"Your mother hates me. And it hurts a lot." Jen spoke softly.

Jake didn't waste a minute to strike out. "If you were friendlier and warmer to her, she'd like you."

Jen's voice rose as she said, "So it's my fault again. I'm friendly and warm, but she's mean to me. If you were a man, you'd stand up for me."

"A man? You must be kidding. Who do you think pays your credit cards? You're irresponsible and flighty. Maybe that's why my mother doesn't like you." He continued to defend and attack.

And Jen countered angrily, "How can you defend that witch? As for irresponsible, I'm anything but that. I'm generous and kind, not like you. You're stingy and withholding, not just about money, but you ration sex with me."

Jake directed his voice at me, "See how she turns it around and blames me. She doesn't work, she spend tons of money, and nothing is ever enough for her. I don't find that sexy."

"It's always something I do, never about him. Like I said, he's not a man. He's a Momma's boy." Jen attacked right back.

"There she goes again Doc. She's just jealous because she doesn't have a good relationship with her family. They're all crazy." Jake said.

The blame game was underway.

It may be hard to believe, but Jen and Jake is a couple who claim to love each other. And they do in a way. But clearly they don't like each other. The problem lies in their interaction. They have a need to blame, attack, and defend each other ─ all in the name of being right. What lies at the core of this blame game?

On the surface, you find two ‘strong-minded' people, both with fixed, rigid opinions and behaviors. Dig a little deeper and you will find just the opposite of strong, The are instead two fragile people who hold onto their rightness for dear life. Why? They both suffer from poor self esteem.

Two types of trees come to mind here. Well rooted and nourished, when a strong wind blows, one tree is flexible, bends to the wind, and does not topple over. Another tree not as well rooted and nourished, in the wake of a strong wind, breaks and topples over. The latter type of tree resembles the weak sense of self characterized by the rigid, fixed personalities of Jen and Jake. 

Part of the problems stem from their early childhoods. In the case of Jen, her mother had a miscarriage five months after Jen was born. Her father had left the family before she was born, so that the double loss sent her mother spiraling down into a deep depression. In the wake of grief, her mother was unable to respond to baby Jen in an optimal way. Jen grew up feeling she was not lovable and that there was something wrong with her. Sure enough this old script was playing out afresh in her relationship with Jake.

Although Jake's childhood differed from Jen's, his childhood also managed to foster a child with a weak sense of self. His mother who did not love her husband doted on her only child Jake. She overprotected him coddled him, and constantly told him how smart, handsome and special he was. If a teacher gave him a hard time, she blamed the teacher and said Jake was right. If a child got into a fight with Jake, she blamed the child who she claimed was in the wrong. And so on it went. Jake grew up believing he was always right and so he never learned to take responsibility for his part in the problem. He actually feared that if he was wrong about anything, he was worthless. For him it was all good and right or all bad and wrong. This was the old script playing havoc in his relationship with Jen.

In therapy, Jen and Jake began to examine how their old childhood dynamics were finding fresh face in their relationship and causing pain. They both felt ashamed of how they were inadvertently hurting each other. Determined to get their relationship right meant creating change, listening to the other person's views, respecting their separateness, and realizing that they would be stronger individually and as a couple. As their relationship is evolving, I see not only love, but lust on the way.

Email: drpraver@cs.com
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Love Doc

Plumbing the depths of the psychology and neurobiology of love.
Frances Cohen Praver, Ph.D.

Frances Cohen Praver, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and relational psychoanalyst and author.

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