One of the most seemingly mundane ideas of psychoanalytic theory is that people often end up, unconsciously, marrying their parents. Despite the banality of this statement, it provokes reflection and thought. It turns out that there is much more to the notion than a simple declaration – this relationship trajectories offer insight into the inner workings of the human psyche and its connection to intimacy.
History has evidenced that human relationships have been enmeshed in a complex web of psychology, biology, and sociology, which are constantly being negotiated to address the individual needs. This very same idea is legitimized by the psychoanalytical notion that we marry our parents. At first glance, this statement can seem outrageous or even offensive but psychoanalysis unveils the concept as a way to gain an understanding of current relationship dynamics and its evolution.
The notion of marrying someone’s parent centers on the notion of seeking familiarity in a romantic partner as a way to alleviate anxiety and fulfill our attachment needs. In light of this, an adult will select a partner with attributes similar to those of the parent(s); the consistent presence of these qualities creates a sense of comfort for the individual, as s/he believes it to be the suitable source of protection, understanding and connection from their childhood. It is argued that this is an unconscious process – we don’t consciously know that this is what we are seeking, yet it remains an effective method in relieving feelings of unease.
Likewise, while our attachment needs are met by a partner that encourages safety and trust, our unconscious implies that we look for partners to complete unresolved family issues or ‘unfinished business’ between us and our parents. This phenomenon is explained by the premise that individuals will readjust their expectations for a partner with regard to past memories of relationships with parents. It is assumed that this does not necessarily mean searching for a replica of a parent, but rather a subconscious attempt to ‘complete’ the missing piece from our relationship to them.
Furhtermore, though it can be discomforting to some, the ‘marriage our parent(s)’ notion may even extend beyond codependency. It can also be used to explain liberation from one’s parental figure through defiance or autonomy, even if achieved through imitating them. Thus, it need not always suggest that an adult will resort to mimicking a familiar figure, but an adoption of certain traits or preferences in order to create individuation in a person’s transference of mechanisms. This concept may help explain the profound meaning behind why we choose the partners we do and consequently either repeat or reject our past familial experiences.
Whether consciously or subconsciously, we often build our relationships upon familiar foundations. Through connecting similarities between parental figures and romantic partners, we explore our aspirations, fears, and feelings in order to navigate the mysteries of our emotional landscape. Psychoanalysis offers invaluable insight into this strange and wondrous part of the human experience.
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