Relationship Help: How Your Childhood Wounds Shape Your Relationship

You and your spouse/partner are co-creators of your marriage/relationship—mutually sculpting and shaping your relationship in subtle and profound ways. Often couples are unaware of how they each contribute to the landscape of their relationship.

How Childhood Wounds Shape Relationships

Relationship Truism: Our internal struggles often become our interpersonal struggles (playing out with others).

And of course, the reverse is true: our interpersonal relationships (and struggles) over the years have shaped who we are; they have become our internal struggles, struggles that seem to follow us from situation to situation, relationship to relationship.

Think of it this way: we each possess a unique inner landscape of expectations, hopes, dreams, biases,  conflicts and fears—ways of being that were formed by our earliest relationships and that now shape our perceptions, reactions and how we interact with others This makes us all co-creators of our lives and of how our marriage/relationship unfolds.

A Brief Example:

Nick recalled that as a child he was most alone when he needed people. Alienated and picked on at school, he’d frequently come home to an empty house.  When his mother was around, she was too preoccupied with her revolving-door of boyfriends to give Nick any meaningful attention. In a profound way, Nick came to believe that his needs and feelings didn’t matter, that others were unreliable, and that the closeness he desired would only bring pain.

Nick’s inner conflict (yearning for closeness while simultaneously anticipating pain by letting others in emotionally) had a powerful impact on his two marriages. Nick co-created the struggles in his marriages by seeking out emotional intimacy from his wife (a reflection of his yearning for emotional connection and validation). Yet part of him also anticipated that his wife would ultimately fail to give him what he so desperately wanted (which was a reflection of his deep-seated expectation that others cannot give you what you need), so he acted aloof and uncaring to proactively ease the sting of the wound he believed was coming.

Nick’s early, interpersonal struggles with his mother became his own internal struggles, and these internal struggles now find expression on the interpersonal playing field of his marriage.

It’s often observed by marriage/couples counselors that our deepest wounds and emotional struggles (which occurred when we were most vulnerable, when we needed others the most) play out in our most intimate relationships as adults. When these patterns are repeated without awareness, we feel stuck and grow hopeless, seeing ourselves as passive victims to the events unfolding around us.

Relationship Help Self-Reflection:

Think about the most influential people in your life when you were growing up.

  • What strengths and values did your primary caregivers instill in you (e.g. sense of confidence, flexibility, caring for others)? How do these currently impact your marriage/relationship?
  • What expectations and fears do you still hold as a result of difficult childhood experiences? How do they currently impact your marriage/relationship?

Give yourself ample time with these questions and any other questions you can think of that will increase your awareness of how your past experiences are impacting your marriage/relationship.

Until next time,

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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