A very dear friend who is a psychotherapist, Dr. Kathy Memel, uses the family tree to unlock the lessons we learned in our families of origin. Understanding where our behavior came from especially inso far as it relates to the way we choose relationships and the way we behave in relationships, is critical to our relationship health. When divorce clients call me and explain the confusing behavior of their soon-to-be former spouses, I always ask the following: “Are their parents living? If so, …” is all I have to say when the light goes on and people immediately start comparing their spouse’s behavior in the marriage to what is seen in the marriage of their spouse’s parents. This is why I believe it’s critical to understand how we learned about relationship skills, and equally important how we understand the relationship behavior of spouses.
Not only does the family tree affect adult relationships, but also the way in which people parent their children. So much of our behavior is learned behavior from our childhood, even though we think we’ve shed the shackles of what we’ve perceived to be unhealthy behavior from our parents. We have muscle memory that unconsciously directs our exhibited behavior.
Therapy is the way forward, but therapy with a professional who teaches the family tree. The importance of the family tree to treating people is a wedge in the community of therapists. Not all therapists see the relevance of the family tree; they have to be interviewed and asked if they do family systems work. If they don’t, ask which modality they work in. Not all therapy is alike. Therapists don’t all agree on the approaches to take in treatment. There are many schools of thought to use.
As a mediator I work with people who are getting divorced for many different reasons. Although I’m not a therapist, I am handed people’s emotions within the context of mediating for them. There are times when I have to pause to allow people to be emotional, to discuss their relationship and why they can’t continue to be together. And sometimes people start talking about the behavior of their spouses when they initially call to introduce themselves and learn about me. When I’m listening to the behavior of the other spouse being described to me, I simply ask the following: “Did you get to know his/her parents?” That’s all I need to say when the lightbulb goes on and people start to figure out that adult behavior harkens back to childhood family environment in which we learn about people, relationships through our parents, and life and relationship coping skills.
For all of you reading this Blog, if you have questions about why your spouse, or any friend or family member behaves as they do, start asking questions about their family relationships. You’ll learn so much about the person you’re in relationship with, and this knowledge could be the key to either keeping the relationship together, or forgiving that person of their behavior, and possibly forging a better relationship even if the marriage has to end if co-parenting is about to begin.
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