Sometimes in relationships, one partner takes on the role of parent; the other, the kid. Back when David Arquett and Courtney Cox were married, David said in a television interview that Courtney announced to him one day that she didn’t want to be his mother anymore. Very telling of the dynamics of their relationship and a big reason why it eventually stopped working. Seems Courtney got tired of feeding and burping him. As well she should.
Because this mother/son or father/daughter partnership is pretty common, let’s take Courtney and David as an example of why it isn’t satisfying. It’s easy to think that David was the problem, right? I mean, if only he would grow up, things would be fine. But David was only half the problem; Courtney, the other half. Relationships, after all, are a two-way street—a 50/50 proposition. If Courtney was the mom, and he was the kid, they were both getting something out of those roles.
What might she have gotten? David described himself as the “live-wire” and Courtney as his grounding force. It could be that this “live-wire” part of him was just what Courtney needed. His bouncing off walls and acting the fool might have been a way for her to vicariously experience an undeveloped aspect of herself—a part that needed to stop being overly responsible and just have some fun. She needed to play, to throw up her hands, let down her hair and let it all hang out. And with David’s outrageous behavior, she could live the fun part of herself that perhaps had been suppressed.
Another benefit: being the mom meant that Courtney would ultimately be in control—in a position of power. For whatever reason (some kind of past pain) being vulnerable was too threatening, so she chose the mother role, the control position, to protect herself. Problem is, while it did offer protection, it didn’t bring her the kind of satisfaction that a mature, equal partnership would.
For David, there really isn’t much long-term satisfaction in being the perennial kid. In this role, he is the underdog—the one looking up—always falling short of his projection of her, ie, who he made her out to be. His pain, like hers, started long ago. In the interview he revealed that his childhood was abusive and that he couldn’t be himself. So instead of facing and working through that pain, he chose to anesthetize himself with drugs and booze; thus needing a care-taker, i.e. his wife.
Courtney finally had enough. Good for her…and good for him too. Now the status quo was shattered which gave them the opportunity to face their old insecurities and grow. This is exactly what has to happen. One partner needs to take the lead in bringing awareness to what’s going on. And with awareness, a different way of being is possible. One that leads to a happier, more fulfilling life with or without each other. It’s not automatic. There’s inner work to be done. But I guarantee if you do the work, it will be well worth it.
Check out my book, The Affair: From Breakdown to Breakthrough, A Therapist’s Real-life Journey, for more great tips and insights about relationships. You can buy it on Kindle worldwide from all Amazon websites, including www.amazon.com