating yourself from it, ignoring it, or placing yourself above it, means that you are not learning the emotional or spiritual lessons you are meant to learn from the situation. It also means that you are emotionally rejecting a part of yourself unconsciously. Since you are genetically 50% your mother and 50% your father, by rejecting one, the other, or both, you are unconsciously rejecting that aspect of yourself. Emotionally healing these traumas in the family system are your way to physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, or relational wellness. We heal our relationships with our parents and grandparents when we look back at the family system long enough to acknowledge and accept where they came from and develop compassion for what they endured. You don’t forget what happened to you but you learn from it. Everyone has a right to belong in the family system regardless of what they did or didn’t do. If you don’t feel like you got enough from your parents then there are healing steps you can take. You will seek in a partner that which isn’t healed for you emotionally related to your mother or father. What to do about it? You can’t change the past but you can acknowledge what was. You can learn to emotionally respond differently yourself. As an adult you are no longer parented by your mother and father, you need to learn to parent and self soothe yourself, otherwise you will seek a partner to do it for you. This doesn’t bode well for relationship longevity. You need to learn to lessen the emotional holding patterns you learned as a child so you don’t emotionally split off or fragment when triggers occur. This often shows up as clinging with neediness to a partner or pushing them away. The emotional response patterns of childhood served you well given the environment you grew up in but they often don’t serve you well in adulthood. It’s accepting that your parents did the best that they could given the emotional patterns and environment they were exposed to in utero, at birth, and in childhood. While grandmother was carrying mother, you were already present as eggs in her ovaries when she was only about 5 months in gestation. What did grandmother and mother experience emotionally that you unconsciously picked up emotionally? Did they live through wars, did people die too early in the family, are there family secrets, who harmed whom, who was abused, who experienced separation and bonding issues with their mother, who immigrated and why, who rejected their parents and why, who felt responsible for taking care of their parents, who had addictive behaviours (a means of avoiding feeling), and the list goes on. This is your epigenetic inheritance. Good health and good relationships are interconnected to healthy relationships with your parents. If you do have healthy relationships with your parents yet you struggle in relationships, then you may be carrying some emotional trauma from another family member further back in the family system. It is up to you to create these healthy relationships if they don’t already exist. You create your own insurance in a relationship by emotionally taking your mother and father into your heart.

  28. Rod S says:

    I found the ideas presented in this article thought-provoking and the perspective interesting and illuminating. It makes me realize why some of the relationships that I have had with the opposite sex have fallen into very similar patterns of dysfunction. It is tempting to be disheartened, as some of the previous comments suggested, but I think a much more useful and creative approach would be to ask the writer to suggest what those of us who have had bad relationship with our parents should do in order to still act as, and find, good partners. I realize that this is not within the scope of this article, but maybe another article would be useful to clarify this point.

    I would also appreciate names of books or links to sites where one can read more about this kind of work and approach.

  29. Suzi T. says:

    The easier I am with myself, the better it is for my partner. I am comfortable with my parents within me — so comfortable, in fact, that I have the serenity to change certain things, maybe love a little more, live a little more. When I was satisfied with complaint and criticism, I hadn't the wherewithal to actually transform anything. Anger, disappointment, sadness, judgment just took up too much space, too much energy. Reconciliation is first and foremost an internal shift. Gratitude for my life was a pretty good place to start. Mark's piece got me thinking. I am certain that I show up differently in the world now that I am no longer "at war" with my parents, especially my mom. And, just as certainly, the world looks different to me.

  30. leah says:

    I am a yoga teacher and a family constellation facilitator. Like yoga, family constellation work is experiential. It's impossible to understand from words. It's not psychology and it's not about story. It addresses the deeper energetic flow or lack there of in the energetic system that created you, and that you are a part of, regardless of your rejection.

    Ideally life / love / health flows fully from parent to child, but just like in any other system, such as your own mind-body, tragic or traumatic events happen, the emotional impact of which is not always completed, and it stops the flow. Symptoms occur. When those are not resolved at the source, more issues and symptoms occur. The system is showing us the lack of flow but we often don't know how to follow it to its systemic source. That is what happens in constellation work. You use the issues, complaints, recurring negative patterns of your current life to track why and where the flow stopped. You get a BIG view of the energetic flow and you see how events in the past impacted the ability to give and receive love. You understand where your parents' energetic attention went and why they behave(d) as they did/do.

    When you see the bigger picture and what happened that caused the love to stop flowing, you can stop unconsciously perpetuating the energetic pattern and more quickly heal the negative impact on yourself. You stop blaming and have SO much more compassion for everyone. You are able to plug into the deeper truth of connection and flow rather than the rejection and the negative experiences of the story.

    My personal experience validates the energetic dynamic outlined in the article. Through the constellation work I saw the BIG picture of what had happened to my grandparents and how that impacted my mother, with whom I had a terrible relationship. It showed me the trauma, the heartbreak, the inability to deal and complete the pain that was stopping the flow in my system. It opened my heart to what had happened and explained why my mother was as she was. It allowed me to see her and hold her differently. It enabled me to give her her proper place in my heart, grateful for my life and all that she did give. Does she behave differently, NO. Does life and love flow more fully in my life and relationships with my husband and son – YES.

    My advice, if you don't have your parents in your heart (even if you have to have boundaries or not even see them in your daily life due to their issues), have a constellation. Get a bigger picture, start to understand the dynamics at work in ALL systems. Have compassion for where your parents issues came from. Bring consciousness to where love got stopped in your system. Experience how to connect with the Love that is at the essence of every system and put the story in its place and context. It will benefit all your relationships.

  31. Gemma Stone says:

    Hi Rob,

    I'm leaving a more complete response at the bottom, but I wanted to leave a note and some links for you.

    Bert Hellinger (a crazy smart & deeply intuitive fella) is the founder of the therapeutic perspective that Mark is sharing. He studied and treated families for more than 50 years and he observed that many of us unconsciously “take on” destructive familial patterns of anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, aloneness, alcoholism and even illness as a way of “belonging” in our families. He witnessed how the bond of love can cause a child to sacrifice his/her own best interest in an attempt to ease the suffering of a parent or other family member.

    Here's a book on this model that addresses couple relationships ::

    And here's a book on this model that addresses family relationships ::

    Mark also shares case studies that are quite illuminating. You can check them out here ::

    I think your approach to wanting to explore more deeply is incredibly wise.


  32. Gemma Stone says:

    I have been a client of therapy for twenty years and have been a registered psychologist for ten years. I have explored many different therapeutic modalities and I have found that the perspective Mark is sharing in this article has helped me to see patterns in my own life and in the lives of my clients that other therapy models miss.

    I can certainly understand the responses in the comment section; when I was first introduced to this way of looking at the origins of psychological (and physical) challenges I wasn't sure what to make of it. There were moments when I was hurt, angry, confused and scared. I dove deeper into it and I became excited — it answered many questions that I could not find answers for and it helped me to see the deeper truth in my life and in the lives of my clients. Now that I have a deeper understanding and have seen the shifts it has inspired in myself and my clients I know how valuable and benevolent it is.

    I would agree with Leah, if you don't have your parents in your heart, experience a constellation. Get a feel for what is going on and how it might be impacting your present relationships.

    When you can see the truth of where your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours are coming from it's much easier to leave them where they belong and choose another, more conscious, way of being.

    Family Constellations is a therapeutic perspective that looks deeply into family patterns to uncover underlying family bonds and forces that have been carried unconsciously over several generations and, as a result, generations of suffering & unhappiness can be shifted. Liberation ensues.

    To your freedom,

  33. Elliott says:

    Try thanking them for what they DID give you, tell them they gave you ENOUGH and realize that perhaps they gave you EVERYTHING that knew how to give. If they could have given more, they would have.


    Keep them distant with the same old stories we have always told ourselves.

    It's not what happened, it's how we hold it. Your choice. Empowering, isn't it?

  34. Elliott says:

    You can't change the events, but you can change your story around them. Mom was distant, she didn't care about me at all…


    Mom didn't have a relationship with her own mother so she really didn't know how to be a "present" mother herself. Wow she did the best she could, just like I'm doing. Thanks, Mom.

