Love Lingers Here: Enduring Intimate Relationships IV: The New Self and Founding Story
Without a whole lot of reflection, Bev decided to marry. Terrell and he might either have found a woman he could trust or have left Bev in order not to get burned again. But then an. intrusive life event impacted on both of their lives. Terrell became ill and was suddenly dependent on Bev. This not only exacerbated his fears regarding abandonment, but also shattered his sense of being an independent, carefree male who could take or leave women. Thus, Terrell is left with old ghosts that continue to haunt him, turning him into an aloof and punitive partner. He was unable to leave behind his punishing past, and Bev has become a second victim of this past.
We offer this one example of a very troubled relationship to illustrate how “ghosts” from the past can haunt a relationship. We can turn to a second couple to find a more positive example of confronting one’s ghosts. As in the case of Terrell and Bev, both Ricardo and Dottie grew up in dysfunctional families. Neither Ricardo nor Dottie liked the ways in which their own parents related to one another. They have tried from their first days together to make their own pattern of relating to one another different. In fact, they both identified this effort to be different as a mutually supportive bond between them that allows each of them the freedom to make decisions that would be best for them as individuals and as a couple.
Dottie’s parents were both alcoholic. Her father had “berated” and “degraded” her mother. Sometimes he “wouldn’t talk with her” for long periods of time. Her parents were both mental health professionals, but were very competitive with one another in their profession. Dottie’s father “used his caustic humor to distance himself from both his wife and daughter. Ricardo was the youngest of seven in a poor Mexican family. He also had an alcoholic father who would “yell and scream” and sometimes beat his mother. After long, loud and some-Limes violent arguments with his wife, Ricardo’s father would leave home for several days at a time.
Initially, Ricardo and Dottie began to replicate the patterns of their parents. Dottie had been married twice before and in each case her husband had abandoned her. With regard to their own relationship, Ricardo left Dottie several times over a twelve year period, after very heated arguments. They had avoided making a firm commitment to one another, and only decided to make a solid commitment after ten years of turbulent interaction. This commitment paid off for both of them. They spent considerable time learning how to communicate with one another without controlling each other. Their success required them to adopt a style other than the “constant fighting and yelling” that had formed Ricardo’s early experience and the “coldness and criticism” that had formed Dottie’s.