Study Your FOO
Yesterday, we looked at the importance of studying your own motivations as you date. Today we’re going to broaden the lens a bit, and encourage you to not only study yourself in the dating process, but to Study Your Family of Origin, which is Dating Wisely Concept #5.
If you look back through the generations of your family, you’ll notice patterns. Perhaps the women in your family system tended toward alcoholism and the men toward workaholism. Or maybe the women found their identity in their children, rather than in their own development. Or perhaps the men were passive under-functioners while their wives were busy over-functioners. Maybe your family has a history of keeping up images rather than facing reality. Or maybe there’s a pattern of religion being more important than relationship.
Whatever the patterns are, you’ll be able to detect them as far back as you can see in your family history. That’s because we simply repeat patterns we learned in our families of origin when we become adults…unless and until we become conscious of them, which is when we can actually change them. Not easily, mind you, because patterns become active in our very DNA, due to the process of epigenetics, but change them we can…and must, if we want to live more fulfilling lives.
Past Meets Present
And you’re not the only one with patterns in your family history. The people you date also have family patterns that they may or may not be aware of. In fact, many of them won’t be interested in studying themselves or their family histories, as they won’t see the immediate relevance to the dating process. They may think they left home long ago, and that what happened in the past has no real bearing on the present. Since when, I ask? The past just ended a moment ago, and the present just started and is now past. The line between the past and the present just isn’t that clean.
As Psychiatrist Dr. Murray Bowen worked with families when the field of psychotherapy was blossoming in the 1950’s and beyond, he found that, “the emotional attachment between the spouses is identical to the emotional attachment that each spouse had in his or her family of origin” (Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, 530). So if you don’t want to have the kind of relationship your parents had, it behooves you to study how it came to be and how it unfolded, so that you can choose more consciously, more wisely, than they did…and with better information than they had.
Bowen’s goal was to help his clients study their families so that they could become experts on how the emotional processes in the family dictated the moves of each member, in an effort to help them change ineffective relationship patterns that had been in place for generations.
This is what you can do now, if you make a study of your life and select your mate with conscious awareness. I can’t think of a more important choice to make. Too bad we usually have such poor information when we make it.
On A Personal Note
My family of origin isn’t any different than many–it operates with unconscious blinders. Consciousness, in fact, is suspect, because to my family members, it doesn’t sound Christian. The principle my mother was operating from when she married my father was, “If we’re both Christians, everything will be fine.” Naive, yes, and although the principle failed her (their relationship was painful for everyone), she married again using the same principle several years after my father passed away. Although it failed her that time, too (her second Christian husband was unfaithful to her), she still clings to that principle.
Having studied the patterns in my family for many years now, there are many more I could share, but I won’t bore you. Suffice it to say that my ex-husband and I were operating from unconscious patterns when we married, and we ended up recreating the dynamics of his and my parents’ relationships, which were ultimately unsustainable. Our relationship ended in an amicable divorce after 17 years of struggling to make it work.
In order to make better choices, I began to study myself and my family of origin, just as I’m suggesting to you. The process has been fascinating, depressing, and hopeful. Knowing now what I didn’t know then has allowed me to make conscious dating choices that have served me and my intimate partner well.
More on what you can focus on in your self- and family-study tomorrow.