One of the most important decisions we make in our lives is who we decide to spend it with. Obviously, romantic partners aren’t the only people i’m referring to, but for today that is what I would like to focus on.
As somebody who works closely with love addicts and codependents, I often see the same pattern in terms of picking a partner. That is, and it has been said before, that we become our parents, and then we marry someone whose love emulates the love we received as children. In other words, we marry our parents. I’m sure people will disagree with me on this, but I have observed it many times, and I often wonder what we can do to end that cycle. Dysfunction is cyclical and generational; it is passed down from generation to generation, not on purpose, but because we learn from our parents, and then we have children, and we teach them what we know. Our parents cannot be blamed for the way we grew up (intentional abuse and neglect aside, of course), because more often than not, they were doing the best they could with the tools they had been taught. They didn’t know any other way.
So, when we are growing up as children, our parents are the ones that teach us what love and intimate relationships are. We learn what it means to be loved, whether it is conditional or unconditional, and other things like being affectionate or withholding affection. These are the lessons we learn and take in, and then adapt to as children. If we have parents that are emotionally available, give us affection, and have healthy relationships with their partners, we will see that example, and understand that that is what love is. If we have parents that are emotionally unavailable, that are addicts and workaholics, we learn to see love differently. We grow up thinking that love is being attached to someone emotionally unavailable and do all of the things we did to get their attention as we did with our parents as kids. As kids, we cannot process certain events the way our brains are developing, so we act out. Maybe we had an addict for a parent, and nothing was ever good enough for them. They criticize, shame, and blame, and we learn that love equals those things. We begin to accept and settle for people in our lives that behave these ways towards us, because we don’t know any better. That’s what we were taught.
A lot of times, people will come into my sessions for the first time and talk about relationships in which they have always fallen for an addict or some other emotionally unavailable person. Sometimes, they realize they’re doing this and want help to stop, but a lot of times, they are unaware until it’s pointed out to them. I like to tell them that their picker is off (mine was too before recovery – it’s nothing to be ashamed of!). Think about the past partners you’ve had. Do they have something in common in terms of being emotionally unavailable? Do they remind you of your parents? Being reminded of our parents is not a bad thing, by the way. many of our parents are loving people that maybe just didn’t learn the right tools when they were younger. As I said above, they were doing the best they could with what they had. They did not intentionally teach us to accept less in terms of love.
Once you figure this out, it can seem daunting. So many times have I heard people say, “Am I ever going to be able to pick the RIGHT person? What if the only people I am attracted to are addicts or are emotionally unavailable? How will I ever know or be ready?” The good news is that the first step to making a change has already taken place: awareness. You have now been made aware that this is something you do. You know that no matter how hard you try, or whatever you give up, emotionally unavailable people cannot be saved, and it is not up to any of us to save them. Now, you can see that when someone like this walks into your life, you can evaluate what kind of person they are, and make a decision to set a boundary and hold it – that you won’t date addicts or emotionally unavailable people (whatever works for you). You know that you don’t have to settle for love that is the equivalent of pity, for loving someone just to save them. You know that as long as you make a conscious effort to see that you are compatible, you are making progress. Sometimes it may seem like your brain is working a little harder than your heart, rather than just the other way around – I know a lot of us like to let our hearts make decisions for us, and that is not a bad or wrong thing. But the heart can be tricky. Emotions can we tricky. We can be affected by emotions from much earlier in our lives throughout the rest of it, and sometimes our emotions have to be held back. Can you imagine if every decision was made based on emotions? We need to balance out our heart with our brain.
My challenge for you today is to look at yourself and your partner, and other couples in your live. Without judging, shaming, or criticizing, look at each partner and think of their parents. Do you see the patterns at all in the world around you? Maybe you see it in your relationship. Just observe objectively for today, don’t think that if you see this pattern, this person is wrong for you – I cannot tell you that, only YOU can make that decision.