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  • Writer's pictureMim Kempson

Dating a “family replica”: why you’re constantly triggered by your partner

What does “family replica” mean?

A family replica is a person who reminds you of someone in your past and as a result you feel “comfortable” around them. The key here is: this is not a healthy sort of comfort. Familiar does not equal good for you.

I learnt about this concept through my mentor, therapist and educator Katie Eden Todd, where huge credit is due. In our lifetimes, many of us will find ourselves in relationships with family replicas: partners who carry the energy or qualities of key figures from our childhood, usually parents. We gravitate to them because of this familiarity. They’re there to teach us important lessons, but they’re often not the person to spend our life with.

A family replica triggers us left right and centre. We become easily reactive. Our inner child tantrums come out full throttle. This is because we subconsciously seek to resolve what was unresolved in our childhood. We expect our partner to give us closure, to provide us with what that figure or parent never was able to.

Of course, being in a relationship with a family replica is not the ONLY reason we may be constantly triggered by our partner, but it’s a common one.

This concept is also spoken about in Imago Therapy. They explain that healthy relationships where we experience the love we never had are restorative. However, this is not the same as expecting a partner to fix what we blame our parents for inflicting on us in the past.

Trauma bonding

I want to explain the difference of a family replica with “trauma bonding”, because I can see how they might be confused. Trauma bonding refers to the phenomenon whereby two people connect over their shared trauma history. They may share similar childhood experiences, exes, health issues or forms of oppression.

If a bond is built primarily on this common ground, it is a dangerous precedent to embark on a future with someone. Take away this part of your identities and life stories, and ask yourself, what does this leave us connecting on? If nothing or not much, it puts you in the position where you must constantly identify with your trauma in order to stay connected to the person. This position prevents you from working on your shadows.

Like anything, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all statement. It’s simply an important consideration to make when you find your relationship revolving around connecting on suffering, rather than joy.

Family replica vs. trauma bonding

In family replicas, that person doesn’t necessarily need to share the same trauma history. Our partner could be living their best life, and they trigger us. For example, we may have had a hyper-positive parent who was unable to sit with us in our sadness. They were so surface-level, hyperactive and unable to “go deep” with their emotions, that we never got the help we needed to process our hardships. When we then meet a toxic optimist in adulthood, we feel this familiarity…

You’ll hear me refer to this concept in my blogs, so today was just a simple introduction of what’s to come!

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