"We are basically married!"
I have heard this quip countless times and my response is to point out that you are not. Many modern couples believe that getting engaged or married will not change anything in their relationship. They are already living together, they are sharing financial decisions, and they feel fully entwined in each others lives.
The Family Effect
What I have to point out to these blinded couples is that many times in our lives the unconscious mind and the conscious mind disagree. Yes, consciously in the concrete world, no changes will occur besides a ring, or a name change or a new label; however, deep in the dark recessed of the psyche, unexplored gears begin to turn and start a process I call the “family effect”. The "family effect" kicks in when couples begin to know deeply that they are family members. It can create subtle changes in couples dynamics that can lead to new and dangerous conflict cycles. This family effect does not just refer to the concept that partners start worrying that the others foibles will be with them for life; this effect is deeper and more unconscious. It is a change in deep attitudes and beliefs that install the concept that "we are family" much deeper into the crevices of the mind.
The Effects of the Effect
The family effect can stir up dormant triggers of past family dramas and the fears of repeating them. It is almost as if the subconscious says, “alright you are REALLY family now” and then unleashes the primordial, pent up, or buried feelings about your past family and their unhealthy issues. Individuals that are more susceptible to this family effect are those that come from families with divorce, death, or abandonment. Especially at risk are survivors of incest or other traumas that bring trauma and family relationship together into the same belief system.
When does this Effect happen?
If you or your partner find yourself saying, “Where did this come from?” as conflict rises after many years of comfortable relationship, you probably are feeling the effect. For many couples, the family effect can happen at different times of life. Hallmarks of the effect are very unpleasant and unpredictable conflicts that feel too intense and almost unreal. They will occur after major milestones are passed or considered. For instance a man might begin to feel this on his wedding day while the woman may feel it upon engagement. For others it happens when the kids are born, the house is bought, or the first major couples decision is faced, such as moving in together, relocating to a new city or changing career paths. In a perfect world, couples would face the family effect together and seek counseling to unravel the complicated issues it presents but most of the times; members of the couple will begin the process at different times.
Surviving the Family Effect
The key to surviving the family effect is to be aware that it will hit you. If you find yourself feeling familiar feeling of childhood past or feel yourself treating your partner like a person from your past, you are definitely in it. If you hear your father’s or mother’s voice coming out of your own mouth, saying things you may or may not agree with, this is another sign that you are truly becoming family. If conflict is beginning, seek counseling and begin to explore and let go of the attitudes and beliefs that are left over from your childhood. Develop and install your own beliefs about family and allow space for your partner to do the same, even if they are different from your own. Couples counseling is an even better option for these symptoms, as watching eachother unpack the troubles of childhood can build a deeper emotional bond and provide an amazing understanding of your partner’s psyche.