This is how our relationship with our mother affects our partnership

Mothers Day has established itself in the Western world since 1914. Since then, Mother’s Day is celebrated in many countries on the second Sunday in May.Photo: shutterstock

On Sunday our mothers are celebrated. In an interview, marriage therapist Birgit Kollmayer explains how our ancestors affected our relationships and what we can learn from them.

Helen Obrist
Helen Obrist

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Mrs. Kollmeyer, before I ask you about the problems husbands come to you about most often, I would like to take the liberty of asking you a personal question.
Please.

You are the mother of two sons. What do you think of Mother’s Day?
It’s a very busy day. I still feel happy when I feel appreciated. For example, when my sons ask if we want to do something together on Mother’s Day. When they used to give gifts at school, I was always happy about it.

Birgit Kollmayer has a PhD in Psychology and has been self-employed for couples and sex therapists since 2012. She works in couples counseling and mediation in the canton of Zurich.  She has two sons with her partner.

Birgit Kollmayer has a PhD in Psychology and has been self-employed for couples and sex therapists since 2012. She works in couples counseling and mediation in the canton of Zurich. She has two sons with her partner. Photo: zvg

It would be even nicer if you also received gifts during the year.
Naturally. But Mother’s Day is a bit like Christmas. You also celebrate and enjoy it when you are given attention and affection.

Let’s stay on the topic of mother. Does our relationship with our mother affect the partnership?
The short answer is yes. More than you imagine.

and long?
How we grow up and the way we experience upbringing in the early years of life has an impact on how we lead a relationship.

It seems we are doomed to become like our mothers.
No, I don’t mean it that way. Learned behavior does not have to be final. You can always learn something new and reconsider or change behavior patterns.

“When I learned as a child that I couldn’t rely on my mother, I learned that relationships are unreliable.”

what about you? Does your relationship with your mother affect your relationship with your husband?
It certainly happens. But good question, I don’t even know if I’ve handled it enough (smiles). There are definitely moments when I realize that I act like my mom a lot. But there are also situations in which her reaction will be different from what she does.

Can you be more specific? What behavioral patterns did you learn from your mother in childhood and then transition into a relationship?
When I learned as a child that I couldn’t rely on my mother, I learned that relationships are unreliable. Then I experienced that I could only trust myself and no one else. This can affect the partnership.

Our relationship with our mother also affects our partnership, says a couples therapist.

Our relationship with our mother also affects our partnership, says a couples therapist. Photo: shutterstock

How do you get rid of this pattern of behavior?
Everything that has been learned can also be learned. It is important to have new experiences in which you feel confident and to learn that there are relationships that you can rely on. I think it is important to realize that it is difficult to trust others. If you are aware of this, you can start working on yourself and the relationship.

We just now talked about the relationship with the mother. How is the relationship with the father?
I won’t make any difference. You learn the same from your relationship with your father. If the father is directly involved, perhaps even during pregnancy, in contact with the child, he can play exactly the same important role for the child as the mother.

To sum up: how our parents raised us influence how relationships are formed.
Not only but also. If I can give another concrete example?

Please.
For example, if I learned as a child that I not only get love, but that I have to do something for it – eg, be more adaptable or perform well, then I become a somewhat anxious attachment type.

Can I then also transfer this pattern of learned behavior into a partnership?
maybe yes. Then I might get the impression that my partner is withdrawing because I’m not good enough. Maybe then I’ll do my best to get to know her. This can be especially difficult when I meet someone in an avoidance relationship type. In other words, a person who quickly feels constrained and anxious about their independence the closer they get.

“Many husbands only come to me when it is too late.”

Is all of this really related to early childhood experiences?
Yes, different types of attachment develop in childhood and are later influenced by further relationship history. However, there is one thing I would like to mention in this context.

yes?
It is wrong to think that your parents are to blame for everything. Every mother, every father does his best. But parents make mistakes. There is no point in just arguing with her. It helps to also think about what you are grateful for your parents. What do you value in your mother? What advice did your father give you along the way?

I have been a couples therapist for over ten years. Do husbands sometimes come to you where you see so little hope?
This happens over and over again. Unfortunately, couples therapy has not yet been proven. Many husbands only come to me when it is too late. In fact, I often get the impression that it has become very difficult to resolve conflicts.

Do you tell the couple that too?
No, I will not do that. Not because I want to prevent something from them, but because I know I might be wrong, too. Sometimes I don’t know if it is still possible to change the tide with the couple. Then suddenly it develops very positively. But there are also couples whose problems seem to be compressed and limited. But then suddenly many conflicts arise and the process becomes difficult. So I always leave it up to the couple in the end. No matter where he is or whether I find the disputes too serious; If they both want to work on the relationship, I try to support them.

How old was the youngest couple you ever counseled?
under 18.

Did that surprise her?
It amazes me when you have the awareness at such a young age that a relationship also means work and that it pays to seek professional help. But I am positively surprised, this is a very good development!

It's not just mothers that affect our relationships.  Parents can also shape the way we live and love, says Birgit Kollmayer, a couples therapist.

It’s not just mothers that affect our relationships. Parents can also shape the way we live and love, says Birgit Kollmayer, a couples therapist. Photo: shutterstock

Talk about positive. Are you happy when you can save partnerships?
I do not save them, the spouses do it themselves. But of course, I’m happy with that. It’s always good to see when couples can talk to each other better again and when there’s suddenly more joy and comfort in the relationship. But it can also be a positive outcome when both realize that they can no longer work together and that the couple dares to go their separate ways. Keeping the relationship alive is not always the ultimate goal of couples counseling.

If you had to identify three major conflict areas that you encounter over and over again. Which would it be?
To be sure, chronic conflicts and the absence of personal exchange are the big issues. I hear the phrase “my partner doesn’t understand me” a lot. Then over and over I have husbands where someone cheated or had an affair or a side affair. This is a situation where many couples reach their limits and then seek help so they don’t have to deal with it on their own. Parenting plays a major role for parents. For a childless couple, it is often a matter of balancing different areas of life. Questions such as: How important are one’s interests? What is the importance of time with your partner?

Does the perfect relationship exist?
I haven’t seen anything yet (laughs). Counter-question: Does a perfect relationship have to exist?

It looks kind of tired.
I think it’s important that you don’t look for a perfect relationship either. Because then you have unrealistic expectations that cannot be achieved in reality. Partnership is always accompanied by problems, conflicts and crises. This is completely normal. Rather, the important question is: Do you succeed in dealing with the problems and conflicts in the relationship? Can you overcome stress together? If I could do that, I would call it a very healthy relationship.

In other words, a good relationship requires arguments.
Yeah. A relationship needs friction and arguments. It is also not good when spouses always agree and go through life almost symbiotically. A healthy distance is necessary even to feel attraction and passion. When you’re stuck together all the time, what else do you yearn for?

“A relationship needs friction and arguments.”

So you say a little conflict makes it exciting.
I’m sure of that. However, disagreements should always be constructive. Nobody should get hurt. This is something I try to convey in the consultations.

Would you say that relationships are more complex than they were 50 years ago?
Tough question. I think we know better today how important personal exchange is. That in relationships two different people always meet, and they have to share and coordinate with each other. Relationships mean commitment. We certainly know that better today than we did 50 years ago.

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