Each person can carry into the relationship and dynamics, sensitivities that can surprise and upset each another individual. The mother Diana accused her husband Kenny of being too harsh with the children. She claimed that they were scared of Kenny. As a result, she often intervened in his interactions with the kids. This caused Kenny to feel undermined as a parent. He felt that she did not appreciate his more active roughhousing play with the kids, which he admitted sometimes required him to assert some boundaries. However, he felt he handled it pretty well. Kenny's father had been very severe and quick to spank. Kenny was very aware of how that was intimidating for him as a child, and he resented Diana accusing of being anything like his father. The therapist called the 4-year-old and 3-year-old who were playing in the therapy office. "Hey, are you scared of your Daddy?" The kids looked at each other and burst into laughter and giggles, and then moved off to continue playing. The reality check disproved Diana's assertion of harshness. Yet, Kenny's assertion, "See, I'm not like my dad," was not quite on the mark. The therapist asked Diana about her relationship with her father. Diana's father had been very harsh with all the kids, but particularly critical and punitive with Diana. While Kenny was focused on his belief that Diana was unjustly accusing him of being like his father, Diana's implicit accusation was that he was not like his father, but like her father. More importantly, that she felt compelled to protect their children from a "mean daddy" as she had not been protected during her childhood… as her mother had not protected her. The therapist helped them find clarity about the perfect mismatch between their mutual family-of-origin projections: Kenny being better than his father but being accused unjustly of being like his father and Diana accusing him to protect children as she had not been protected. Once the old experiences were revealed, most of their couple's conflict over parenting became relatively easy to negotiate.
Dattalio (2006) described another family-of-origin dynamic that was carried dysfunctionally into the next generation. "Upon further probing, it was uncovered that May's mother facilitated an unhealthy dependency on her because she was estranged from May's father. While May's parents were married for many years, her father 'did his own thing' and her mother compensated by becoming overly involved in May's life. This developed a schema for May regarding what men do in their marriages, which then sensitized her to any independent activities on her own husband's part. May was able to see that this created conflict for her and her marriage because her mother ended up resenting the closeness that May had with Paul—something that her mother never had in her own marriage. May's mother heavily endorsed May's overinvolvement with the children as well, instilling the belief that 'a good mother gives all of her time to her children.' Her mother also intimated that women cannot rely on their husbands, and therefore women must invest their energies elsewhere, such as in hobbies or in their children. May admitted that she felt trapped between what her mother wanted and what her husband desired and took refuge in spending more time with her children" (page 368).
In this couple's dynamics, May is challenged in three sets of relationships: with her mother, with her husband, and with her children. She needed to reconcile what she had internalized about marriage and children from her mother with what was and was not working in her life. If she complied with her mother's expectations and values, she would compromise her relationship with her husband and children. May's relationship with her husband was not her parent's relationship, yet her behavior modeled after her mother was pushing the relationship in that direction. In the same fashion, her relationship and her husband's relationship with their children risked duplicating her family-of-origin parental models of over-involvement and under-involvement. Effective couple therapy between May and her husband would require May, especially to make significant changes interacting with her mother and the children. This would be especially challenging for May with her mother. That could involve more individual work with May and perhaps, family therapy with May and her mother.