    Which do you, in your heart, gives you power?

  35. Elliott says:

    My question would be, what happened to my parents? How were they parented? Become curious. Try compassion as you'd want someone to be with your story. Maybe they did the very best they could with their own conditions.

  36. Elliott says:

    Maybe he adored his father, but was his father also a womanizer? Perhaps he was loving his father so much he ended up just like him? I don't think there are set rules here. Every story is different. There is a difference between following your father, and holding him in your heart and growing seperate.

  37. Elliott says:

    Clearly this article is bang on. Just read the hornet's nest it has stirred up. The truth always seems to confront us and make us defensive.

    I have noticed that not one of the article bashing replies authors has mentioned that they are in a healthy loving relationship. Perhaps they are, but they didn't bring it up.

    The truth always seems to confront us and make us defensive. That is until we actually let it sink in and marinate for awhile. Then once it settles in and we can own it, eventually we can understand it. What if we weren't so quick to condemn this advice and hold it in consideration. What if our instinct to make the ideas and the writer wrong, were actually a signal that our buttons have been pushed and we should pay closer attention.

    Acknowledgement to you, Mark. Thank you for being willing to speak the unbearable truth.

    He is not saying, if you don't like your mom or dad, it's impossible to have a good relationship. He's saying, if you don't have good relationships, or don't have any… Here's something you may want to look at.

    .We are a culture who blames their parents for everything without hardly really knowing or having compassion for how they were raised. If your mother was distant, chances are her mother was distant, too. If a man's father left, find out if grandpa left, too. We hear the stories of what a bum dad was, from our mom's who were left. Do you think there may be some personal bias there?

    I believe what Mark is saying to those with relationship discord, is look at yourself first. Clear up your past. A tree is much healthier with the roots attached. For those of you who have hate or distance from your parents, yet great relationships congratulations and count your blessings. Perhaps holding our parents in our hearts but still keeping a healthy distance may be another tact.

    For me who has tried everything else but realizing that I may be the reason for my own discontent and luck in relationships, perhaps I'll mend fences with my parents by apologizing for me being responsible for our distance, not them.

    Thanks, again Mark. How can I find out where your next workshop is as I find your approach, confronting and refreshing.

  38. theresa says:

    I have a difficult relationship with my mother. my mate had a difficult relationship with his father. we are happy and well-adjusted and have talked about the dynamics in our upbringings and what we each bring (or take) from the table of our union. we have explored our role expectations and the impact of those expectations. we are at peace and feel grown in our perspectives and enlightenment and union. This article suggests that the majority of American kids of this generation have little or no chance for a happy relationship. that simply is not true. it just takes more honest assessment and commitment.

  39. Ms H says:

    **written by a very happily married mother-of-two who grew up in an abusive home & has very little to do with her parents nowadays.

    This article says I need a good relationship with my parents to be a good partner? NO! To be a good partner you need a good relationship with yourself, a forgiveness for the tragedies of the past & an understanding that without it you wouldn’t be the person you are today.

  40. @Bex_tah says:

    I don't think these are 'article bashing replies', I think this is people having an opinion, and voicing what they see as a concern. Receiving those comments should be welcomed, that is how you clear up misunderstanding, or provide more information.

    The main reason, I believe, is that some people may feel a bit condemned by the closing comment
    ''A solid bond with the same-sexed parent can be insurance that your relationship will endure."

    I am not sure about the others, but coming to terms with my relationship with my mother, the history and factors that shaped it, was more of an influence than the actual bond (or lack of) itself. Sometimes having, improving or creating that bond is out of an individual's control, so does that issue predict a negative effect on all future relationships? That was the thought that occurred to me, and I'm actually in a great relationship.

    I think that people who have reached an understanding of their relationship with their same sex parent may have a better chance at creating healthy relationships, whether the bond is strong with that parent or not.

    My mother was a violent alcoholic, who alternated between distant and emotionally needy. She denied being violent towards my sister an I, whether she refused to admit it or truly couldn't remember due to the alcohol. She used access to our dad spitefully sometimes, to hurt him or us depending on how she felt she had been disrespected or neglected at that time.

