This weekend, I sat in a new open space restaurant with friends waiting for our food. Out of nowhere, a very little girl toddled around the corner and walked straight up to me, laughed and started babbling away. We all smiled and laughed; it was straight from the movie Monsters Inc.
Within less than two seconds, a young guy just my height and weight rounded the corner and in a very deep, kind, almost laughing voice said to the toddler, “Julie, where did you go?” Julie laughed and her dad scooped her up, lifted her high in the air placing her on his big shoulders, nodded a smiling acknowledgment to me and walked out of the restaurant. It was a nice experience.
We were all little surprised at little Julie’s courage, but it shouldn’t have taken a Ph.D. to figure out that not only was tiny little Julie not afraid of me, she was actually attracted. When I say “attracted” I don’t mean that creepy, inappropriate way. I mean that in a group of people of different heights, weights, and sizes, she was drawn to the one who most resembled her own dad.
The Past, the Present, the Future
It kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? As babies, we are just a bundle of sensory inputs. Those inputs and experiences that are part of our everyday surroundings shapes our awareness of normalcy. If, in Julie’s life, every day experiences included a giant, deep-voiced, lumberjack-sized man with light hair, then that is what she imprinted as normal. Not only does this influence appear in life, but many studies including this from the Journal of Genetic Psychology show the influence of fathers on their daughter’s relationships as adults.
If there was a father or some other male caregiver in your early childhood, he more than likely established the first model of how a relationship with a man would be. And for better or for worse, children love their parents/caregivers unconditionally and accept the attachment and love that is—or sometimes is not—defined as their normal.
These early relationship patterns form a person’s expectations for future connections. Obviously, and indeed at times unintentionally, our parents taught us how we should approach our lives and relationships. They taught us how to show and how to receive love, how to manage disagreements, how to appreciate and express our feelings, etc. Our parents shape and color the lens, the filters we use to see and determine meaning in all other human connections.
Obviously, and indeed at
times unintentionally, our parents
taught us how we should
approach our lives and relationships.
What I am saying is that a woman’s early relationship with her dad, who is usually the first male object of her attention, shapes her conscious and unconscious perceptions of what she can expect and what is acceptable in a trusted relationship or even a romantic partner.
The Importance of Dad
In my time as a coach, I’ve met only a few women who didn’t unconsciously or at times, consciously pick a romantic partner with the traits of her dad. I don’t mean just physical characteristics, even though some do, specifically relationship features. Even the women clearly announce that they chose partners who were the polar opposite of their dad, are forming their decisions on the relationship (or non-relationship) with their dad. A choice to go opposite is still a choice based on him and the experiences with him.
I’ve met only a few women
who didn’t unconsciously
or at times, consciously pick a
with the traits of her dad.
So, does this mean that one day Julie will marry a lumberjack who seeks her out* in restaurants? I don’t really have any idea, but odds are whatever relationship she’s in was influenced by her early relationship with her dad. What does this mean for all of us? A lot. It means that past relationships can affect current relationship choices and how you respond in relationships.
Start with What
What sort of partners do you pick? What are the traits that have you noticed in your current and past partners that show an unpleasant or troubling pattern? Do you pick partners who are taciturn and aloof? Cross and demanding? Do they simply refuse to grow up? Have they been unfaithful? Are they emotionally or physically abusive? If it helps you address the issue, try writing a little bit about each of your past relationship partners. What common themes do you find? What kinds of partners do you seem to choose?
For your next step, I want to help you to take your understanding just a little further. Instead of just seeing the patterns in the partners you choose, try and search for patterns in the kinds of ways your relationships unfold. How do they start? How do they work in the longer term? What kinds of parts do you end up playing before you are done? The caretaker/mom? The pursuer/the needy one? The enforcer/bitch? How do those positions you select make you feel about yourself and your relationship?
Consider this; when you think back, how do your relationships flow? What are the conflicts that you see repeating? What feelings go along with these patterns of yours?
This is the kind of thing I am talking about. I worked with a client who had fabulous relationships, in the beginning. After a certain amount of time, she would begin to feel her partner pull away from her. She admitted being frightened by this and feared that her partner was beginning to lose interest in her. Her response was to try extra hard to make him happy. In some cases it worked, and sometimes her partner would grow even more distant. When she asked him about it, he gets irritable and describes her as too insecure. That, of course, makes her feel terrible and makes her angry… then he gets angry in reply…rinse, wash…repeat.
Here is one way to view the relationship pattern:
- You think that he is pulling away…You feel afraid
- You try harder to please…Sometimes rewarded (happy feeling) sometimes shamed
- You feel ashamed…You feel mad
- You show or express your anger…He gets mad
- Relationship ends
When you take your turn, look and see the patterns, write them down so that you can come back to them and consider your actions and your future choices. Make sense?
Determine Your Patterns
In any relationship, particularly long-term relationships, people fall into relational patterns that can be so ingrained, they have become mental pathways they hardly notice. It can be a big help to look for these patterns first in past relationships, not only romantic ones but all relationships, ones with friends, coworkers, and family. Seek to discover the patterns in your relationships that stand out for you. Who do you choose again and again? What roles do you end up playing and how do your relationships progress?
Seek to discover the patterns in
your relationships that stand out for you.
Awareness alone seldom fixes anything but the key to this first step is always awareness. If you can learn to identify the “what” in your connections—your patterns of choosing a partner, the dynamics of your relationships, and the feelings they create within you—you can work to mindfully change them. I don’t mean to make it sound easy—it’s not.
You need to work and practice how to actually make change happen in your life, specifically in your relationships. This isn’t easy to do on your own. It often requires the help of a trained professional such as a life coach, as they know the questions to ask to get to the real picture of what is happening when you enter into a relationship. They can see the patterns and help guide you on the path towards a positive outcome. They, with you help, can identify the red flags, and the good stuff. Recognizing your triggers can save you a lot of grief if things don’t work out.
So arm yourself with knowledge of your subconscious choices, both good and bad. It will help you the next time you are tempted to pursue “the one.”
I’d love to hear about how parenting is working for you. If you want to share your stories and pick up ideas from other sales professionals, join the discussion at frankhopkinslifecoach, facebook page.
Schedule some time and we can talk about how things are going and where you would like to go.
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