Why our child­hood bond with our mother forms a blue­print for adult re­la­tion­ships

Irish Daily Mail - YOU - - CONTENTS - José Luis Merino IL­LUS­TRA­TIONS

THE BEST PAL When you were a child, your lovely, sup­port­ive mum al­ways told you how won­der­ful you were – per­haps you were even her favourite. To­day, you hang out to­gether, bor­row each other’s clothes and she comes to all your par­ties. IM­PACT ON RE­LA­TION­SHIPS This level of close­ness with your mother can make it dif­fi­cult to be your own per­son. You may be hooked on ap­proval and pleas­ing peo­ple. No won­der you of­ten agree to things you don’t want to do – or say ‘yes’ to some­one’s face, then have to wrig­gle out of an ar­range­ment later. You will of­ten feel torn be­tween pleas­ing your mother and your part­ner: she prob­a­bly has strong opin­ions about his be­hav­iour; he doubt­less thinks she’s round at your house far too much. THE SO­LU­TION Re­mem­ber, it’s al­ways OK to say no or to disagree. In fact, your part­ner might find hon­esty re­fresh­ing be­cause he’ll know where he stands. Once your true opin­ions are out in the open, the two of you will be able to ne­go­ti­ate and ei­ther find a healthy com­pro­mise or do a deal (‘I’ll pick up the kids if you stop off at the su­per­mar­ket’). THE STICK­LER Grow­ing up, you felt un­der pres­sure to get every­thing right at home and to achieve top grades at school. Per­haps your mother was ill or un­sta­ble and you didn’t want to rock the boat at home. Maybe she had a sharp tongue and it was eas­ier to toe the line than risk her crit­i­cism. IM­PACT ON RE­LA­TION­SHIPS You’re al­ways think­ing two or three steps ahead in or­der to spot po­ten­tial prob­lems and to cir­cum­vent them. Un­for­tu­nately, this keeps you per­ma­nently on edge and when things don’t go to plan you ex­plode – of­ten out of all pro­por­tion. You find it hard to tol­er­ate your part­ner be­ing any­thing other than at the top of his game, and the re­sult is that you are of­ten highly crit­i­cal. THE SO­LU­TION Start by be­ing com­pas­sion­ate with your­self. It is im­pos­si­ble to be ‘per­fect’, and run­ning your­self down for ev­ery short­fall doesn’t help. If you can cut your­self some slack, your over­all anx­i­ety level will drop. It will also make life eas­ier for your part­ner be­cause you’ll be less snappy and less likely to hold him to your ex­act­ing stan­dards.

THE REBEL While some daugh­ters will do any­thing to keep the peace, you went in the op­po­site di­rec­tion and some­times de­lib­er­ately re­belled – per­haps against a con­trol­ling or un­pre­dictable mother – to pro­voke a row. This meant you were prob­a­bly blamed for things that weren’t your fault so you have grown up with the sense that you’re a con­stant dis­ap­point­ment. IM­PACT ON RE­LA­TION­SHIPS You are eas­ily trig­gered to anger or tears: some­times by what other peo­ple see as small things. What your part­ner doesn’t un­der­stand is that a fairly in­no­cent com­ment such as, ‘I wouldn’t do it that way,’ is given ex­tra power be­cause it echoes some­thing your mother used to say. Fur­ther­more, you’re so used to crit­i­cism that you prob­a­bly hear it when none is in­tended. For ex­am­ple, your hus­band might say of some­one he met at work or at a party, ‘I found her in­ter­est­ing,’ but you will hear, ‘I don’t find you in­ter­est­ing.’ THE SO­LU­TION Rather than au­to­mat­i­cally be­ing de­fen­sive or go­ing on the at­tack when your part­ner says some­thing you think is crit­i­cal, dou­ble check that you’ve drawn the right con­clu­sion – for ex­am­ple, ask, ‘Did you say you find me bor­ing?’ In this way, you’ll go into bat­tle only when it’s re­ally nec­es­sary. If you deal with small is­sues as they hap­pen (rather than mut­ter­ing un­der your breath), you will find it eas­ier to keep a sense of pro­por­tion be­cause you’ll not be car­ry­ing a load of un­re­solved nig­gles. THE OR­PHAN For what­ever rea­son, you have lit­tle or no re­la­tion­ship with your mother. Per­haps she died when you were young, or had post­na­tal de­pres­sion when you were born and wasn’t able to bond with you prop­erly. Or maybe a cat­a­strophic row has left the two of you es­tranged. Ei­ther way, you prob­a­bly feel moth­er­less. IM­PACT ON RE­LA­TION­SHIPS You find it hard to trust peo­ple. You have only a hand­ful of close friends and when your faith in some­one is lost it is al­most im­pos­si­ble for them to win it back. You ex­pect to be let down (and may even get a per­verse plea­sure when it hap­pens). No won­der you’ve built a wall round your­self for pro­tec­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, this can make it hard to find a part­ner. THE SO­LU­TION If you felt re­jected or aban­doned as a child, deep down you will feel that there is some­thing wrong with you. Think about the mes­sage that you un­der­stood from your mother. For ex­am­ple, ‘Ev­ery­body I love leaves me’: you will find that this is the lens through which you have fil­tered your life. Step back and chal­lenge that child­hood mes­sage with adult eyes be­cause it is prob­a­bly dis­torted or in­ac­cu­rate. ➤

