Do you project onto your daddy issues onto your husband?
It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! And with Father’s Day coming up this week, I thought I’d look at how those of us with father issues can try to keep those issues out of our marriage. This is a post that I originally wrote a few years ago, but I’m quite passionate about the topic–so I thought it was time to run it again.
Whether your dad abandoned you, verbally abused you, molested you, hit you, or just disapproved of you, many of us have found Father’s Day a difficult day on the calendar. When I was younger I remember not being able to buy a Father’s Day card to mail to my dad, because the words in all of them weren’t true. What do you say to a father you have never lived with, whom you see for a week a year, and who doesn’t really know you? There just aren’t cards for that.
And I know many of you have felt the same thing.
Yet as I have said, marriage can be a vehicle that God uses for healing in our lives. When we marry good men, they show us how we’re supposed to be loved. They cherish us. And so much of those silent accusations we have inside our heads start to diminish.
I asked on Facebook how people prevent themselves from projecting onto their husbands their issues with their dads, and had some great (and heartbreaking) responses. I can’t do this subject full justice in a quick post, but I want to leave you with just a few thoughts that may help:
1. Many of us used our past to make good choices
Just because you have father issues does not mean that you’ll marry an idiot. In fact, over and over again women said something like, “I knew from my dad what I didn’t want and I made sure I found what I did want.” I did the same thing! Sometimes when you have a difficult childhood you run hard in the other direction: you marry a good person; you become an amazing parent; you prioritize relationships.
Some of us, unfortunately, don’t do that. It’s quite common to marry someone who gives us a similar “feel” as our father–if he was an alcoholic, we marry a workaholic because we’re used to feeling distant.
But just because you have father issues does not mean that you’re guaranteed to have a bad marriage–not at all! So never believe that.
What to do: Ask yourself, “Did I marry someone who makes me feel like my dad made me feel?” If not, celebrate! If you did, then find a mentor or a counselor to talk through this and figure out how to address key issues in your marriage.
2. Our coping patterns can cause problems
At the same time, it’s good to recognize how our past did affect how we treat others. One woman wrote this very insightful tidbit:
The biggest issue that has come up with us is the habit I learned in my childhood of not sharing what I thought if I believed it would cause friction. I finally told my husband that, & he said he wanted to know what I thought since I saw different possibilities then he did. The first few time were VERY hard, but I took a deep breath and spoke up anyway. I still start off speaking carefully, but if my careful words don’t communicate well to him, he has learned to ask questions to make sure he understands my point.
When we grow up with friction we learn to try to avoid friction at all costs. That’s a common coping mechanism, and it makes perfect sense when you’re in a dysfunctional home.
The problem is that that exact same coping mechanism can also cause a functional home to become a dysfunctional one. If you fail to speak up and tell your husband what you’re thinking, then you prevent emotional intimacy. And once emotional intimacy is lost, other forms of intimacy quickly follow.
What to do: Ask yourself, what’s my reaction to conflict? Do I try to avoid it? If so, tell your husband and sit down and figure out some “rules” for conflict that will help you feel safe enough to speak up.
3. Our fear of abandonment can cause problems
If your dad left, then at the back of your mind is likely the fear that your husband will, too. Rejection is real in your life; how do you know that anyone can stay forever?
But when we fear abandonment, we often withdraw into ourselves and again fail to share key things. Sometimes it’s not even failing to share when we’re upset. We may even fail to share when we’re happy! If he’s going to leave, then I can’t let him see all of me. That way if he leaves he’s not really rejecting ME; he never really knew me.
The other dynamic that can be quite common is to become defensive during conflicts. If he mentions anything that he’s unhappy about you’re sure he’s going to leave. So you overreact to everything, leaving him unable to really share his heart.
What to do: Confess this to your husband! Let him know your fears. And then talk about specific things your husband can do to let you know that he’s not leaving. Teach him your love language. Tell him that during a conflict he must always say, “I’m staying with you no matter what because I love you, but this bothers me and I’d like it to change.” Pray with him about it.
4. Our family of origin can cause problems
If you have father issues, chances are the rest of your family also has issues. Your siblings may be messed up. Your mother may be needy.
And we often carry guilt for a lot of these things (even if it’s not our fault). We’re still trying to fix our family of origin, and we get sucked in to drama that is ultimately caused by a dysfunctional father.
If we try to step back, we can be blamed by siblings or by our mother. Loyalty became a huge thing, because “we had to stick together” to get through this with dad.
That dynamic can make it so hard for you to move forward with your husband. If you’re in that dynamic, as hard as it may be, put limits on how much you will talk to or see your siblings and your mother. Sometimes it may even be a good idea to move far away for a few years to build your marriage, just the two of you. Once you’re on strong footing you can reestablish those relationships.
What to do: Talk to your husband about how big a role your family plays in your marriage. How does he feel about it? What is his perspective about how you react to your family? Decide how to set clear boundaries for your family.
5. Sometimes we need someone else to talk to about our “daddy issues”.
We are not meant to live the Christian life alone, and God has appointed some to be encouragers and counselors to help us get through trauma and live a life of freedom. If you feel that your issues just aren’t going away, and you have a hard time trusting your husband or opening up to him, maybe spending five or six sessions with a counselor to talk through these issues and come up with an action plan would be a good idea.
I know it can be expensive; counselors often range around $100 an hour. Some churches will subsidize, but think about it this way: If you spend $600 on counseling, even if that’s a huge sacrifice, but in the end it helps you live an amazing marriage, think about the money you’ll save by raising healthy kids and having a strong marriage.
A counselor can help you pray through things and see how Jesus felt when you were abandoned or hurt; to see that your father probably had issues too; and to see that Jesus’ grace covers such a multitude of hurts. Find someone who can point you to Jesus.
Do any of those thoughts resonate with you? If you have father issues, let me know in the comments what has helped you in your marriage. And for all of you–have a good Father’s Day this weekend!