Balancing Your Relationship
Marie couldn’t have been more than five feet tall, and her partner, Cliff, well over six feet. But their physical size was deceiving. Cliff spent much of the counseling session cowering on one side of the couch, obviously afraid and protecting himself from Marie’s loud and emotional outbursts. The scene had the distinct flavor of an all-powerful mother scolding a misbehaving little boy.
We see this dysfunctional “mother-son dynamic” in some relationships. You can see it in many places. On our recent flight to Hawaii, there were two TV sitcoms after the feature movie. One was “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and the other was “The King of Queens.” In both shows, the wives’ almost constant job is to catch their husbands in their fumbling attempts to get away with something boyishly immature. In both shows, the woman is firmly fixed in the mother role, while the man is emotionally immature, clueless about relationships, and hopelessly stuck in the child role.
In our counseling sessions and workshops, we teach people how to honor the child both within themselves and within their mate. This is essential for sacred, loving relationship. There must be a healthy balance between the mother-son role and the father-daughter role. In same-gendered pairings, the child-parent roles need to be balanced in both partners. No matter how old or mature we feel, or what sex our bodies are, there is a small child within us who needs love, nurturing, holding, safety and acceptance. And there is likewise a loving and protective parent part of us which longs to give the child in our partner the safety and acknowledgment which may have been missing in his or her actual childhood.
We have seen that women and men do not differ in their inner child’s need for love and attention. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on the mother-son dynamic. What is behind this dynamic? Why, in these couples, do the women adopt the role of mother? Could it be that some women more naturally (as a rule) take on the role of parent? Perhaps. Could it be that some women more easily defer their own needs to others – are less selfish? Perhaps. But we feel there is another, more hidden, cause that very few seem to be addressing. So many women, as well as men, have not gotten the love they needed as children, have not been appreciated for who they are. Some women today, in the spirit of being just as strong as men, or competing in the workplace, have instead hardened themselves, covering up their feminine qualities which are often judged as “weak.” The world, to many of these women, has been deemed an unsafe place, and the vulnerable inner child has retreated to a safe hiding place in the deep recesses of the woman’s soul.
Getting back to Cliff and Marie, I asked Marie to let Cliff hold her the way a loving, protective father would hold his little daughter. I expected resistance from Marie and, sure enough, she refused, first blaming Cliff, “He won’t be able to do that for me.” I gently insisted. Her next comment was far more revealing, “I’m too afraid.” She was afraid to show her vulnerable inner child. She looked over at Cliff, who was smiling warmly at her. As soon as he caught her eyes, he leaned over and gently pulled Marie against his chest. Her tears were almost instantaneous, that’s how much she was needing Cliff’s fatherly embrace.
At every men’s retreat I lead, I give the following pep talk to the guys: “If you’re feeling intimidated by a woman, it means you’re blind to the little girl inside her needing your fathering love and protection. Please, please, don’t be fooled into thinking the woman you’re with is only a woman, that she is only competent, strong, motherly and grown up. Sometimes you need to look through this strong outer appearance, and catch a glimpse of the sometimes scared and vulnerable little girl. It may not be necessary or even appropriate to point this information out to her, but it may be enormously helpful to speak words of appreciation and acknowledgment to her inner child. At other times, it is just as important to allow your inner little boy to receive love from her mother part, but never forget her little girl self and your desire to protect her.”
And to the women who are reading this, please understand that your strength is great, your self-reliance is wonderful, the mother-love you give to your partner’s inner child is divine. Just also remember that the little girl inside you is precious beyond words. To show her vulnerably to your partner is to empower your partner, and allow for more love in the relationship. Your inner child’s need for love is no different from your need for divine love. To be in touch with this need for nurturing is to bless your relationship immeasurably.