LOOKING BACK AFTER DIVORCE-WHY YOU CHOSE YOUR MATE
Copyright by Merlene Bishop
One of the most significant things you can do after a divorce is to assess your reasons for choosing that person as your mate. There are conscious choices for which the reasons are clear, then there are more smarmy reasons not always evident for why you chose your spouse. If you grew up in a dysfunctional family (an estimated 80 % of us did) you carried unresolved issues with you into adulthood, issues connected to your relationship with your mother and father. Many people are not aware of these issues and how they affected their relationships with the opposite sex. It is very common for people from dysfunctional family backgrounds to choose a mate who in some way resembles their parent(s) from a psychological perspective.
For example, if your mother or father was emotionally unexpressive and not affectionate you may have married a person who was emotionally unavailable, i.e, who had some of the same characteristics. Other issues from your family of origin may be frequent criticism, shaming, embarrassement, emotional abandonment, family alcoholism or workaholism. Whatever they were, they had a profound impact on your choice of a mate, and a profound impact on the reasons for your divorce.
Your choices are not a real choice in the true sense of the word. We tend to drift into relationships with people that seem familiar and comfortable to us in a psychological sense. It is essential to your future happiness that you assess these issues in regard to your choice of a spouse. The best way to start is by doing a written assessment of the ways that your ex-spouse did not meet your needs. After you have done that, think about the ways that your needs were not met in childhood, and of the ways that your mother and father were not responsive to your needs. Was one of your parents overtly critical, or just subtly? Subtle criticism can be difficult to pin down. It usually ocurrs in the form of an absence of praise and encouragement.
Think back to a time when you were feeling proud of yourself for some accomplishment, and your mother or father didn't comment at all, or barely acknowledged it.
Let's assess some of the issues that are part of dysfunctional families:
*No open discussion of problems - whatever the problems, there is an attitude of "it's not that bad"
* Feelings are not expressed openly
*Triangulation - one person acting as a messenger between two others
*Unrealistic expectations for boys - be a man, don't cry, be strong, never let anyone see you upset or sad
*Unrealistic expectations for girls - be feminine, don't play with toy trucks or cars, don't get dirty, always be polite
*Don't be selfish -it's not OK to think about one's own needs
*Don't rock the boat - don't do anything that might upset the status quo
Regardless of the type of dysfunction, you were imbedded with the dysfunctional charactersitics early in life. By the time you were old enough to start dating, you made your choices based on your childhood conditioning. When you got married, it is nearly 80% likely that your spouse had some if not all of these characteristics. The following illustration is a classic example of a divorced spouse that carried these characterstics:
*A person who didn't communicate about important things. He/she just did what needed to be done without discussing it first with their spouse.
*A person who was rarely affectionate. Your sex life was inadequate since there was no open communication.
*There were rarely any open discussions about money. There was more conflict or disagreement than cooperation.
*Your spouse was inconsiderate of your needs.
*He or she frequently put work first, leaving little time for family activities.
*He or she was often preoccupied with "busy work" at home.
*He or she was never available for quality time with you as a couple.
Is this beginning to sound familiar ? If so, your next task will be to look at the relationship between you and your spouse before the divorce. It is a high probablility that he or she had some of those characteristics and you never made the connection to your family of origin. The problems in your marriage that led to divorce were likely intricately laced with the above mentioned issues, but you and your spouse operated on automatic pilot, emotionally speaking and never became aware of them as problems. It was just considered part of the way things were.
However, at some point, the complex issues of family life became too burdensome because neither you nor your spouse had adequate relationship and communication skills to draw from as a result of the conditioning from your dysfunctional family. In situations like this, one spouse may have intiated counseling at some point during the marriage, and began to dimly see that there were problems. These problems could have been resolved if both people had been willing and emotionally capable of working through them. The person who had the greatest extent of dysfunctionality was not able to see the problems - they perceived the problems to be non-existent or blamed the other person for them.
In other cases, one spouse began to grow and change for the better and began to realize that there was something missing in their marriage. Whatever the circumstances were, the one person who was dissatisfied ultimately filed for divorce. Now, for a moment, put yourself in this situation as the one who filed or the one who thought there were no problems. Regardless of which one you are, it is vital to your future happiness to learn about your family of origin and the dysfunctions that carried over into your marriage. A good source of help is Co-Dependents Anonymous, a 12-step support group that covers common issues of dysfunctional families. If the problems in your family of origin were alcohol-related, Al-Anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics are good sources, both 12 step support groups.
If you are willing to commit yourself to personal growth, you can recover from the psychological dents originating from your dysfunctional family and learn to make healthy choices in future relationships. Your success depends on YOU.
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