Wife Speak: Do we really marry our parents?


The reason we end up with partners who eerily remind us of our parents is because of what psychology calls, brain bias - familiarity.

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Poor sods, yes we marry our parents, whether we fight it, deny it, or go out of our way to avoid them, our brains are unconsciously and irresistibly drawn to spouses that eerily behave and remind us of our parents.

You grew up with a father who was emotionally detached? You most likely ended up with a wife who is the same or a husband just like your dad. Your spouse has five or fifty characteristics like either of your parents.

The reason we end up with partners who eerily remind us of our parents is because of what psychology calls, brain bias - familiarity. We are drawn to the familiar. We are ‘safe’ even in the dysfunction because it is known, it is our norm, it feels like home.

We unconsciously chose a parental figure, which of course keeps us in cycles, mostly of dysfunction. This should jolt us to self-reflection.

Are you the kind of husband you would wish on your daughter? Are you the kind of wife you would wish on your son?

 Subconscious relationship

Because your child’s subconscious relationship radar will be drawn to a spouse with your characteristics. I do not mean the coincidental ones, such as your parent has an extra finger therefore your spouse will have an extra digit.

 My mom had congenital anosmia – let me save you from searching. It is one of the rare disorders where someone is born with no sense of smell. Coincidentally, I married a man with a limited sense of smell. Which I only learnt months later in the marriage.

 Gifting him a cologne remains a wasted effort. This however is not an issue and not the brain bias that psychology is talking about. The problem is when there are dysfunctions that attract us to our spouses because they are familiar.

 Think of the wife who is abused, battered or one who puts up with a habitually drunk and irresponsible husband. Think of the husband who has to walk on eggshells because the wife is perpetually at war with him, his relatives and friends and even colleagues. John Watson (1878-1958) a psychologist has an answer. “Humans are complex machines that respond to situations according to their ‘wiring’ or nerve pathways conditioned by reflex…”

In other words, we behave the way we do, not because of hereditary factors but more because of the way we have been socialised by our environment. Our root family sets the foundation of who we turn out to be, but most importantly, of who we marry. Our burden as parents and as spouses is, who are we churning out?

What kind of future wife and husband am I conditioning my child to choose? Another psychologist, Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) - he of the Classical Conditioning theory - would tell us that the people who continue to live in abusive marriages have been ‘conditioned’ to behave that way.

 The reason we are victims of brain bias is first because it feels familiar hence, it feels safe. Secondly, it is our brain’s weird way of attempting to correct what was wrong with our parents. Twisted, yes? Your mom was timid because your dad was a bully? You probably will marry a spouse who might be either timid or a bully and enters that union on day one with your missiles and barricades all up.

A small argument will become a full-blown world war and any minuscule correction will result in a defensive argument that even the articulate Elias Mutuma could offer you an internship.

Was it just me who watched, awe-struck, as he defended the Meru Governor impeachment case and wondered, how does his spouse win an argument? Calm collected and not breaking a sweat while his colleague at the other end of the table drowned bottle after bottle of water to replace the perspiration.

Is there hope of escaping brain bias? Pavlov goes on to explain how the conditioned reflex becomes repressed if the stimulus proves “wrong” too often. You can start with a self-reflection exercise. Identify the behaviour in your spouse that is alike to either of your parents.

 How do you feel about their behaviour? Please, do not go bashing them, reminding them how much they behave like your father or mother. You chose them. Focus on you and on how to change your reaction towards them. Are you putting up defences and world wars when it is not necessary? Do you take a simple correction as criticism? Heal you.

Karimi is a wife who believes in marriage. [email protected]