Have you ever been hooked by a Television Soap Opera, the ‘Soapies’ as they are affectionately known? Home and Away, Neighbours, The Bold and The Beautiful, The Young and The Restless, Days of Our Lives – you can add your favourite to the list. The scriptwriter creates a script that will bring characters to life, making them known and believable within the broader context of the setting that is the backdrop to the character's lives. Relationship issues, arising out of each characters unique script that informs them of their personal beliefs, values and behaviours, are the primary content of these ‘everyday dramas'.
The Power of Family Scripts
What is the power that soapies have to draw you in to the drama time and time again? Perhaps some of the fascination we have with these television dramas is that they provide insight into our own lives and the scripts that inform our thinking and behaviour. We all grow up with family scripts. Family scripts are unique to each individual family and inform family members about family rules – values, beliefs and behaviours. They are largely unwritten and unconscious, communicated verbally and non- verbally through the countless interactions we have within our family context. Messages such as ‘to be successful you have to have a university education'; ‘as long as you look perfect it doesn't matter what is underneath'; ‘A ‘real' man gets a job and provides for his family'; ‘your loyalty must be to the family first'.
The Impact of Your Family Script on the Couple Relationship
When adult children leave home, they take their unique family script into every other relationship. This unique container of information is literally embodied within your personhood. It is information that ‘you don't know that you know'. As a couple relationship is formed and developed over time, you continue to approach the relationship from the messages of your family script. What happens then, when a couple, each embodying separate family scripts, try to forge a new identity? Small misunderstandings and hurts occur as you each unconsciously act out your family script until, left unaddressed a couple reaches ‘breaking point’. It takes a lot of work for a couple to identify and let go of former family scripts so that you can begin the task of forming a new identity that reflects who you want to be as a couple.
When my partner, Duncan and I formed a relationship, I was completely oblivious to our differing family-scripts however over time tensions emerged as we each continued to live according to the scripts that we had grown up with. Duncan’s script went something like this: ‘anything you do is worth doing well’; ‘if you don’t get it right, do it all again’; ‘you don’t leave things half done’. At the time, I was frequently unwell and fatigued, so much of what I did was left ‘half done’ (to complete later I thought) or done imperfectly. This issue was the trigger for frustration (Duncan), distress (Colleen) and tension in our relationship for a number of years.
I grew up with a family script that directed ‘peace at any price’. Confrontation, anger and frustration were not tolerated and family members went to great lengths to avoid instances of this nature. What a shock it was for Duncan to have a partner who would not and could not, respond to his angry outbursts. Duncan grew up in a family where family members were free to express their anger and he enjoyed engaging in debate over issues of difference. This tension in our relationship caused communication issues that we struggled to overcome… However, by addressing our previous family scripts we began to understand and appreciate each other.
Whilst writing this article, I asked Duncan and my two daughters how they would describe our family motto. Their response was: ‘How are you feeling? Do you want to talk about it?' As a couple Duncan and I have learnt the value of being emotionally available and present to listen to the needs of the other. In turn, we have found that our own needs are met.
Discover Your Family Script to Promote Relationship Healing and Growth
What does your family script say? Are you aware of the impact it has upon your couple relationship? Have you talked about this as a couple? If you are experiencing difficulties in your couple relationship, explore the messages you grew up with and live by even in the present. You will find them in situations where you over-react emotionally towards your partner. If these conversations are difficult to have as a couple, why not visit a relationship counsellor who will be able to facilitate a conversation that will help you identify the family scripts you live by and help you to explore a new identity as a couple.