Did I Really Marry My Mother?

August 30, 2010

No, this is not a re-enactment of the Oedipus story although it does underscore the relationship between the old Greek myths and the unconscious. One of the fascinations of the latter part of my life has been the exploration of my inner psyche and its relationship to unconscious behaviours. I am frequently astonished to find the buried complexes that regularly dictated my unconscious response to certain situations. For example my ongoing challenges with consecutive bosses during the early part of my career were all related to the “rebellious child” complex as each one to some degree became a father substitute to which my unconscious responded.

Recently a friend of mine observed that my inner work has focused almost exclusively on my father issues and there has been little recognition of the power of the mother figure in a child’s life. My response that for some reason it just hadn’t figured in my process, led me to make a commitment to do some writing about my relationship with my mother. I have mostly positive memories of my early childhood; my father was mostly absent authority; my mother was occupied raising six children. My sense of my mother is that she was very loving and forgiving, always there when we needed her but gave us an amazing amount of freedom that you rarely see today. From the age of five or six we would disappear for hours on end and return to be fed, only to disappear again into a world of a child’s adventures and exploration. My mother never wielded authority, delegating any punishment and reprimand to “ Our Father” but the threat alone would keep us in line. I recall that as my childhood unfolded, I felt more and more in control of the relationship; as a teenager I had little respect for her intellect considering myself smarter. I have happy memories of her reciting Tennyson to my brother and I in the bath “Half a league, half a league, half a league onward. All in the valley of Death rode the six hundred.” As I write these words I do not recall as a child, a cross word or major confrontation; all the memories seem so positive.

At the completion of my reflection, I considered my responsibility fulfilled. There seemed no major impact of my mother on my unconscious and no deep complexes to be discovered and healed. However, not long after while reading James Hollis’s book Under Saturn’s Shadow – The Wounding and Healing of Men”, I was fascinated on the emphasis he places on the power of the mother complex to change men’s’ lives. In case-study after case-study, he recounts stories of men with abusive mothers who who become abusers; men who get trapped living out the unlived life of their mother; and men whose need for mothering is so intense that every relationship fails based on not meeting his needs.

So I returned to my journal convinced that there must be some resonant consequence on my psyche of my mother relationship. I summarized what I saw in my mother: she loved me, she was always there for me, she gave me substantial autonomy to do what I wanted, I had the sense of being in control and I deemed myself to be smarter than her. I sat reflecting on this combination of attributes wondering what my unconscious would make of them. Then I saw it. My relationship with first wife was consistent with all of these characteristics. I had unconsciously married my mother. How bizarre. Yet in hindsight I could see the replay in my mind. We never argued, (only once in eighteen years). I always did what I wanted, she loved me, she forgave me and she was always there and she became a casualty of my mid life crisis. I sense that one of the consequences of unconsciously marry your mother is that time and aging play havoc with desire. I am not sure how consciously one could resolve this realization but in my case my awareness came far too late to consider that possibility.

Now for the spooky part! When I first met my future wife she was quite unlike the archetype of my mother. In our courtship she was much more independent and challenging and at least once I had resolved to leave the relationship before she somehow sensed this and responded.  Somehow my unconscious was able to relate to her unconscious and anticipate what would be. How amazing is that?