Dear Dr. Yael:
My husband and I are, Baruch Hashem, happily married for five years. But there is a stumbling block constantly facing us.
I grew up in a home without any shalom bayis, as my parents constantly argued and fought. They tried to be good parents but they were always in bad moods because of their relationship. I often hated being home and was embarrassed to bring friends around because of what they might witness.
With maturity and a lot of soul searching, I finally understand their issues. I am have stopped blaming them for what they put us through and instead try to respect them for the efforts they put into raising us. But when it comes to my marriage, every time my husband says something that remotely resembles what my father may have said to my mother, I find myself responding the way she did. This happens even if what he said doesn’t bother me when I think about it calmly. For his part, my husband understands the way I grew up and tries to be patient with me, but his patience is wearing thin.
Related to that is although my husband and I are happy now, I am sure that unhappiness will soon set in. After all, my parents were probably happy when they were first married; their unhappiness developed over time. And that make me wonder whether or not we are actually happy now.
All of this is taking a toll on my marriage and I am not sure how to deal with it. I’d also like to know if this is normal.
Thanks in advance for your advice. We are looking forward to hearing your suggestions.
You appear to be experiencing transference in your relationship with your husband. Transference is when someone transfers the negative feelings he or she feels toward one person who is important onto someone else.
Your attitude is a key issue in your marriage. If you believe that you are happy, you will in fact be happy – as happiness is a state of mind. Therefore, it is not healthy to think negatively.
It sounds as if you have worked on your personhood. The fact that you are so aware of your issues demonstrates your strengths. Take advantage of this and work on improving the way you respond to your husband. Just believe that you can find positive ways to react – once you believe that you can, it will be easier to do!
There is something called the Imago Theory that I often employ in therapy sessions. Basically it allows people to recreate their imago – the image of their own childhood in their lives and in their marriages.
What often happens during the dating process is that you are attracted to someone who, in your mind, may resemble one or both of your parents. This may present challenging issues to you (and possibly to your spouse as well) in your marriage. You may want to subconsciously recreate your childhood problems and work them out through your marriage. At times, even if your husband does not really behave like your father but does certain things that sometimes remind you of your father, you may overreact to those things because of your childhood.
As to your important question about whether your situation is normal: it falls within that category. But please remember to reasonably do what it takes to fight your negative feelings and the overall depressing cycle.
Since your husband is attempting to not allow you to recreate your childhood, you may need individual therapy. While as you say your marriage is good right now, you are falling into the trap of responding the way your mother responded to your father.
Much of what is transpiring is not on a conscious level. Thus, a therapist will hopefully be able to help you focus and build your positives. Through the building of those strengths, you will enhance your chances of overcoming your nisyonos (challenges) in life. I honestly believe that it will be difficult for you to change the way you respond to your husband without professional help.
Keep in mind that the therapist’s personality is key to your success in being helped. Seek a therapist who is cognitive-behavioral and solution-oriented. In order to conquer your problem, help the therapist in his or her attempt to focus on all of your strengths.