THE BLACK SHEEP You and your mother are con­stantly bickering be­cause you are so dif­fer­ent. You may have cho­sen a ca­reer that is in­ex­pli­ca­ble to her, or per­haps your politics are di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed. Oc­ca­sion­ally, you even won­der if there was a mix-up at the hospi­tal and you went home with the wrong mother. IM­PACT ON RE­LA­TION­SHIPS Now you are a grown-up, you have found peo­ple who un­der­stand you. How­ever, when you have to mix in un­fa­mil­iar sit­u­a­tions – such as start­ing a new job – you will still worry about fit­ting in. You are likely to have mar­ried some­one who is dif­fer­ent to you – from an­other cul­ture, or there is an age gap. When you’re stressed or tired, you’ll prob­a­bly find as­pects of his fam­ily or him a bit weird. You will sud­denly find the child­hood roles be­tween you and your mother re­versed – now you’re the one find­ing your­self at odds with some­one else. THE SO­LU­TION If you come from dif­fer­ent back­grounds, try build­ing a bridge by say­ing, ‘In my fam­ily, we did it this way, how did you do it in your fam­ily?’ When we love some­one it is easy to make as­sump­tions, but this is one of the top causes of re­la­tion­ship un­hap­pi­ness. So in­stead of jump­ing to con­clu­sions – ‘You fell asleep on the sofa be­cause it was eas­ier than talk­ing to me’ – ask an open question: ‘Why did you nod off?’ THE COD­DLED CHILD You’re the one whose mother is al­ways ready to help. She will come round and wait for trades­men while you’re at work – and leave a pile of freshly ironed clothes on your bed while she’s at it. When you were at univer­sity, she read books on your read­ing list so you could dis­cuss your es­says to­gether. Even though you are now a grown-up, she’s still con­stantly bail­ing you out. IM­PACT ON RE­LA­TION­SHIPS You suf­fer from learned help­less­ness. You will ei­ther be de­pen­dent on your part­ner for prac­ti­cal things – mo­tor­way driving or deal­ing with au­thor­ity fig­ures such as your chil­dren’s head­teacher – or dump your bad moods on him be­cause you ex­pect him to make every­thing bet­ter. Al­ter­na­tively, you hold po­ten­tial part­ners at arm’s length be­cause you’re wor­ried that, like your mother, they will take over. THE SO­LU­TION Iden­tify a re­spon­si­bil­ity that you could take on your­self, such as un­block­ing the sink – you’ll be amazed by the boost to your self- es­teem. Dis­cuss with your part­ner whether he feels over­loaded and look for a more eq­ui­table bal­ance be­tween the two of you. If you’re sin­gle, spot­ting your fear of be­ing swal­lowed up is half the bat­tle to solv­ing it; next time a po­ten­tial boyfriend ap­pears to be mov­ing in on you, re­mind your­self, ‘He is not my mother’. If that doesn’t work, you prob­a­bly need to put up a bound­ary; for ex­am­ple: ‘A sum­mer hol­i­day to­gether sounds great but let’s start with a week­end away.’

THE DOER You have a per­fectly am­i­ca­ble re­la­tion­ship with your mother but there are no girlie shop­ping trips and any phone calls are about prac­ti­cal things rather than pour­ing out your heart. Your bond is prag­matic: you know she loves you even if she never says it. IM­PACT ON RE­LA­TION­SHIPS You may be more con­cerned about cross­ing chores off your list than hav­ing fun with your part­ner. Your fam­ily didn’t re­ally ‘do’ feel­ings when you were grow­ing up, so you will not be par­tic­u­larly aware of yours – or per­haps you keep busy to dis­tract your­self from them. That’s fine in the short or medium term but when you reach your mid­dle years, you may won­der ‘What’s the point?’ Be­ware of slid­ing from feel­ing flat into low-level de­pres­sion. THE SO­LU­TION Make a con­scious ef­fort to be more ro­man­tic with your part­ner. Book a week­end away with­out the chil­dren. Hold hands or take a bub­ble bath to­gether. If your hus­band starts mess­ing around, or asks for a cud­dle, your first re­ac­tion might be, ‘I must tidy the kitchen,’ but push that thought away and join in. You will be amazed at the pos­i­tive re­ac­tion it will get from him and how five min­utes of silli­ness will im­prove your love life. THE DADDY’S GIRL If your work col­leagues over­heard you on the phone, laugh­ing at your fa­ther’s jokes, they would prob­a­bly think he was your new man. You’re much closer to your dad than your mum – and your bond with her is suf­fer­ing. IM­PACT ON RE­LA­TION­SHIPS You’re prob­a­bly a ‘man’s woman’, and find your friend­ships with women com­pro­mised be­cause you ig­nore them when there is a man to im­press. You might still be sin­gle be­cause no man can mea­sure up to your fa­ther. If you are mar­ried, your hus­band may feel emas­cu­lated – es­pe­cially if you’re al­ways run­ning to Daddy for money. THE SO­LU­TION Re­bal­ance your life by cul­ti­vat­ing fe­male friend­ships and spend­ing more one- on- one time with your mother. Put your hus­band first and lis­ten to his frus­tra­tions about your fa­ther. If you’re sin­gle, next time you’re tempted to sulk with a po­ten­tial part­ner, think, ‘What would an adult do?’

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