Left untreated this condition causes us to abruptly channel the worst traits of our mothers or fathers in the midst of, usually heated, conversations with spouses.
If you see yourself or your spouse in what I’ve just described, you’re no stranger to Relationship Multiple Personality Syndrome.
We all drag a cast of characters—e.g., caregiver, loner, jokester, control-freak, rebel, negotiator, etc.—wherever we go. That’s just part of being human.
The challenge is that, if we let some of our most disruptive personalities take center stage they can wreak havoc on us, on our relationships, and our children.
Even more important for expecting couples and new parents is that RMPS can be rampant soon after we have kids; our less-than-attractive-internal-characters love to make a scene when we’re sleep-deprived, on a major learning curve, or when we’re hormonally or physically challenged (or all of the above); in other words, when we’re most prone to conflict.
Did I mention relationship conflicts skyrocket after the birth of a child?
So while RMPS is an issue in any relationship, it’s especially significant for new parents; which is why it’s well worth taking time to talk about it before the baby arrives, or in those moments of wakeful calmness after junior is here.
A friend with college-age kids told me recently that when she and her husband start acting like an unwelcome version of their mothers or fathers, they say something like:
“I don’t remember inviting [insert parent’s name] to our conversation.”
Then, they laugh and, it seems, launch their parents out of their discussion.
Sounds great. Except when I was in the throes of newborn exhaustion (yes, bliss too), when I was trying to remember which friggin’ way to fold the blankie to get the swaddling right, I often misplaced my sense of humor. (I now realize it was with my car keys, but what good is 20/20 hindsight?)
What follows is a different, um humorless, approach to teasing out the mom/dad aspects of RMPS.
BTW, if your spouse isn’t into this, ask the questions of yourself. And don’t let gender limit you: if you’re a gal, field questions about your dad (if you grew up with one), and vice-versa if you’re a guy. Too many questions? Answer (1) and (8).
One more thing: You might not always like your spouse’s or your own responses. That’s okay. Just do your best to listen to your spouse, and yourself, in a way that mimics how you’d like him/her to listen to you. And try to be open to what your spouse asks of you.
(1) What are your mom’s/dad’s qualities and behaviors that you like least?
(2) When you were a kid, how did those qualities impact your mom’s/dad’s relationship with each other (or a stepparent, if applicable)?
(3) How have those qualities impacted your mom’s/dad’s relationship with you?
(4) What circumstances currently trigger, or might trigger, those same qualities in you?
(5) Why is it important for you, and our relationship, to not re-enact those qualities?
(6) If you notice those qualities in yourself, how would you most like to respond to them? Put another way, what might help you return to your best self again?
(7) If I notice them in you, how can I help you reduce their impact on you and us?
(8) What do you most need from me around this subject?
These questions can be tough to answer—after all, they dig up what I call our Ghosts of Parenting Past, which can be powerful forces—but they’re really important to discuss.
Why? Because when we become parents, the examples our parents set for us—the good, the bad, and the ugly—can have a ghostly presence and impact on us, our relationships, and on our children.
The more we understand that presence, the more we clue our spouses into who we most want to be (and not be) as moms, dads, and co-parents, then the more we can help ourselves and each other limit the fallout of RMPS, reduce post-baby relationship conflict, and revel in newborn bliss.