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Help! I married someone just like my mother

Seeing the faults and flaws of your parents in your significant other? “Today” contributor Gail Saltz offers advice.
/ Source: TODAY

Maybe you married someone just like dear ol’ mom or dad, and now this eerie similarity is causing tension in your marriage. In our series “On the Couch with Dr. Gail Saltz,” Dr. Saltz sheds light on this phenomenon.

Certainly it is not uncommon to marry someone who looks, acts or thinks like one of your parents. That comforting, nurturing mother; that strong, handsome father — they were your first and most important childhood love objects.

But then you grew up. You were able to see your parents’ faults and flaws.

People who end up marrying someone just like a parent aren’t always aware of the similarity, especially if it doesn’t involve looks. It can involve patterns of speech, sense of humor or general style.

As long as your spouse doesn’t remind you of your parent in the bedroom, there can be much pleasure in having a spouse just like Mom or Dad. (This includes the fact that Mom and Dad will probably like them!)

Still, you don’t want a grownup relationship to turn into a parent-child relationship. Sometimes, as a way of seeking or recapturing something they never had, people choose mates who remind them of their parents.

For example, women sometimes marry men who are nearly their father’s age, hoping to capture the attention of a father who died, abandoned the family or withheld affection. Men may want their wife to keep a neat house as their mother did, hoping to replicate that domestic order.

And your parents can have incredibly annoying habits — which you might experience as amplified in your spouse. If your mother nagged you about cleaning your room, you might find be driven particularly crazy by a neat-freak husband.

If you are often irritated at a spouse who reminds you of the worst traits of your mom or dad, examine your own role in contributing to your irritation.

Are you somehow provoking the very traits that bug you? Maybe you are unwittingly repeating your childhood patterns of needling your parents, and doing the same with your spouse.

Are you hyper-sensitive about a sore point with your parent?If your mother was always criticizing you about your wardrobe, you might get unnecessarily angry if your wife says she doesn’t like your tie.

Are you letting your spouse know why you are pulling him into these dramas?
Tell your spouse there are things that remind you of your parents, which is why your touchiness should not be taken personally. It is more about you than about him.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book, "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts" (Penguin), helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2006 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.