“Hey, Honey, I’m Home!”
When we go home to our spouses, we walk through the door into two homes. It is the home we’ve built with…in…and around our spouse in the here-and-now. And, like it or not, it is the home of our childhood. Here’s why.
We are all like bears and deer.
Bears automatically—instinctively—know to be attracted to bears, not deer. They don’t even “think” about it. They just are. That’s how they’re built. So too with deer. You can’t put a deer on the psychoanalytic couch to help it figure out why it was drawn to this or that deer, and not a bear. Deer can’t talk. They don’t use language to manipulate their world in their imagination. So they don’t reflect on themselves. At least, not like we can.
Yet we act the same way. We’re drawn to another automatically—instinctively—because that’s how we’re built. We’re built that way genetically. But, we’re also built that way by family. Our adult minds were actually forged by the good, bad, and ugly patterns that we grew up with. That’s the way it was for all of us; there was no escaping it.
So when we were attracted to our future spouses the sense of “falling for” the other wasn’t driven only by the good we saw. Love never is. Believe it or not, we all were also drawn by the bad and ugly we saw in them as well. All of us. No one escapes this. Don’t get me wrong. We weren’t drawn consciously. That’s because we didn’t consciously recognize most of the bad and ugly while we were dating. No one does. It wasn’t only because we were young and “dumb.” It’s not that simple. It happens at all ages. It’s that we were unaware. Just like bears and deer. We were in our own skin. We saw the world through the eyes of a mind forged by the bad and ugly we grew up with. We couldn’t see others any other way.
That’s why at a large party a woman abused growing up will eventually find the one man at that same party who is capable of abuse. And the man capable of abuse will eventually find that one woman who will take it. They’re both drawn to the bad and ugly they grew up with. They’re both drawn to the bad and ugly in the other—thinking that their draw is “love.”
We all do that. Often, we give those core patterns a creative twist. And sometimes we advance ourselves while doing so. Still, we’re drawn to the same bad and ugly that we grew up with.
I chronicled my own story in From Torment to Trust. In looking back at my parents, I pointed out a number of good character traits my parents maintained while floundering in their misery and damaging me terribly. What I didn’t share was that my parents’ good traits of sincerity, loyalty, hard work, and belief in Jesus Christ were the traits I was drawn to in my future wife. I also advanced myself tremendously with her. My mother was a profoundly depressed alcoholic who was so distant…so disengaged…so drunk so much of the time…that I cannot recall her voice. My wife? She’s charming, engaging, dynamic, and talkative as heck. After forty-four years of marriage, we still have a wonderful chemistry together.
Having said that—though I’m not going to give you the salacious details of our “dirty laundry”!–my wife had been drawn to my bad and ugly because it was like her mother’s. It had been forged in me by my father. And the bad and ugly I was drawn to in my wife was like my mother’s. It had been forged in her by her father. My future wife and I only knew a sliver of a sliver of this consciously. Not just because we were young and dumb. But because we were blind. It took us years to discover the more painful details of our mutual bad and ugly—but it happened only after we had signed on the dotted line. As disciples of Christ, we had a lot of “crucifying” of our old natures to do. And we did.
Why do we all do this? It’s crazy.
We do it because it’s familiar. We don’t know any better. Just like bears and deer.
We do it because it’s our love language. We have no other.
We do it in order to fix it.
It really is a strange reality built into all of us. I keep saying “all of us” because it really is all of us. Don’t think you and your spouse are any exception. You guys may be a wonderful couple, and, if so, good for you. My wife and I are a wonderful couple. Kudos to us for getting there. But the fact is, the game is still the same. It is only a matter of which bad and ugly you both have…and how intense it is. The strangeness of it all is that we are magnetically drawn to fix the bad and ugly in our spouses as a way to fix the bad and ugly we grew up with. If our mutual bad and ugly are damaging enough to the relationship—and intense enough—we will, at the same time we are drawn, both hate it and be absolutely maddened by it. After all, we grew up with it. Now, as the veil of denial lifts, we discover we’ve married it. That hatred—that madness—is what brings marriages down.
Like the brilliant light of the all-consuming flame that inexorably draws the moth, the brilliance of our mutual good, bad, and ugly that draws us…is also what destroys us.
Welcome, once again, to the psychopathology of our everyday living.