Getting Back to Love, by Joseph and Sarah Malinak, is a book about changing the love styles we learned during infancy and childhood so that we can make the kind of love connection we want. In The Chemistry of Connection, I described how our early experiences of mothering influence our brain development and neurochemistry. I see Getting Back to Love as a sort of sequel to Chemistry. In their book, Joseph and Sarah Malinak explain how these early, pre-conscious experiences play out in adulthood.
In the book, they describe syndromes they call Mama's Boys and Daddy's Girls: People who never grow up into adult men and women.
"When a man depends on a woman for his worth as a man, he is invariably disappointed, because his worth as a man can only be sustained if it comes from within." (The same goes for women who define themselves by their worth to a man -- and, although the Malinaks don't mention this, I think it holds true for a gay man or woman who defines him or herself by their worth to a potential lover.)
Daddy's Girls are taught that the man is the most important thing in their lives, while Mama's Boys learn that their power comes only from women.
Mama's Boys and Daddy's Girls are created, according to the book, through lack of connection with their same-sex parents. Around puberty, boys and girls need to spend more time with fathers or mothers, who help initiate them into not necessarily gender roles, but rather, into the essence of femininity or masculinity. Michael Gurian, author of The Wonder of Boys and many other books, writes about this as well. And, of course, in this era of single-parent families, that can be especially difficult for boys.
The Malinaks certainly put some things in my own relationships in a new light. I am definitely a Daddy's Girl; this makes sense, because I always had a very hard time with my mother, and never felt that she loved me or cared for me (in the literal sense). For example, the way they described the dynamic of my struggles with Mike around housekeeping and maintaining our house helped me see it in a new way.
According to Getting Back to Love, the problem is my underlying belief that men can't be counted on. I know my mother felt this about my father -- and for the first 40 years of my life, I unconsciously pushed away any sweet and caring man who showed genuine interest in me. Moreover, they write, I unconsciously attracted Mama's Boys who tried to finagle me into taking care of them one way or another.
Okay, so how do you get out of this crazy dance? Their advice is to try to become conscious of these unconscious feelings and beliefs and then, when you do notice them, refuse to act on them. Their example felt a bit unrealistic to me: If you've each agreed to do your own laundry, but his just piles up in the middle of the floor, don't do it for him. Just ignore it. It's his responsibility, and he'll take care of it eventually. I have this problem with the dishes; Mike leaves his all over the place. It's pretty hard to ignore when I'm trying to make lunch and our very limited counter space is covered with dirty bowls and forks. Many times, I feel that he tries to maneuver me into nagging him. Because I learned hyper-critical behavior from my mom, it's easy for him to do. So, I guess I would have to give up being able to use the kitchen counters in order to have a healthier relationship? Durnit!
They also share their own love story -- and it illustrates how a healthy, oxytocin-based relationship develops. They met in a self-development program, and liked each other without feeling that intense, nerve-wracking romantic excitement (based on dopamine and norepinephrine) that characterizes romantic love. Instead, as they spent time together, Sarah one day realized that when love songs played on the radio, her thoughts drifted to Joseph. Then, as she moved more consciously toward him as a lover, the excitement came.
Then, they "did something neither had done before , either on a date or at the start of a romantic relationship. In clear recognition of their feelings for each other, they laid it all out on the table."
Ultimately, they remind us, "It's all about you." If you continually find yourself in relationships with someone who demands to be taken care of or bosses you around, it's because of the way you relate to others. Another way of saying this that I've always liked is, "Instead of trying to find the right person, try to be the right person."