Did you find yourself having a conversation with your spouse when suddenly it dawns on you, “Are they just like my mom or dad?”
The phenomenon of choosing someone who either looks like, acts like, or thinks like one of your parents is extremely common. The reason is actually pretty simple. Your mother or father were your first and most important childhood love object. Little boys love their mothers smell, her look, her laugh. Little girls think their dad is the biggest, strongest and handsomest man on the planet.
This, of course, eventually changes and as kids become teens, they see all their parents flaws and faults. Their deep and all encompassing love gets buried and they move on to other loves. But somewhere unconscious that romantic love remains, and so one often finds oneself attracted to someone who reminds you of that first love. Often, however, it happens unconsciously, and so you may not even realize how much your spouse is like a parent. The similarity could be disguised, too. Maybe it’s just their sense of humor, their comforting style; a passion they share.
Being like mom can have an upside AND a downside. The feeling of being safe, being nurtured, being perfect for you, are all potential benefits of having them be like mom. But what about that incredibly annoying habit, their temper, how nit picky they are when a spouse has features of your parent that you found very difficult for you growing up? It can carry both a heavy weight and a lack of ability to spot.
What may be their being a neat-nick can suddenly drive you crazy without realizing that it’s not really about them. It’s about how crazy your mom made you by being a neat freak and getting on you to clean up.
Sometimes the longing for a parent whom you never got enough attention from can also cause you to seek out a parent-lover. If dad was too self absorbed to notice you, constantly critical, or dies when you were young, then you may be instantly drawn to the “father type.” Women who date or marry men decades their senior can definitely fall into this category, and it can all lead to disaster when the whole relationship turns into more of a parent-child seduction than a healthy relationship. Similarly, the mama’s boy, who can never quite get enough of mom may pick a mommy-like wife, but she may also find that her husband still dotes on his mom a lot.
Marrying your parent need not only be the parent of the opposite sex. Though attraction to the opposite sex parent is what Freud meant when he referred to the Oedipal Complex, he noted (and it is seen in children) that there is also an attraction to the parent of the same sex – in addition, you love both parents deeply. You may have picked traits that belong to the same sex parent in your spouse because they are things you admired or needed.
As long as your spouse doesn’t remind you so much of your parent that you can’t stop thinking of that parent, even in the bedroom (obvious yuck factor) there can be a lot of pleasure in having a wife or husband like your mom and dad, including the likelihood that your mom and dad will like them.
But, if you are blowing up at your spouse a lot because of things that do remind you too much of things in your parents that aggravate you then you need to consider a few things.
1. Why do you hold onto your parent? If you are so bothered by the same traits, perhaps you are accentuating the similarities by holding onto them. Do you really still need mom/dad in an unhealthy way? Time to examine this and consider why you don’t feel more okay without the parent.
2. What’s your role? Are you in some way bringing out the worst of the trait that bugs you? Sometimes it’s your own wish to repeat the role you played with a parent that brings out the worst of this in your spouse. So, for instance, if dad was really critical, did you pick a man and then be a doormat to him, asking indirectly for his criticisms?
3. Are you too sensitive? Sometimes we are very bothered because in fact this was a sore spot with our parent. If your mom was very neat and always on your case about being messy, then it may be you are extra sensitive on this point. So as soon as your wife asks you to clean up, you go ballistic. Try to take a look at your own sensitivity.
4. Tell them your sore points and why. Your poor spouse may have no clue why they feel pulled into these particular dramas. It really helps the relationships if you can tell them what your sensitive spots are and why. Then they don’t have to take it all as personally.