“Attention: Indianapolis Marriage Counseling….it’s not just about your parents!”
By: Javan
April 29, 2012

Our marriage counseling is heavily based on the family systems paradigm. Many of our Indianapolis area married couples who are seeking counseling originally believe that marriage counseling begins with the marital issues. This is not true. To understand issues of intimacy within a marriage, we need to start from the beginning. That means the beginning is at the beginning,which is not the middle or the end, based on the relationships of our youth. Seems logical enough, but all that seems to be forgotten by the time we reach our late 20s or by the time we’ve reached a point in our lives where we have had our fair share of broken relationships and disappointments. To connect the dots, it’s helpful to ask yourself questions like, “Did you ever feel like you don’t fit into your family? Have you always felt that your siblings just don’t get you? Have you struggled with intimate relationships when you were dating and now have issues in your marriage?” Your sibling relationships can also find their way into your marital issues. Many of the ways we relate to each other is based on past learned experiences in older relationships. We are a product of our emotional learning. How you handle closeness witnot-just-about-parentsh people can be seen in how you handle closeness with your family of origin, like with siblings and parental figures.


Siblings are an important part of the family tree assessment we complete at Family Tree Counseling. How one child experiences their family can be very different from another child from the same family. This is important to understand in order to gain a complete understanding of parenting styles. It works the same way with personal preference. One person may like pasta and another prefers fresh-baked bread more than pasta. Neither is right or wrong, but reflects a greater importance of one thing over another.  I recently had a client describe how her parents took her to a counselor when she was a young teenager to help her address her “issues” with communication. Her brother seemed to not have any issues with communication, so her parents assumed it must be their daughter’s issue.

It has since been almost 25 years and she explained how she and her husband never communicate well. In earlier therapy sessions, she had a defensiveness around accepting some responsibility for her reactions. Her husband complained about feeling like he couldn’t do anything right, that he worked long hours, and was exhausted listening to her criticize him for other things. He felt unsafe to talk about his feelings. They eventually separated and could not reconcile. The story is sad but the truth is, both parties felt like victims of the other one’s reactions. Her abandonment issues were so big, that she evenot-just-about-parents-2ntually re-created abandonment in her adult life and he has so much shame around being competent that he could not tolerate another triggering, unsafe criticism from his wife. His reactivity looks like cutting, running, and pain killing while her reactivity looks like raging and complaining.

Looking back into their lives, this is the same way that she communicated with her family. The family decided “she was the one with the communication issue” and went to a counselor. The counselor, according to my client, stated that the issue was not with her  but with her parents.  She needed more of their time and attention, to feel heard about her daily struggles, but this was not being provided.  Based on this experience in her past, my client has continued to carry the shame of the blame for being unable to have her need met. By blaming herself for the loss of intimacy with her parents, her shame allows her to remain trapped in the belief that she could have done something differently than what she did, so her parents could love her. The truth must be that she was not doing enough to gain her needs in the relationship. The burden to be able to stay connected fell on her shoulders. Now that she is an adult, this burden is carried into the marriage.

Her husband’s story is that he was the good boy in the family, doing everything his parents asked him to do so he would remain in good standing. He learned to focus on gaining his parents’ approval since his father was highly critical and based on the chaotic and challenging relationship his brother had with his parents. My client decided not to fall into the trap of being the “bad” son and began shutting down internally, not expressing his feelings, keeping  his emotions hidden. Eventually his own needs would become a mystery, because of how much he abandoned himself, and his wife’s constant need for attachment would drive him further away.

not-just-about-parents-3 Now the siblings of these two people have very different interactions with their parents. Though they may agree on the issues in general, how these issues were managed in childhood is what makes each sibling different in intimate relationships. So, what do you think about your relationship with your sibling? How much of your family do you see in your sibling today? How have you defined yourself in reflection of an older or younger sibling?

Seeking marriage counseling at Family Tree Counseling in Carmel, Indiana is a great first step to gaining a better understanding of yourself and who you are in your marriage. It’s easy to forget where we have been, especially when it’s been many years, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t still struggling with the demons of our past. Your marriage will reflect parts of your life that come from your past, because you have created it. You have drawn to you all the things that you are emotionally accustomed to dealing with and need to resolve. It is nature’s way of finding balance and peace. If you’re looking for a way to start marriage counseling, start your journey with Family Tree Counseling. Give me a call!