    She would get upset if we showed any admiration towards anyone else's mother, as if it was an attack on her. My first boyfriend was an alcoholic and violent towards me (surprise) and she would invite him over for years after we broke up because I was 'over-reacting'. She died at 61 with complications related to her alcoholism.

    I actually agree with a lot of what you have said, it is because I stopped waiting for an apology that was never coming, knowing what her childhood was like and the impact it had on her mothering, and interacting with her in a kind of detached way that has allowed me to let it go, to accept that it was what it was. I wont apologise for the distance I have created between me and my parents, for me it has been self preservation; but I am not angry or bitter about it. I love my parents, but I don't have to like them all the time.

    I witnessed a lot violence as a child, and I am hyper aware of how it felt. I saw how anger hurt my parents, and I know what I don't want to feel or inflict, and what I don't want my children to see.

    So yeah, not just the relationship, but our understanding of the relationship

  41. Merri says:

    I wanted this article to be deeper and more accurate. But the author has only studied basic psychology, he does not have a PHd, doctorate, or even masters in psychology or so why would he be able to write a through article? Elephant Journal needs to do a better job of sourcing their articles and authors in general.

  42. elephantjournal says:

    Dear Merri:

    We are built on our readers and writers—would you like to write for us? We'd love it. ~ Bryonie

  43. Sarah says:

    I replied above, and I am indeed in a healthy, loving relationship despite ongoing struggles with my mother.

  44. Mandira says:

    This is a great article . A lot of useful information. Thank You !

  45. Chris says:

    I learned a lot about myself. Very insightful article – thank you.

  46. Lori says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you on this comment. So much was written that was gripping as insightful, but to finish with only seek partners that have strong relationships with their own parents is negative and destructive, you have clearly pointed out this is not the option for many, Trent was lucky to be able to see what has hapened later in life, others are not so. Perhaps seeking a mother/father figure. Just someone you can trust, and connect with.

  47. Kim says:

    I agree Renee……I find this article incredibly simplistic and limiting… I want to say…..Mr. Wolynn….look at the real world.

  48. barbara says:

    To say "look for a woman who adores her mother" necessarily rules out those of us who could not and still do not "adore" their mother. That seems unfair for one thing, and to rule out women for that reason is unnecessary and limiting.
    It's not an "unbearable truth" Mark speaks, it is a little dogmatic and simplistic.

    I say look for a man or woman who have done their work, who have made peace with their parental figures, esp if they have had the courage to differentiate.

  49. Kelly says:

    My mother was abusive and tormented and hurt me. How am I suppose to revere her? It's taken me decades to realize it wasn't my fault. That I didn't deserve to be abused. Now your article is implying it's my fault? She has a mood disorder. It was there before I existed. There wasn't even adequate treatment for such thing when I was a child.

  50. Matt says:

    I am trying to resist being overly acerbic here, but I can't do better than to say that I think this article is just plain stupid. I don't see why there's any point in defending it. I see that the central point is sound: no doubt people who have a strong bond with their same-sex parent are going to be better-adjusted people and, consequently, are going to be better in relationships. Sure. Yes.

    No doubt people from good healthy families who have good, healthy relationships with their parents are better off in all sorts of ways. Do we really need all these paragraphs to say that?

    And so what? What about the rest of us? What about men who had fathers that were cold and unavailable — fathers who were the veterans of wars, or who were the sons of veterans of wars, or who were boys lost in the back-eddies of large, old-style Catholic families? What about men whose fathers were 80s-era selfish, or worse? What about women whose mothers were weak, or wounded, or confused? Or whose mothers were distant, too, like fathers can be? What about children whose parents gave their souls to jobs and became impersonal automatons? What about children who only had one parent? What about children of divorce? Do we simply lump that whole lot into the "watch out" bin and say that that is the ultimate conclusion?

    I would be much more interested in hearing about how one could overcome the disadvantages of one's circumstances (perhaps through family constellation work?), and how one could fill in the gaps where a truly rich bond with a parent is simply not possible. Otherwise, this article strikes me as simplistic and — though most likely inadvertently — elitist.