This is how crucial the relationship with your mother is in determining your ability to connect

Els van Steijn
Mar 24, 2019 · 7 min read

A relationship is a collaboration. A constant exchange of giving and receiving. You receive and give attention, support, care, a roof over your head, company and sex. Which can be warm and loving. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you are deeply connected with each other. The actual connection depends on how you are connected to your mother. Family-system expert Els van Steijn delved into this subject for us. One of her best pieces of advice: Looking for a serious relationship? Listen to how the person in question talks about his or her mother.

This is how crucial the relationship with your mother is in determining your ability to connect.

Els: How you have inwardly connected with your mother determines your maximum ability to connect with others, including with your partner. If there’s still room for improvement, this doesn’t mean you’re unable to have good, enjoyable relationships. It simply means that you lack a deeper level of connection. During ‘difficult moments’ you’ll then live according to your own mantra of ‘I’ll do it on my own’. Meaning you disconnect from the other person. Even if you live together, you start to live parallel lives. For the further meaning of connection, read my previous article, ‘This is why the ability to receive is the basis of every healthy relationship.’ To complicate things: pain as a result of a relationship breaking up is always an acknowledgement that the relationship is (or was) valuable to you. But you must be honest with yourself; are you genuinely sad because your partner, the person he or she is, is leaving you (sadness because of the disconnection)? Or are you having a hard time facing the loneliness, facing things alone and the loss of convenience?

WHY DOES THE CONNECTION WITH YOUR MOTHER HAVE A MAJOR INFLUENCE ON YOUR FUTURE RELATIONSHIPS?

Els: People see so-called ghost images when looking at their (potential) partner. When you look at your partner, there’s an invisible person standing just behind them; your mother. On a day-to-day basis you don’t see this, of course, but on a deeper level, you do see her standing there. This is true for both men and women. Your mother is always standing behind your partner, regardless of whether she’s still alive or not. The extent to which you’ve connected with your mother, is the maximum you can connect with your partner. The same applies the other way around: your partner’s mother stands behind you. It’s unavoidable… So, if you want a serious relationship, listen to how this person talks about his or her mother. Then make a decision as to whether this potential partner is relationship material, or rather an exciting time with even more exciting nights (in other words, a ‘friend with benefits’).

WHEN ARE YOU WELL-CONNECTED TO YOUR MOTHER?

Els: Parents are a ‘package deal’. They’re the good, the less good, but also what you long for but isn’t there. You are well-connected with your mother (or father) if you allow them their place. Allow them to completely be who they are. Only then will you truly be able to see them. If you only see the good in someone, the so-called ‘halo effect’, then you don’t see someone. Only see the bad, then you don’t see that person either. A person is so much more than just the good or the bad. They’re the total package. And you are the living product of that. Look at yourself too. You’re not only loving, good and kind. You’re much more, and much deeper than that alone. Nor are you just that awkward, clumsy and self-centred person. If you accept your parents as a complete package deal, allow them to have you as daughter or son, then you are well-connected with your parents. Meaning that the ghost image you then see, is actually helpful and nurturing. You’ll be able to accept your partner completely as he or she is, with all the trimmings. This doesn’t mean you’ll never be annoyed by the other person. You may always give feedback and set boundaries.

AND WHEN DO YOU KNOW YOU’RE NOT WELL-CONNECTED TO YOUR MOTHER?

Els: It’s not easy to give a simple answer. I can name a few signals that could possibly indicate that there’s still some space in your connection with your mother. If you’re unable to maintain relationships for a longer time and this is a recurring pattern. Or if you notice that life is tough for you. Perhaps you manage to achieve your objectives, but you don’t seem to get lucky easily. Everything takes lots of effort. For some reason, your mother represents life. Reject her, and you’ll often appear to be rejected by life: a recurring pattern of work not going well, illnesses, all kinds of setbacks etc. Not unsurmountable, but it does eat away at your energy. If in doubt, by the way, always consult a professional in this field.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE CONNECTION WITH YOUR MOTHER AND YOUR FATHER?

Els: There’s no difference in the way you can connect with your parents. If you’ve inwardly connected with your parents (said yes to the package deal), your mother will give you the ability to connect. If you say yes to your father, you receive your natural decisiveness. I’ll write more about this in a future article.

