Family of origin patterns can influence many different areas of your marriage. Being aware of which patterns are a source of issue for your marriage gives you a great opportunity to work through those patterns and have a healthier relationship with your spouse. To help understand what type of impact family of origin patterns can have on a marriage and how someone can work through the patterns that are creating a negative impact on the marriage, I have interviewed therapist, Carolyn Kim, MA, MFT.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I’m a licensed psychotherapist in the state of California. I received my Master’s in Counseling Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies with an emphasis in Somatic (mind-body) Psychology and currently work with individuals and couples in private practice in San Francisco. I also write relationship psychology articles for Examiner.com.
My therapeutic approach focuses on straight-forward, practical solutions to change. I help create step-by-step movement that will get people to a place of less drama and to a place of calm, peace, and clarity. Life can be easy and drama-free.”
What type of impact can family of origin patterns have on a marriage?
“Family of origin patterns can have a significant impact on marriages. Whether you’re in a committed relationship or a marriage, the influence of family of origin patterns is undeniable, though many people don’t see it or like to admit it.
Anyone who has children or been around children knows that they are like sponges. A child unconsciously picks up on what is around him, including emotional ways of being and relating. It’s as simple as that. Parents pass on their patterns seamlessly and osmotically.
As children grow up and become adults and enter relationships, the dynamics and patterns within them are predicated upon the emotional templates that were acquired from childhood. In other words, adult relationships oftentimes become a mirror to the ones exhibited in the family of origin. People are drawn to the familiarity. Like for like.
For the naysayers who like to think that they are nothing like their parents, it is helpful to note the difference between content and process. Oftentimes, when people eschew the idea of identifying with their parents, they often think of factors related to content, or the actual topics of conversation or certain beliefs one has. For instance, maybe one says, “I’m nothing like my parents ‘” they’re so conservative and I’m so liberal.” It’s not so much what comes out of one’s mouth, or the opinions per se, that are patterned imitations of family of origin dynamics, so much as it reflects the process by which actions are oftentimes carried out. The way people communicate in their relationships, not so much what is said is the defining factor. Patterns of process can include: withdrawing, pursuing, criticizing, attacking, passivity, passive-aggressive behavior, keeping unhealthy boundaries, emotional abandonment, emotional encroachment, internalizing, externalizing, stonewalling, avoiding, taking on too much responsibility for the other person, etc.”
How can a couple deal with the family of origin patterns that are impacting their marriage?
“The first step is awareness. You can’t change something unless you are aware that you are doing something. Each person needs to examine their own behaviors, tendencies, and reactions and how they impact the relationship negatively. Awareness is important in that it creates the capacity to choose responses that are different from the ones habitually acted upon, thereby laying the foundation for something new to emerge.
Identifying and expressing needs and feelings are also an important part of working through difficult patterns. Doing it in a way that takes responsibility will greatly impact how your partner takes in and processes the information as opposed to contributing to your partner being defensive or non-responsive. When you want someone to hear what you’re saying and really take it in, there’s a monumental difference between saying, “You’re making me angry” versus “I feel angry.” The former does not take responsibility, blames, and will most likely lead to a less than ideal response. The latter takes self-responsibility and leaves the other person much more open, present, and therefore amenable to your experience or needs. Learning effective and healthy communication skills will greatly impact relationship dynamics.
Letting go of old patterns rooted in family of origin dynamics is also essential for creating new and healthier patterns of behavior. Oftentimes, this is done by examining the roots of feelings or behaviors and learning to disidentify with them emotionally (not just cognitively) and/or understanding what you get out of a certain negative feeling or behavior and learning how to replace it with something more desirable.
Finally, it can be good to view problems in a relationship as an opportunity to grow and make things better. Relationships are a reflection of where you are. Being faced with challenges in a relationship is a normal part of learning to self-reflect and expand both as an individual and as a couple.”
What type of professional help is available for a couple that is having a difficult time from preventing family origin patterns from having a negative impact on marriage?
“Seek the help of a qualified couples counselor. Having a skilled, neutral guide and director will help a couple navigate difficulties much more efficiently and easily than can be done alone more often than not. If one person is resistant to couples counseling, then individual therapy for the other person can also have a great impact. One of the things that I consistently see in my work with individuals is the empowerment that comes from how internal change affects external relationships and circumstances.
Support groups can be invaluable in terms of helping to normalize experiences or get feedback from other people in the same boat as you.
Assertiveness training can be useful for those who want to learn ways to communicate with others in a direct manner without withdrawing, attacking, or alienating the other person.
PsychologyToday.com is a good online resource to find a therapist, read about different topics, and get answers to questions.”
Thank you, Carolyn, for doing the interview on how family of origin patterns can impact marriage. For more information on Carolyn Kim or her work you can check out her website or read her articles at www.carolynkim.org and www.examiner.com/sf-in-san-francisco/carolyn-kim.
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