Inviting Ghosts Into Our Relationships

It is rumored among Marriage and Family Therapists that on the wedding night, there are at least six people in the wedding bed: the bride and her parents and the groom and his parents. We carry our parents into the bed unconsciously…their values, their relationship styles, their attitudes toward money, sex, parenting and life in general. Oh what a tangled web we weave! We are driving fast and furiously into the future while looking into the rear view mirror. We say things like “He treats me just like my father did.” But we don’t really get the true import of what we are saying.

The familiarity that we feel at the beginning of relationships, that sense of comfort and excitement, often shifts into familiar dread, entrapment and abandonment. We forget that the root of ‘familiar’ is family. We are patterns marrying patterns. You trigger me into familiar reactions which trigger you into familiar reactions which trigger me into familiar reactions, etc. I often ask my clients “Are you having this relationship or is the relationship having you?”

The pattern becomes even more complex and sticky when we drag in the memories and traumas associated with past love/hate relationships. We have the mistaken notion that sharing past relationship experiences with our current lover makes us closer, when it may actually create separation. All we’re doing is telling stories which confirm our past failures or confirm the inadequacy of the current relationship. Carolyn Myss refers to this kind of sharing as ‘woundology.’ I tell you my stories of failed relationships, then you tell me your tales of torture and victimhood. “My mom wouldn’t let me have Oreo Cookies.” “Oh yeah, my mom wouldn’t let me have Ho Hos.” “We suffered equally. Let’s get married.”

Comparisons are more damaging than helpful. If I am far better than your last abusive husband, it is like my being the smartest guy in prison. There are no relationship failures.There are only learning experiences, lessons to be learned and carried forward. Before you invite a relationship ghost into your conversation, think twice…three times. It is often a bell that can’t be unrung.

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