Family Holiday Survival Guide

The New Marriage - Part Two of Four 

By Dr. linda Miles

When we fail to get the response or connection with our partner that we want, perhaps we should stop and look at our own thoughts and behavior. It may remind us of frightful tigers from our past stalking the room. Sometimes a calm and collected exterior hides demons lingering from childhood. But how do we uncover the real person underneath our sophisticated facade? We climbed that mountain so long ago; the path we took may be lost in the undergrowth.

Our ascent of the First Mountain begins at birth. The learning we undergo in our early childhood is intense and shapes our experiences of love and adolescence when we are further up the mountainside. The ways in which we perceived things as children affected our neurological connections and influenced our later behavior in relationships. Modern research on the brain has revealed how critical early learning affects the way we behave with and perceive the partner of our mature years.

Very early in my career a couple came to see me who had been arguing for the last year over where to store the dishes in their kitchen. Each held a Ph.D. and both were academics—yet they were completely unable to solve this problem.

I made the mistake of trying to help them at a concrete level, when obviously if the problem was practical two such clever people could have readily dealt with it themselves.

I then realized that their problem had to do with the learning they had brought with them from their childhood. Each family household had been managed in different ways and they felt disloyal to their family of origin if they diverged from what they’d learned, since internalizing the family’s patterns of behavior is a child’s way of feeling he or she belongs. Once this internalization has happened, questioning the behavior, even in adulthood, can cause anxiety about one’s identity and self-worth. The couple were at odds because of the behavior they each had internalized many years before their marriage.

This realization was important in my journey as a psychotherapist. I started to look more deeply for answers as to why couples maintain destructive interactions—interactions that seemed so obviously pointless and damaging. There were still many questions: Why, after all, did all the learning and intelligence these two academics had acquired since childhood appear to count for nothing in their relationship? Why was the learned behavior of their childhood so pervasive in their personal lives and so absent from their professional ones? Why was there this division? Then, I began to do some research and found…

Copyright 2005 Linda Miles Ph.D

Author, Dr. Linda Miles, is deeply committed to helping individuals and couples achieve rewarding relationships. She is an expert with a doctorate in Counseling Psychology, and has worked in the mental health field for over thirty years. She has been interviewed extensively on radio, TV, and in newspapers and magazines. Find more relationship ideas and relaxation techniques on her web site and in the award-winning book she co-authored, The New Marriage: Transcending the Happily-Ever-After Myth, and Train Your Brain: For Successful Relationships, CD.