Problem Passed Down through Generations

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I have been married for 23 years. My husband used to be more affectionate but it has waned over the years. It is however, not completely gone. He will hold me at night as he falls asleep, kiss me upon arriving home and we are still regularly physically intimate. Although I’ve had to guide him throughout the years, he is supportive and kind despite being a bit distant and unexcitable. I know that most women would be fairly happy with this situation but for some reason, I have moments where I feel he could be more affectionate and romantically focused. He is an excellent provider and we have a beautiful home, nice kids and a blessed life. What on earth is my problem then?

I sense that my needs are coming from low self-esteem…as if I’m not being “loved enough”. When I get like this I get so narrowly focused and it feels like I need that validation from him to make me whole somehow or none of the other things seem to matter. I really get angry that I can’t get what I feel I need. I truly don’t want to live like this any longer. It’s gone on long enough.

As a side note, my mother was plagued with this same issue all of my life and my dad was a decent guy like my husband. This desperate need to be “loved” was a nasty lifelong obsession for my mother and she demanded it from all of us although we did all truly love her and tried to please her. She’s in her 80′s now and angry, bitter, alone and has turned her back on her family and grandkids, claiming that we’ve all betrayed her. I am her oldest daughter and never felt deeply loved by her or able to live up to her unreasonable expectations. I don’t want to end up like her. Please, please help me break the cycle.

A: You are absolutely right: This is what is called an intergenerational transmission of a problem. Children do learn what they live. You grew up taking in your mother’s unhappiness with your dad as well as her belief that he wasn’t doing a good enough job loving her.

Your problem isn’t your husband. Your problem isn’t low self-esteem. Your problem is that you haven’t been able to free yourself from that early teaching. You are very right to be scared that you will end up lonely and alienated just as she was. I hope that gives you the motivation to do something about it.

You are fortunate, indeed, that you learned from your father as well as your mother. You looked for and found a decent guy who is steadfast, who loves you and who has made a good life with you.

The something you can do is some serious therapy. Therapy can help us correct early teaching. In your case, it can also help you truly appreciate all that you have.

Apparently your negative feelings have been building for years. That tells me that if you could fix this on your own, you would have done it already. I therefore encourage you to seek out a therapist and to do that corrective work. You are right that most women would be very happy with the marriage you are tempted to throw away. Since the problem lies within you, not within the man or the marriage, I doubt very much that you will find anything better.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 Jun 2013

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2013). Problem Passed Down through Generations. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/06/23/problem-passed-down-through-generations/

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