If you’re a lucky guy… you have #1 or #2:
- Your parents are equal partners and have a loving marriage.
- You’ve closely observed at least two marriages (e.g. your parents’ and one other) in your childhood.
If you’re super lucky, you have #1 and #2.
If you don’t have #1, it is even more critical that you have #2 and here’s why…
As a child, you viewed your parents as perfect beings, as all children do. You imitated their speech and behaviors, and all of this helped to form a very strong bond during those formative years.
Your parents’ relationship with each other formed your template for marriage and your understanding of gender roles. By simply observing them, you internalized who is responsible for which tasks and how conflict is resolved.
Closely observing at least TWO couples in your early years forms a healthier template. The second reference point typically forms by sleeping over at a cousin’s/friend’s house and simply observing how a different married couple interacts with each other, and perhaps even how they attempt to solve conflict.
You learn that dinner-time rituals vary from one home to another. For example, you may have observed that in one family, the father cooks dinner while the mother sets the table and everyone eats together, and in another family, everyone eats on their own time while watching a TV show.
Your mind takes all this in and you unconsciously learn that not all marriages are the same, that your family may not be ‘normal’ or ‘typical’. You might have also realized that some marriages are better than that of your parents’. The most important reason for observing at least 2 couples is to learn that there is no ONE right way, and this knowledge empowers you to make your own choices as an adult.
If you don’t have #1 or #2, you are starting out at a significant disadvantage. Although your parents did the best they could, in some ways, they failed to provide a good marriage for you to observe as a child and then model as an adult.
David Celani, the author of Leaving Home, explains why it’s so important to recognize this:
“Only psychologically mature young adults can tolerate the reality that their parents failed them in certain areas, because their maturity frees them from needing false but comforting illusions about their parents. That is, their identity is firm enough to allow them to stand on their own without needing the support of their parents. When they no longer need parental support, they also no longer need the defense mechanisms that blinded them (in order to keep them feeling secure) to their parents’ failings. Ironically, only adult children of relatively healthy parents (or young adults from less healthy families who have profited from psychotherapy) can see their parents’ inevitable failings.”
Once you’ve acknowledged all of this, you can pick up where your parents left off and begin to reparent yourself, which will be covered in another post.