Have you ever wanted to be in a relationship but felt frustrated because no matter how hard you tried, disappointment or bad results developed?
As an example, let’s follow Joey through a few years of her life, starting from when she first entered college.
Joey was a reflective, serious, and caring young woman. She had a handful of friends whom she dearly appreciated. They had common interests, shared activities, and were available when any of them asked.
As the college years unfolded, Joey wanted to be in a relationship, similar to the ones she observed her friends starting.
Joey began dating a man she met casually while they both were waiting for the campus bus. She gave little time to knowing him, and most of what she did learn about him she didn’t especially like. Joey lost her virginity to this man because she thought it was necessary to maintain the relationship.
From an observer’s view, it is easy to see the mistakes in Joey’s behaviors. Even Joey was aware at the time she entered the relationship with this man that doing so felt wrong.
What allows Joey and countless other women and men of all ages to enter or stay in a relationship which they realize is detrimental to their well-being?
The answer is that people often only consider their own immediate wishes and do not know that in part, these are heavily influenced by beliefs and ideas that other significant family members hold.
Joey’s parents’ beliefs about relationships influenced Joey’s ideas about relationship fulfillment. She did not learn how to recognize whether a partner was trustworthy or how a loving relationship develops.
Through systems relational therapy, Joey discovered some of the themes of her family of origin. She learned that her parents believed that relationships were based exclusively on a common goal of establishing and maintaining a household.
Joey also learned that love and happiness in a relationship — the primary foundation for a relationship, in her view — were incidental for her parents.
The particular theories and mythologies about relationships that all families live by are mostly transmitted by ongoing behaviors. For example, growing up, no one directly instructed Joey to suppress, hide, or ignore her emotions. Joey learned these standards by absorbing her family’s natural patterns. Each of her parents suffered emotional isolation from the other. Each prioritized maintaining a household and felt that personal contentment was worth ignoring in service to this goal.
Once Joey’s understanding of her purpose in a relationship increased, she was gradually able to loosen her unquestioning loyalty to her family legacy about what to include and expect about herself and from a partner.
Being free to be who you are means making relationship decisions grounded in your uniqueness. Part of knowing this includes knowing the relationship patterns into which you were born and raised. It is a strong way of being clear not to repeat these unless they fit with who you really are.