DYSFUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIPS – DYSFUNCTION ATTRACTS DYSFUNCTION.
This blog is special because Jeremy called me to ask if I could share his story so as to help any person struggling with dysfunctional relationships to find themselves, heal their own pain and raise children who will attract healthier people so that they stop generational relationship dysfunctions.
This is his story. Jeremy was raised by a stay at home mother and a father who was well accomplished career-wise. They were raised in a privileged setup where they enjoyed much more than what children in their neighborhood could afford. They also could afford holidays away from home and this provided more exposure to them as children.
The mother was a peacemaker who avoided conflicts with the father and also with the children. Instead of urguing, she chose silence. She always taught her children that they needed to learn how to make peace with the world and when things got tough, silence was wisdom. This is a dysfunctional part of his relationship he inherited from the mother.
The father on the other hand was vocal, a functional alcoholic and controlling. He insisted that things be done his way. This was made easy because he financed everything in the home and also made decisions for the family. Later, when Jeremy was 15 years and a first born of four, his dads alcohol intake got worse and Jeremy took up the fathers’ role of making decisions – only that he still depended on the father on the financial part.
As the father’s addiction progressed, he also started being both physically and verbally abusive. At times when he abused the Mother or Children in public, they would make excuses for him. They learnt to tell the people around that it was the alcohol that made him aggressive because without it he was an amazing dad and husband.
By the time he was 20 years, he learnt to protect the mother from the father who had increasingly become abusive. He would ask that the father stops making noise to the family members when he came home drunk. For strange reasons the father would heed when Jeremy spoke to him.
When he was 26years and he wanted to start his own family, he considered marrying a woman who was busy working and building a career because he imagined that such would not be passive like the mother was. He indeed found one who was already a manager at the time, a go getter, one who was able to express herself well and these are traits that Jeremy admired.
As they began their family, they both rose to managing director and chief executive officer consecutively. They earned almost similar salaries with Jeremy earning slightly more. For many years, Jeremy felt like the father had resurrected in the wife because he experienced the wife the same way he had experienced the father in his first 10 years of life.
He later told his friends never to marry an accomplished woman because they would turn into being controlling. What he experienced was his parents’ relationship dysfunctions that was triggered by the wife. He had imagined the reason why she had been that way is because she had been a boss for so long that she did not know how to behave else way even at home.
She was constantly away and was emotionally unavailable both for Jeremy and the children. When she was home, she blamed Jeremy for everything that went wrong and purely depended on Jeremy for her happiness. He learnt to be silent in order to create a peaceful environment for the children. What he did not know at the time is, that he still created a model for relationship dysfunction just the same way his parents had modelled for him as a child.
When their first born was 8years, he asked the dad why he didn’t protect him against the mother because he felt the mother was very brutal to him. That is the time Jeremy realized that he had become what his mother was (passive) and his child had become him (helpless) when he was below 10 years. The wife on the other hand felt that if Jeremy had treated her well, she would have been a better mother.
Since he wanted better for his children, he began his journey of healing. It begun when he understood that the issue was not just his wife but himself too, because he had behaved in a way that empowered his wife’s behavior to continue. At the time he shared his story with me, they had already had couple therapy and each had healed from their individual pain. Their relationship at this point was more functional and the children felt more heard, loved and cared for.
This is a typical scenario for many marriages. Each member of the marriage blames the other for the challenges in their marriage without learning that functionality or dysfunctionality of the marriage is contributed by both partners and mostly because individuals attract each other at the level of their dysfunction. No highly functional individual attracts a highly dysfunctional person.
So what causes relationship dysfunction?
Rose Rosenberg puts it this way, all parents whether healthy or unhealthy provide their children with experiences and memories that will ultimately result in automatic relationship guide for their adult children relationships.
In his book “Love is a choice”, Dr. Hemfelt looks at each individual as one who has a love tank filled to some level. Each individual love tank was originally filled by the parents. Parents who are individually functional also have a more functional relationship – their love tanks are more filled and so they pour more to their children’s love tanks.
Dysfunctional individuals on the other hand attract other dysfunctional people, their relationship is dysfunctional and their love tanks are low. The children raised by these parents have very little on their love tanks and so they seem to attract people who can fill their love tanks.
Everyone desires harmony and love in relationships, However, people sabotage themselves by choosing a partner who they are initially attracted to but finally resent. This is because depending on anyone to fill your love tank is not sustainable. It results to relationship dysfunctions such as abuse.
How does dysfunction attract dysfunction?
Initially, parties in a relationship attract what they seem to lack in themselves or said differently, people attract those who have qualities they feel they are lacking in themselves. For example:
Passive people who find it difficult to self-start and self-motivate get attracted to those who are self-motivated, risk takers who are very directional. While initially this brings a balance, eventually the passive person ends up feeling controlled and resentful and yet they may feel the need to follow.
This creates a dysfunctional relationship and both need healing. This is clear in Jeremys story.
People who struggle with self-worth and self-confidence may initially attract people who have high sense of importance, self-driven who identify with power. While this may look admirable in the beginning, they end up feeling that their relationship partners only think of themselves and the levels of self-worth nose dive. To increase relationship functioning, both need healing.
Adult children who were raised being responsible for their parent’s emotions (a good example is Jeremy who learnt to protect the mother from being hurt by dad) end up attracting people who are emotionally unavailable or those they have to constantly fix them emotionally. Jeremy attracted a wife who felt it was Jeremys responsibility to fix her emotions, make her happy. This is how dysfunctional relationships are maintained.
Children who lack parental love/are not able to bond emotionally with their parents later on in their lives attract partners who are over nurturing or over responsible. They continue to have unrealistic expectations on their partners expecting them to take both roles- that of spouse and the other of a parent. This causes role overload, resentment and lack of fulfilment increasing relationship dysfunction.
Children who felt unprotected by their parents may grow up to be dysfunctional adults who learn to overprotect and over shelter their spouses. These adults attract partners who have victim mentality. The dysfunctional relationship ends up picking many battles with the world that they end up losing important relationships that would have benefited them.
Whatever level of dysfunction that we have learnt from the family of origin needs to be acknowledged, unlearnt and new behavior relearnt. Without this, we will continue to attract dysfunctional partners who fit into our own dysfunctions. Until healing happens, safe feels unsafe and unsafe feels normal. The best gift one can offer themselves is personal healing.
By Joan Kirera – Family Therapist. For more visit www.joankirera.com: Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera