Gabrielle and Ryan, a typical couple who married, enjoy successful careers with a combined annual income of around $250,000. They have three children aged 8, 6, and 4. Two attend a private school while the youngest goes to childcare. Gabrielle returned to work after each maternity leave, and they manage a mortgage, and their two cars are leased.
Ryan enjoys riding his motorbike occasionally and frequents the gym five days a week after work. Gabrielle has a tight-knit group of friends from her mother’s group and enjoys reading and taking morning walks before the children wake up.
While their lives may seem ideal, there’s more to their story.
Ryan occasionally drinks excessively; he says it helps with his undiagnosed anxiety however his drunken state leaves Gabrielle feeling emotionally vulnerable and full of uncertainty. Gabrielle tends to criticise Ryan on a daily basis, leading to arguments filled with hurtful words and put downs. Their intimacy has dwindled, there is no romance and they are having sex at best once a month, communication is a real struggle.
Foundationally where did Gabrielle and Ryan come from?
The term I like to use is “what root did you grow from.”
Gabrielle’s parents split when she was four, leading to an estranged relationship with her biological father for many years. Her mother remarried when Gabrielle was seven, and she gained two stepsisters which she did not get on with. Her younger brother faced challenges with ADHD he struggled at school and with family dynamics.
Ryan’s parents divorced when he was 12, with his father’s alcoholism causing turmoil. Ryan’s mother endured domestic abuse. Ryan has a close relationship with his elder brother, but his younger brother battles alcoholism. Ryan’s mother did not re-marry she raised the three boys herself. His father now lives with a woman in an unhealthy toxic relationship.
Ryan and Gabrielle’s children recognise Ryan’s mother and Nan and Gabrielle mother as Gran they have no relationship with their grandfathers.
Ryan’s mother’s recent stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis adds to his challenges of balancing family, career, and helping his mother.
Growing up, both Gabrielle and Ryan lacked stable role models, living in an environment of uncertainty and little trust. They both were witnessing toxic, destructive fights.
Their family is now at risk of following the same path.
While it might appear that Gabrielle and Ryan have a perfect life at the beginning of this story, we dug down just a little to find the reality is very different.
Gabrielle and Ryan as children never experienced a loving bond between their parents, they did not experience what a serve and return relationship looked like between two married people. They never observed their parents communicating without harshness. They did not see their mother and father hold hands or kiss each other affectionately. No one in the home demonstrated love, warm, laughter, love, safety the environment from which they both come from a dysfunction environment.
Gabrielle and Ryan experienced the fight-or-flight response during their upbringing. Perhaps their internal alert system that once signalled danger, during their childhoods has never been switched off!
NB: Poor role modelling can have negative outcomes for families over generations unless one generation has the courage to break the cycle.
Behind closed doors, everyone faces their own struggles. In a world of constant comparison, people often feel inadequate, whether they pursue a minimalist off-grid lifestyle or embrace the hustle culture.
Regardless of the path chosen, it’s crucial to reflect on one’s roots and behaviour’s. Growing up in unstable environments may lead to unpredictability or people-pleasing tendencies. A healthy family requires effective communication and self-management skills, especially from the family’s leaders. Ultimately, a strong family is one where children feel emotionally and physically safe. Where they see mum and dad being kind and gentle with each other.
Raising a family requires many skills however there are primary needs – physiological needs, safety needs, belongingness needs, esteem needs and self-actualisation.
Self- actualisation is a big one, it is set up from the root your “childhood” what you think of yourself? You may see yourself differently than others see you, due to the environment you come from.
You cannot change where you come from, but you can certainly change where you are going, it all starts with you!
When I work with couples / families I like to follow the 5 Steps this involves seeing each person individually to help me understand the roots of the real problem. Couples Counselling Services Australia | DIPAC
Some people require multiple individual sessions to help them work through their own internal challenges. Some people give up however most push through, learn, then they test and measure themselves on the job. We must always remember; most people are good humans, it’s usually their behaviour that bring life undone for them and their family.