Stephen R. Treat, DMin, LMFT
Many adults face difficulties in their relationships, because becoming intimate with another person can be a daunting task. Challenges and hardship in childhood; family dynamics; societal challenges around feeling loved, included and acknowledged all contribute later in life to the ability to choose a mate well, or allow a partner to get close to you. Being vulnerable is hard. It's often translated and experienced by people as a fear of the danger of being used or taken advantage of.
In understanding issues of intimacy, personal growth or therapeutic intervention, it can often be helpful to explore an individual's childhood experience, development throughout their life and skills of interaction and relationship. Another helpful direction, which can be very difficult but also holds great rewards, is connecting with your parents, processing issues out loud and discussing personal history. The health of an adult's relationship with his/her parent(s) is very highly correlated with the ability to form a healthy intimate relationship with a partner.
It takes courage to have a meaningful and in depth conversation with a parent . The following are a few ideas which might contribute to a better experience:
Speak to each parent alone, not together. When together, parents sometimes defend the other or add their own editorial and the dynamic is changed. You're aiming for a one-on-one, adult child to parent conversation.
Ask your parent about their own upbringing. Your understanding of your parent’s perspective about his/her life and the and the difficulties he/she may have experienced can create context and foster empathy.
Create a safe environment for your parent to open up. Try to listen as an equal, with an empathetic ear. They are no longer raising you. Whatever mistakes they made are hopefully in the past. Try to stay in the present as you speak/listen. You are now an adult and your anger and judgment can greatly hinder the openness and intimacy you'd like to have in your relationship, or at least in this conversation. Resist the (natural) urge to repeat old harmful dynamics, which just re-injure both parties.
If anger or hurt overwhelm you, stop. It might be worth the small investment to hire a qualified family therapist to help guide the process.
Remember that with pain in one’s background, a person usually tends to have "all or nothing" perspectives. Work at transcending all or nothing thinking and explore history and relationships from multiple and balanced perspectives (not just yours). We are all human beings with strength and weaknesses. Practice forgiveness, compassion and understanding... and you'll be amazed at the effect it has on your own relationships and life.
Dr. Stephen R. Treat is CEO and Director of Council for Relationships. He is a Senior Therapist, Speaker, Teacher and regular contributor to TV, Radio and Newspaper programs. He can be reached at 215-382-6680 x3123.
For more relationship advice, check out our Archive of Relationship Tips.