If you’re married, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve thought to yourself at some point that perhaps you made a mistake — you shouldn’t have married your partner. Marriage didn’t turn out quite the way you wanted it to, and maybe you even find yourself doing the same things your parents did, things you swore you wouldn’t do in your own marriage. If you have children, you worry that you’re providing them a home life that is more similar to the imperfect one you grew up in than to the idyllic one you were determined to create.
How did it come to this? Given the free choice that we have, how do so many of us end up in relationships that cause us so much pain? Part of the answer is obvious: Relationships are hard work; we don’t all communicate particularly well; we often choose a partner before we’ve fully understood them; and there is no shortage of external stresses and strains on relationships.
But sometimes there is more going on. Sometimes our poor choice of partner is driven by our unconscious. Here are four reasons why we might marry the wrong person.
This is what love looks like. We learn how to relate to romantic partners and other family members by observing and experiencing what happens at home when we are children. When someone grows up in a household where there is conflict and anger, they learn that intimacy also involves shouting and perhaps even violence. If they grew up in a household with an alcoholic parent, intimacy involves tolerating and caring for that parent and their poor behavior. In a household with an emotionally abusive parent, intimacy may involve appeasing that parent.
Adults whose childhood was spent in these kinds of environments sometimes feel pulled toward similar situations. An abusive, angry or alcoholic spouse can be very challenging, but there’s something familiar about the relationship. The person knows what to do, how to behave….and since that behavior can be associated with winning a parent’s love, it somehow feels right.
This is how to avoid abandonment. Sometimes people grow up especially frightened of being alone. (We’re ALL afraid, to some extent, of being alone.) One way to ensure that our partner doesn’t leave us is to find someone who can’t leave us. Perhaps that means choosing someone who is depressed, or has difficulty functioning in the world, or abuses substances, compulsively gambles, or is emotionally very needy. Choosing a partner who is dependent is a surefire way of avoiding being abandoned. However, there’s a big cost to having a very dependent person as a partner, and that can lead to conflict and even a breakup of the relationship.
This is how to fix a parental relationship. Even the worst parent-child relationship has positive aspects. Sometimes people are drawn to partners who unconsciously remind them of a difficult parent, but are different enough to convince the person that things will work out OK. The relationship is comfortable and familiar which is, as I said above, a big attraction. However, there is an added benefit that the partner is different enough to offer the hope that THIS time, there will be lots more love and much less of the bad stuff. It rarely works out that way.
This is what I deserve. Sometimes, at an unconscious level, people believe they are not worthy of good things. And that translates into accepting whatever a partner dishes out. If they happen to get into a relationship with someone who is respectful and caring, it may feel strange and uncomfortable. It may even feel frightening, because there’s a sense that the other shoe is sure to drop, the truth about oneself exposed and the relationship destroyed. Far better — unconsciously — to find someone who recognizes the “lack of worth”, provides abusive treatment, but sticks around.
If you have indeed married the wrong person, and you’ve done it for one or more of the reasons above, do not despair. Simply being aware of what you’ve been doing is a big step in changing things. For some people, that awareness is the beginning of the end of the relationship. But for others, it’s the beginning of a change in the relationship and will lead to greater satisfaction for both partners.