How do we define a ‘healthy’ relationship? More to the point how do we define a healthy relationship if we have never had one, or we have recently come out of a destructive and abusive one?
One of the main reasons that some people seem to repeat destructive patterns is because they are drawn to that which is familiar. So if we grew up in a home where the father figure was controlling, abusive or violent, then we could well be drawn to that type of energy when we seek a mate. Not because we enjoyed the abuse or have decided that we want someone just like Dad, but because we feel that we KNOW that energy and are therefore naturally drawn to it.
Childhood is the place where we learn to be adults. We play dress up, we copy the things that our caregivers say and do and when we are adults we recognise and relate to similar energies and people to the ones we knew as children.
When a young man grows up without a father, he only knows a world where women take care of everything. They have the children, they work, they provide for the family and they do all of this without a man. So when this boy becomes a man what does he see as his role within a family? Does he see himself as the person who supports his partner, who plays an important role in the lives of his children and takes on full responsibility for them? Why would he? He didnt come from a world where this was case!
In his world, his mother was left to fill the roles of both mother and father, therefore he may see his partner as either perfectly capable of coping without him, or being responsible for him in the same way that she is responsible for her children. He never had a father and therefore has very little idea of how to BE a father. If the woman concerned also grew up without a father, then this will be further compounded by the fact that she also grew up in a world where a woman took care of everything and she may have no benchmark by which to measure any man in her life. To her – men dont stick around so when she meets a man who runs, its accepted as something that happens.
Then we have the abused woman who finally manages to summon the strength to escape her abuser. This is not to be underestimated. Abusers do not show who they are early in a relationship, in fact the opposite is often true. He will be charming, caring, attentive and appear to be a dream come true. The abuse creeps in slowly and insidiously, chipping away at her self esteem a little at a time until she is so used to being treated in a certain way, so used to walking on egg shells to keep the peace, that she becomes a shadow of her former self, she becomes CONDITIONED to the life she now leads.
Breaking free of such a situation takes massive strength and courage, often when she is emotionally drained and at her lowest point, but sadly the story doesnt end with leaving an abuser. Years of conditioning have distorted her view of what is normal, healthy and acceptable. She is likely to attract, and be attracted to, a very similar type of person to the one she just escaped. Someone who was just like her ex when she met him, someone who shows her kindness after years of abuse, someone who knows exactly what to say and do to hook her, and it wont be hard, because to her, warning signs that would be glaringly obvious to anyone else, will be missed, disregarded or even written off as paranoia due to what she experienced from the last relationship.
When we enter a relationship, it is vitally important to look closely at what the other person brings to the table. All too often we will assess someone based on looks, income, intelligence, standard of living and how we interact in the early stages. These things are all important factors but we should give equal importance to how someone was raised, what happened in their previous relationships, and if they share our values. We have all been conditioned to a certain extent, but trying to form a relationship with someone who has had a very different life experience may be more trouble that its worth.
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By Fiona Beck