THE BLOG
12/14/2015 01:21 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Your Parents or Partner: Who Are You Married To?

Before I became a couples therapist, I looked at conflicted couples (and my own conflicted relationships) and saw pain, insecurity, desperation, and little hope. Today, I see conflicted couples (and my own marital challenges) as golden opportunity, movement toward change, and capable of immeasurable growth. What changed? I no longer see problems in relationships as pathological, because they aren't. I no longer believe that blame is the source of understanding the "why", because it isn't. I completely -- and wholeheartedly -- see couples as extensions of their systems, connected to the origins of the unique worlds they each come from.

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One of the most significant things I have recognized in couples work is the need for individuals to "launch" from their family of origin and truly commit to creating a new world with their partner/spouse. This may sound simple, but it goes far beyond moving out of the house. The beautiful paradox is that, without our families of origin, we would not be. We need to experience the closeness and connection of a family or caregivers to grow into mature, capable adults.

The paradox is: When we are mature, capable adults, we no longer need to remain loyal to all of those roots for survival purposes. We can handle life on our own. Little do we all realize the expectations, beliefs, values, and emotional ties we carry into our adult relationships from our younger years. It is this push and pull of dynamics that I see occur between couples, and that I have often felt in my own relationship.

It comes down to asking yourself a very difficult question: Who are you married to? Your spouse, or your parents? Where does your emotional loyalty lie? When you make life decisions or react to your partner in a certain way, is that your individuated, adult self responding? Or is it the part of you that is reacting to something you knew earlier in life? Perhaps you are reacting to unfinished business. Do you prioritize your parents' needs, or your partner's needs? Who do you spend more time with? Who do you go to for life decision-making support? Who do you seek out when you have conflict in your marriage?

If your answer to more of those questions is "my mother/father/caregiver/parents," don't worry. Without the recognition of it, there's no going forward. Understanding our emotional influences, our "unfinished business," and the baggage of those ghosts that we carry with us throughout life is a crucial part of being able to grow.

Please don't take my message wrong: I am not encouraging you to disregard caring about your family or loving them any less. It is simply loving them in a different way and prioritizing your most important relationship and sacrament. The potential healing, admiration, and love that will manifest in your relationship when you find this balance is like a multi-colored sunrise over an endless sea. There will be no words to describe it.