Have you ever done or said something that reminds you of your parents, guardians, or family of origin?
Have you tried to undo the patterns you learned from childhood?
In adulthood, whether you are close to your family or have a difficult relationship, their early influences are always with you. The family you grew up in undoubtedly has an influence on your adult relationships. These are both conscious and unconscious, meaning you may or may not be aware of these patterns. They include the types of things you believe you “should and should not” do or “can and cannot” do. For example, the kind of career you should have, or the values you should be guided by. When you interact with the world, you are recreating interactions from your childhood without even realizing it. Your family impacts not only how you may communicate with people around you, but also how you feel about yourself.
If you are attending individual therapy you may notice friction between yourself and your family members. This may be because your new growth is clashing with what your family is used to expecting from you. Couples counseling with your partner, or family therapy with several family members, can be more effective in creating growth and change for everyone involved. Getting to know how your family functions can bring about more self-awareness and self-understanding. Additionally, it can be helpful to learn more about your partner’s family and how they express their feelings or handle conflict. These key factors may be impacting your relationship in the present day.
Who should I include in my family of origin?
Think about who you considered your family when you were a child. Who comes to mind? Each person’s definition of their family may differ. Especially who you consider family now versus your family of origin. When thinking about your family of origin, think about the main figures in your day-to-day life when you were growing up. This could be parents, guardians, foster parents, siblings, half-siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles et cetera. Zoom in on those figures that were around most often and would have had the most impact on you.
Once you have those figures in your mind, you can start to explore the connections between patterns with your partner today, and those of your family of origin. With that in mind, here are 4 ways that your family/childhood is impacting your relationship:
How you Feel about Yourself
Parents with low self-esteem typically create environments where children may come to have low self-esteem too. If this was a pattern in your household growing up, it may be difficult to shake now, but still possible! How you feel about yourself impacts the way you communicate, cope, and receive the messages around you. Your family communication may have made you feel like you could not share your true feelings, or express yourself freely. These things impact self-esteem and carry into adult relationships. You may even find yourself selecting partners with low self-esteem and unhealthy or dysfunctional communication styles similar to your own.
How you Communicate with People Around You
How you choose to react to those around you comes from your learning about communicating in your early family. As children, we model what we see our caregivers do. How you communicate is also indicative of your level of self-esteem and self-worth. When these are low, communication patterns can be maladaptive.
Being the Placater
This looks like hiding your feelings of vulnerability by trying to please others. You may do this because your emotional survival depends on it. Sometimes this results in actually blocking communication between other members of your family. In a romantic relationship, this may feel like an imbalance between your needs and those of your partners. You may not believe that your needs have value or deserve to be met. But they do!
Being the Blamer
This is another form of hiding your own true feelings but this time it’s through controlling others. This includes name-calling, fault-finding, and criticism. This may occur because the individual cannot feel secure about themself without placing someone else in the family in a position below them. In a romantic relationship, this may feel like constantly pushing your partner away just to feel secure about yourself. Perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of breakups due to this communication stance.
Being a Computer
This looks like approaching family conflict often intellectually or with over-rational responses. Meanwhile, on the inside, you are hiding lots of complex emotions. You may appear totally collected, calculated and almost lacking emotion to those you communicate with. The result is that your true feelings are always hidden. You may be encouraging others in the family to do the same. In a romantic relationship, this can come off as cold or aloof and hinder deeper connection.
Being the Distractor
This looks like shutting down and pretending the conflict is not there. You may try to turn the topic elsewhere with a distraction or irrelevant subject matter. You are uncomfortable with conflict to a fault. In a romantic relationship working through conflict is a sign of a healthy partnership. Being a distractor may not make problems go away, but it may make the relationship crumble.
Being the Leveler
This is a communication stance that is adaptive and helpful in your interactions! As a leveler, you are able to resolve conflict through mutual problem-solving with family members or partners. You are self-aware of the emotions that come up for you during the conflict and can still communicate those clearly in tone, body language, and messaging to the other person. This is a more assertive communication style and therefore requires a healthy self-esteem and level of self-worth.
Interpreting the World Through Learned Family Rules
Family rules tend to pass along from one generation to the next. If you and your partner create a family unit of your own and someday have children, you may consciously or unconsciously continue this pattern. These rules include the behaviors your family believes should and should not be followed in certain situations. This can impact partner selection, family rituals and routines, career choice, and how you share information. These are the “shoulds” of your family that can dictate your behavior and impact the way you feel about yourself and your choices. You and your partner come from different sets of rules. As you create a family unit of your own, it’s helpful to learn what those rules were, and agree on which ones you want to continue, versus those you do not.
How You Select a Partner
The way you interact with others, the way you feel about yourself, and the “shoulds” of your family all come together to act as guiding principles for how you select a partner. Most of the time this is unconscious. For example, if your family life growing up was chaotic you may select a partner of a similar nature. This is because of how familiar it feels for you. Despite that, the same chaotic energy may cause you a lot of distress.
So how do we undo the things we learned in childhood that are no longer helpful?
Understanding your family patterns can help you uncover your own personal patterns in relationships. It may reveal why your past relationships always have similar issues or why you are with the same type of partner. Couples counseling can be helpful for healthy relationships or as preventative care. The increased awareness you gain about yourself and your partner through couples counseling can strengthen your bond or help to mend current issues.
Couples counseling also may highlight areas that you want to focus your growth on. For example, if you often hide your own true feelings and shut down when conflict arises, you may be inadvertently blocking communication and growth within your relationship. This may make your partner feel like they shouldn’t be honest about their feelings or address conflict head-on either. This can leave you both feeling disconnected. Whether you recognize yourself in some of the above communication patterns or recognize your partner, this awareness can help you build the future together that you want most.
In the next part of this blog series, you will learn about helpful questions and exercises that reveal more about your family patterns, and your partner’s. This will guide you to understanding yourself and your partner in a new way that can encourage growth in your shared relationship.
Begin Working With a Couples Counselor in Scotch Plains or Branchburg, NJ
Knowing where your traits and habits come from can help you to become a better partner. Couples often have many questions and concerns when starting couples therapy. Our caring therapists would be happy to help inform you about the many ways your relationship may benefit from understanding each other’s relationship to your family of origin. We offer support from our Scotch Plains and Branchburg, NJ-based practices. To start your therapy journey, please follow these simple steps:
- Contact Brave Minds Psychological Services
- Meet with a caring therapist
- Start improving your relationship
Other Services Offered at Brave Minds Psychological Services
Couples Therapy isn’t the only service provided at our Scotch Plains, NJ-based therapy practice. Other services offered include parenting counseling, counseling for teens, online therapy, trauma therapy, anxiety treatment for children, child sexual abuse therapy, anxiety treatment for teens. We also offer teen social phobia therapy, adult anxiety counseling, counseling for parents, postpartum counseling, birth trauma therapy, sexual assault counseling for adults, and food allergy therapy.