MYTH: YOU MAY REPEAT YOUR PARENTS’ RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS.
How you carry your childhood baggage is more important than the fact that you have any. “Nobody escapes childhood without some crazy buttons and triggers, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have a great relationship,”John Gottman says.
Tom Bradbury, PhD, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, coined the phrase enduring vulnerabilities for these historical triggers. Certain words and actions might dig up old feelings and provoke a reaction. Make sure you and your partner understand what sets the other off, and avoid those weaknesses.
Circumstances from your past could also prompt what psychologists call projective identification- an example is taking something from your childhood and applying it to your partner. If you had a distant cold parent, for instance, you might assume your partner is being distant and cold too. Instead of blaming your partner’s character, explain how the actions make you feel and what he or she can do to help you feel better.
I knew a man who was so eat up with his emotional baggage that he ran the gamut from tears to violence. He used braggadocio and alcohol to cover his feelings and built a very high wall believing he it would protect him from emotional pain. One never knew what would trigger his anger and/or violence. While I understood how his background played into his emotions and actions, there was nothing I could do to change it. While I was somewhat of a balm for his pain, he often saw me not as myself but as his mother.
When I met Danny, I was shocked to find that he was very much in touch with his emotions. He would let me know when I hurt his feelings rather than do the “macho” thing of acting like nothing bothered him. I fell so in love with this man! I felt safe with him because I didn’t have to guess about how he was feeling and there was no fear that I would unknowingly touch off a spark that would cause him to physically harm me.
Eventually, Danny grew tired of all the analyzing we did through counseling and discussions. That was when I began learning to lighten up in the realization that both of our lives had been so full of drama that it was stifling our relationship. We both still have things that can trigger a negative response but the truth is that we cannot judge each other with our individual pasts.
Enjoy life with your spouse! Don’t judge him/her based on your past, instead see them for the person you know them to be. Look for the good and give him/her a pass when they exhibit human behaviors. No one has a perfect marriage but we can come darn close.