Wright Foundation | September 30, 2015

When Couples Fight:
“You’re Just Like Your Dad”


How many of us have been told, “You’re just like your dad,” or maybe you’ve even directed something similar at your partner in a heated moment?

This common accusation comes into play in many discussions, arguments and fights. It tends to be at the root of many relationship contentions….and rightly so. Neuroscience tells us it turns out good ol’ Freud was right about a few things. Much of our personality and attitudes are programmed while we’re still with mom and dad, and some of it before we’re even aware or can even do anything about it.

We Get More Than Our Genes From Our Parents

Our underlying thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behavior patterns are formed in our infancy and early childhood. By age seven, this “program” is already running our interactions, making up the basis of who we are. It forms our emotional intelligence and shapes our understanding of social interactions. Who’s at the center of your social universe as a child? Your parents, of course!

We have many of our parents’ personality traits and we’re dealing with a lot of this baggage way before we ever meet our partner. It doesn’t make the words “you’re just like your family” any less cutting, however.

We may have identified things about our parents we resent or there may be expectations and disappointments we’re fighting against and trying to resolve.

We may be drawn to people who react to us in familiar ways and suddenly we find our spouse does something that triggers us in the same way our mother, sister or brother did. Instantly we become the defensive, hurt little kid once more or we find ourselves bending over backwards to please someone we perceive is withholding the approval we yearn for. You can see how this family business gets messy.

Take Charge of Your Emotions and Reactions

When you’re engaged in transformational work, you learn how to examine yourself so you can work to overcome limiting beliefs and take responsibility for your emotions and choices. You can stop reacting in the ways your parents showed you and you can move beyond the self-fulfilling prophecies.

Is it easy? No! Maybe your family swept things under the rug so well, you can’t even identify the lumps. (But I guarantee your partner will be able to—just ask.) Nobody’s perfect, even if you’ve put your parents up on a pedestal. Maybe you’re fighting against the limiting belief you can’t trust others because your trust was broken as a young child and in turn this causes you to act in untrustworthy ways as a defense.

We all bring things into the relationship and we need to move away from blaming our partner for any unhappiness we bring in. We all desire trust and we want to be accurately seen and heard in the here and now with positive regard, consistently and unconditionally. Our partner desires this too, just as our parents and grandparents before them yearned for it in their relationships.

The one truth about our family dynamics and our relationships with our parents is there’s no way to escape them. It’s something you have to face if you want to move forward and let go of things imprinted on your personality early in life. It definitely means you need to work on yourself and you need to engage with your partner. It may also mean you and your partner need to resolve some issues with your family members, especially as you introduce your partner to your family and grow together.

When we move into adulthood and let go of mother’s apron strings, we still bring with us the notions of intimacy and abandonment, as well as coping techniques and triggers into our closest relationships. Our partner does the same. Sometimes trying to understand where your partner’s coming from means you need to sit down with your parent-in-law or sibling-in-laws and say, “Hey, this is who I am and these things are important to me.” Get to know them, let them get to know you, and express your limits and feelings.

Chances are you won’t change those deep dark family behaviors, but you will gain an understanding of your spouse and how they react and interact in a relationship. You will then be able to work with them openly and honestly (and vice versa) as you identify what’s positive about your matrix and where your limiting beliefs lie.

Bringing Your Self to Each Relationship

From Jung, we learn about the shadow self. From Freud, the unconscious self. The root of our psyche is based in our past and comes largely from dear old mom and dad. By identifying the positives and the negatives, and examining it in a critical and clear light, you will both learn from them and overcome the limitations holding you back.

So the next time your partner says, “You’re just like your dad,” stop and hear what’s really being said. What’s the behavior you’re being called out on and why does it bother you? Start to do transformational work and the answer will become clear. We’re all a product of our parents, so the things we can learn from them and about them help us grow and move forward.

For more ways to regulate your emotions and become an expert at conflict resolution, visit Wright Now. We offer an array of courses geared to help you learn more about yourself, your career, and your relationships. So don’t miss out on the life you want. Go for it now!

Blog post image courtesy: Flickr user 59632563@N04.

Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.