Between partners, mum and dad

The relationship within a couple, is also a litmus test of the relationship with their family of origin. Therefore, it is useful to be aware of this to better deal with possible problems.

“Doctor, my wife and my mother have many characteristics that are the same.” – “Doctor, I have chosen a man who is completely different from my father.” Why do these choices seem so different?
 In the first case, we can speak of a complementary choice in which there is a shift to one’s partner of the “first object of love”: one’s parent. Therefore, a man chooses a woman just like his mother, and a woman a man just like her father. In the second case, we can speak of a choice by contrast in which a partner is invested with expectations that apparently contrast with parental models. The choice, therefore, in any case appears to be guided by a so-called “unconscious complementarity”: our choice of partner is based on unresolved relationships with our parents. Precisely for this reason, for some authors, a couple represents “a natural therapeutic relationship” because, by allowing the manifestation of unresolved childhood relationships, it can become the place where these issues are resolved.

What is this extraordinary force? Romantic love can therefore be converted into “co-therapeutic love” as Canevaro says? According to the beautiful definition of Antoine de Saint Exupery: “Love is, perhaps, that delicate process by which I lead you back to the encounter with yourself. “. But exactly for this reason, it may be important to understand when a couple is in crisis whether one partner is asking the other to fill needs that their parents have not responded to.

Therefore, it is necessary to try to understand what kind of relationship you have with your family of origin. Some people, for example, devote more emotional space to their role as a child than as a partner, even if they have been in a relationship for some time. A question I often ask is, “Are you more a child, a partner, or (if there are children) a parent right now? Do you feel your place in the family hierarchy is functional to this phase in your life?”

We know that the more the bond of alliance between partners is consolidated by creating a series of rules internal to the new family that has been created, the more the bond of filiation that unites the two partners to their respective families of origin tends to weaken.

But not all families of origin are the same.

Canevaro speaks of “cohesive family systems,” that is, more inward-oriented systems, systems in which outside the family is perceived as more threatening. In these systems, the boundaries between individuals are not clear, thus emphasizing the values of closeness and expression of affection, children detach themselves relatively late from the family unit.

Then there are the “dispersive family systems”, more directed outwards, in which values are not referred so much to the family as to the social world. In these systems, the boundaries between individuals are clear and there is more interpersonal distance; there is greater rejection of physical closeness and resistance to the expression of affection, and children detach themselves from the family unit relatively early.

The different combination of these different types of family system produces different configurations of marital relationships.

Specifically, partners both from cohesive family systems appear very similar to each other in terms of family values, social class, religion, education, and cultural level. The dependence of the two spouses on their respective families of origin is great and the relationship between them tends to be intense, fragile, and inversely proportional to the closeness with the family of origin.

Then there is the possibility of a couple formed by a partner from a cohesive family system and a partner from a dispersive family system. In this case, the stability of the couple’s relationship depends a lot on the degree of integration of the partner who comes from the dispersive system within the cohesive system. You are looking for a family in your partner’s family. The dispersive partner typically detaches from his or her family of origin very early and establishes greater connections with the outside world. “Apparently” he enjoys greater autonomy in social relations. Apparently, because he implicitly desires closer emotional relationships and binds himself to a cohesive family system because he perceives these types of families as more “united“.

The problems start when a person doesn’t fit well into their partner’s family or isn’t welcomed.

Finally, there is a third possibility: that of partners both coming from dispersive family systems. They generally form a couple in which each tends to see the other as father-husband-brother or mother-wife-sister, trying to compensate for relational deficiencies with their respective families of origin. If two dispersive systems come together, “they welcome each other like two orphans and do not separate until death, even if they are for ever in conflict” (Canevaro, 1986). Becoming aware of all this allows couples to clearly distinguish the cause of their relational problems and achieve the ability to treat the inevitable crises wisely and even as precious opportunities for personal and couple growth.

(Source: – Dr. Lucia Coco)