WHAT DO YOU GAIN IN YOUR LOVE LIFE BY HEALING YOUR CONNECTION WITH YOUR MOTHER?

Els: If you can connect (even further) with your mother, your relationship will also deepen. Your level of consciousness in that area will increase. There is one condition though — the other person must also allow his or her mother their place. If they don’t, then although you may well be available for the relationship, your partner won’t be able to deal with this. In my experience, relationships in which both partners have, or have not, accepted their mothers to the same extent, work best long-term. If both partners reject their mother, the relationship can work fine. Both partners lack the ability to connect at the deepest level, making them a fit. This sort of relationship can also express itself as a total fusion of the two people. But this is not a connection. This is a way to eliminate what is missing (often, the apparent lack of love), by inwardly shutting out the mother. As a counter reaction, the relationship becomes a fusion where the partners are not aware of where he or she stops and the other starts. This seems romantic, but in my view, it’s unhealthy and ultimately unsafe.

HOW DO YOU FIND OUT IF SOMEONE FINDS CONNECTION IN A ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP DIFFICULT?

Els: Look at the recurring pattern of someone’s love life. Past behaviour is often a good predictor of the future. Not always, but often. In addition, ask more about someone’s background and their relationship with their parents. If someone says ‘my mother’s a bitch’ instead of talking about her in a nuanced way, it’s time for the door… (if your goal is a serious relationship).

WHAT IF ONE PARTNER IS WELL-CONNECTED WITH THE MOTHER AND THE OTHER PARTNER ISN’T?

Els: Simply put, you can distinguish two main patterns. On one hand, the one partner ‘complains’ to the other that they don’t dare connect enough. Because this person is less able to receive. After all, a relationship is a constant exchange of giving and receiving. And, relationships are established on the ability to receive. It depends on how the relationship is further shaped, whether such a relationship can be maintained. Here too, we talk of a package deal. On the other hand, it may also be that the person who has missed out on things is demanding because the ‘deficit’ (caused by being disconnected from the mother) must be unconsciously compensated via the partner. The partner that allows their mother her place, probably gives more than he or she receives and thus will eventually run empty.

IS THERE THE THREAT OF AN INABILITY TO BOND IF YOU’RE NOT WELL CONNECTED WITH YOUR MOTHER?

Els: Yes, the connection with your mother is crucially important, but other things also play a role. What does the rest of the social field and the environment around this person look like? What kind of traumatic events have taken place, such as a long stay in a hospital that temporarily separated mother and child? The total sum ultimately determines whether or not someone is safely attached. Even if a mother is in a certain way unsuitable to look after a child, a child can connect inwardly with the mother. A safe attachment really is then possible.

HOW CAN YOU RESTORE THE CONNECTION WITH YOUR MOTHER (EVEN WHEN YOUR MOTHER HAS DIED, YOU DON’T KNOW HER OR DO NOT WANT ANY CONTACT WITH HER)?

Els: Inwardly, you can also be grateful for the things she has given you. After all, parents are a package deal. Parents give what they are able to give, and if they had been able to give more, then they would have. In nearly all cases, what you have had is more than enough, if not too much. If your mother died when you were a small child (for example, when you were 9 and you’re now 39), you can still develop the inner attitude of ‘a 9-year gift’ instead of ’30 years of absence’. Sometimes, parents can pass on life, and little more. This is a challenging destiny, yet without your biological parents, you wouldn’t have existed. Then there’s the situation of a parent wanting no contact with you. This is tragic, the reality being that her child triggers something within her that she cannot deal with. The art is to leave what belongs to the mother with her and to face what is yours. Leave the responsibility for the choice your mother has made with her, and let it go. She has to be able to be who she is, however hard and painful that is for you. Of course, you can always give feedback and set boundaries for your mother. Then you look at what is yours. That you have a mother who can’t see you (literally and figuratively) and that it hurts, that it makes you feel small, insecure and rejected. This belongs to you and you can face it. You are always able to carry what is yours. I describe this process extensively in my book, ‘The Fountain, find your place’. With your mother in your heart, you can face what life gives you!

For more information on my book The fountain, visit www.elsvansteijn.com

Els van Steijn

Written by

Els van Steijn (1969) is specialised in the systemic perspective. She is a coach, family- & organization constellator, (bestseller) writer and keynote speaker.

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