Whether we like to admit it or not, our childhood relationships can still cast an unwelcome shadow on how we react to our spouse/partner. In other words, the long-arm of your childhood experiences might be influencing the type of spouse/partner you are today.
Let’s look at a brief example of how this played out for one husband.
Relationship Help: When unfinished emotional business blocks empathy.
Kevin often became annoyed at his wife Kathleen’s exuberance and expressions of joy. He would constantly accuse her of “over-reacting.” Rather than sharing in his wife’s love of life, he would recoil and become agitated.
The couple’s friends loved spending time with Kathleen because the hope and optimism she often expressed was contagious. Her husband’s response was confusing to Kathleen’s friends who started to avoid Kevin.
Then Kathleen shared a piece of information about her husband’s childhood that shed light on his puzzling reactions: Whenever Kevin became excited as a child (or when he expressed any emotional intensity), he would be severely punished by his abusive, alcoholic father. Though he was unaware of it, his wife’s joyous, expressive nature caused Kevin to be flooded with anxiety—her reactions unconsciously reminded Kevin of the trouble he got into when he acted that way.
In this example, Kevin’s past was standing in the way of him being an emotionally present and compassionate husband.
If you are unable (or unwilling) to empathize with your spouse/partner’s experience, the clue to your resistance may involve unfinished emotional business from your past (just like Kevin).
Relationship Help Self-Reflective Action Step:
If you’re unable to open yourself up emotionally and experience the gifts of intimacy (i.e., you’re unable to share yourself emotionally and share in your spouse/partner’s emotional experiences), ask yourself questions to tease out the reasons for your defensive stance.
Some straightforward questions, such as, “Why is this so difficult for me?” and “Is this reminding me of something painful from my childhood?” might just get you moving in the right direction.
Until next time,
Dr. Rich Nicastro