In 1910, the psychoanalytic therapist, Sigmund Freud, coined the term “Oedipus Complex” in reference to a general observation he had made regarding the relationship between a child and their parent of the opposite sex.
Freud believed a child subconscious harvested sexual and emotional feelings for their mother or father (respectively) and thus, harbored resentment toward the other parent that prevented these desires from manifesting.
In today’s society, most behavioral analysts have dismissed the Oedipus Complex as irrefutable and infantile – an interesting theory, but one with very little basis in reality.
While the idea of harnessing sexual tension toward a parent is fairly outlandish (save for some extreme situations and outliers), Freud undoubtedly was onto something regarding the link between emotional deficits between a parent and offspring and a child’s behavioral development.
In layman’s terms: most of us are SO significantly affected and influenced by how our parents treated us that it manifests in the relationships we harness later on in life.
It’s a phenomenon most of us aren’t acutely aware of because we usually fail to see and dissect unhealthy patterns in our behavior and relationships. Thus, we haven’t taken the time to understand how these patterns might have stemmed from our upbringing and relationships with our parents.
For example, a person who was continually criticized and put down by one or both parents as a child may very likely seek acceptance from emotionally “unavailable” people later on in life.. Why? Because they so badly craved approval from said parent that they have been conditioned to believe love is volatile, intermittent, and conditional. Similarly, a child that has grown up in a household in which the parents used mental and physical abuse as a means of control might later seek a wife or husband that exhibits similar traits.
For better or for worse, we are our parents’ creation – the chaotic blend of genetics and learned behavioral traits that help mold our perception of intimacy, love, and friendship.
As parents, it is critical that we nourish healthy bonds with our children that reflect the values and behavior they should seek in interpersonal relationships later on in life.
None of us are perfect. Far from it, if truth be told. Fights with our spouses are unavoidable. Saying things we don’t mean is inevitable. Acting out in ways that don’t reflect our core belief system certainly isn’t abnormal. We’re all human and we are all capable of falling far from the virtual branch of the perfect family tree we’ve aspired to grow.
But we must remember that kids are far more intuitive than we give them credit for. They are also incredibly sensitive and incredibly perspective and incredibly vulnerable. How we behave with our spouses and how we behave with them play a pivotal role in the sort of people and behaviors they seek later on in life. We must be diligent in recognizing how we speak to our kids, how we acknowledge them, and how we provide them love and attention. Furthermore, we must be acutely mindful of how we address conflict within the household and show them through actions (not just words) how to handle anger, fear, love, anxiety, uncertainty, and insecurity.
As parents, we must lead by example to show them what a healthy relationship embodies – even if we’re blindly navigating the waters ourselves.
My advice: Make a concerted effort to show your spouse affection and appreciation, so your kids will know it’s important to do the same. Let your kids know you love them as frequently as you can so that they grow up with a sense of security. When you argue with your spouse, don’t hide it because you’re afraid of what your kids might think – they need to understand that fighting is normal in a relationship. Fight fairly and respectfully so that your children understand conflict doesn’t have to equate to hate. And lastly, don’t stay in a marriage you are miserable in for the “sake of your children.” I promise you – he or she knows you’re unhappy and no child wants to see that.