We’ve been talking about the importance of bridging emotional cut-offs in your family of origin relationships if you want to date wisely. Basically, how well you can define yourself within your early relationships will determine how well you can define yourself in your love life, and how well you define yourself in your love life will determine the quality of your intimate relationship.
I cannot lie. Defining yourself in your early relationships may be the most difficult work you ever do, depending on how the projection process in your family impacted you. Let me provide an example from my own life.
A Personal Story
By the time I emerged into adulthood, my emotional backpack was full of baggage from a family characterized by physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and spiritual abuse. Although I was less affected than my brother and sister by the chaos in our family of origin, it would have been impossible to escape the effects of such a system.
One effect was an abysmal love that eventually resulted in a failed marriage. During much of that marriage, I was in counseling to address the impact of my family-of-origin trauma, including identifying and differentiating between my reactive self and my true self. About 15 years into my marriage, I began to return to those early life relationships, with the hopes of bridging the divide. That was almost 15 years ago, and the work of defining myself in the context of early life relationships continues.
Complications in that effort included emotional work with deceased family members (my father and sister) and, for many years, from a very long distance (3000 miles). When I decided that doing this work up close and personal, bridging the physical cut-off, would be more effective in helping me grow, I decided to move back across the country to the area in which I grew up.
As life would have it, moving so close afforded me many opportunities to do over relational dynamics, representing my true self, rather than my reactive self, this time. What a ride!
Imagine how this impacted my dating life! If you’ve been following this blog, you know the story of my experience of meeting Brad (the man who became my partner) for the first time, and about our first date a few weeks later. Because I had learned to define myself and to speak up in my family of origin–not just to sit back, observe, and absorb–I was able to do define myself and speak up when it came time to meet the man who matches me like a puzzle piece.
I don’t always do this perfectly or with the greatest finesse, but I’m improving. For example, as I told the story about that first car ride when I observed to Brad that he may not be aware that he was coming off as arrogant, I realized that I could have been more tactful, simply sharing my own my experience of how he was presenting his point of view. Or maybe I could have simply asked if I could share my point of view on the content…or my feelings about the process. Or maybe I could have…. So many options.
Incidentally, what I chose to say came after 20 minutes of silent deliberation, so it represented the best I could do at the time, and it still wasn’t all that polished. Fortunately, Brad wasn’t side-lined by how I presented my observation, and my apology to him about it was easily received.
We’re always works in progress, and your efforts to bridge old divides in new ways will likely be bumpy. Simply learn from your mistakes and prepare for the next do-over opportunity. Until you learn what you need to learn, your relationships will continue to offer chances to do so. Yay!