Looking back on childhood, we can answer critical questions: What do we want from a relationship? Why do we choose a particular partner? What kind of relationship are we likely to have? Why do most of us experience so much frustration, pain, and failure in our relationships in contrast to the joy, pleasure, and contentment we hoped to have? The answers to these questions are the raw material from which we can fashion understanding and change, and those answers lie hidden in childhood memories.
Recapturing our wholeness and our sense of full aliveness is no trivial matter. Our woundedness, the result of needs not met, threatens our survival. With the stress of birth and in every subsequent instance that a need is not met in early childhood, we lose another particle of our essential wholeness; the seamless fabric of existence is ruptured. The old brain experiences this disturbance as a “danger” to our existence and sounds an alarm. Because its sole concern is keeping us alive, it begins a compulsive, lifelong mission to restore that lost sense of relaxed joyfulness—to turn off the alarm.
The early childhood years from birth to the age of six are the most critical, for it is here, in a timely, age-appropriate way, that we must accomplish the tasks necessary to become secure, competent, whole selves. The sad truth is that most of us, to one degree or another, do not get in our formative years what we need in the way of love and security and self-acknowledgment. Whatever is not resolved at one stage, though, gets passed along to the next for healing. During our lifetime, the psyche presents its issues for resolution over and over again.
Inevitably, the project of self-completion gets taken to our adult relationships. We present our wounds and burdens to our intimate others and expect them to undo the damage created by deficient nurturing. “Hi, honey,” we say, “I’m home. It’s your job to make everything all right.” If we understand what’s going on here, we stand a chance of finding joy and wholeness. But most of us don’t know, and we’re unhappier than ever. Failing to resolve the issues in our relationships, all our frustration and disappointment comes to a head in the mid-life crisis, a desperate neo-adolescent last-ditch attempt of the psyche to restore itself.
Harville Hendrix — Keeping the Love You Find (pp. 52-53)
If there’s one thing I have learned about relationships over the years—being in them and reading all about them—there is always way more going on than meets the eye. We naively assume our relationships are straightforward and make all the sense in the world, yet they rarely do.
Why isn’t your relationship bringing you the happiness you think it should?
Why is it so hard for you to “land” your perfect partner?
Why does the “honeymoon phase” always have to end (faster for some more than others)?
Why won’t my partner love me the way they are supposed to?
Why do negative patterns follow me from relationship to relationship?
Why do I always seem to pick the “wrong one?”
The following diagram explains quite a bit:
Hendrix goes on to say: “At each stage, there is a norm with a healthy outcome. But if at any point along the way something goes wrong with the way we are nurtured, we instinctively find a way to compensate for what is lacking, in order to survive. But it is a defensive move, and in our desperation and ignorance we develop a maladaptive way of coping with the task at hand. It leaves a weak spot in our development. Lacking in vital skills, and weakened in confidence, we resort to inadequate responses which accumulate like scar tissue around the central core of our wound. Like Sisyphus, we end up pushing a big stone uphill wherever we go, limiting our ability to live and relate in adult life” (p. 59).
“We are all wounded, to some extent, at every stage of development. But there is almost always one stage in which we really got stuck.”
Hendrix goes on, “The earlier in life we get ‘stuck,’ the more inadequately we handle subsequent stages, and the more debris and maladaptive behavior accumulate around the core problem.”
It’s completely mind-boggling to me that we instinctively and unknowingly choose our partners based on our childhood wounds from our caregivers. We are subconsciously attempting to heal the core wounds that we brought into the relationship from our childhood. And here’s the thing, we are all wounded! Even the best caregivers in the world have wounded their children in one way or another.
The closest thing to our primal relationships with our caregivers is our adult intimate relationships. That is the reason our adult relationships tend to cut us like a knife straight through the heart. No other relationship can ever come closer to wounding us in the same way we were wounded as children. Most of this comes from Attachment Theory which was first developed by John Bowlby in 1958 and several psychologists and scientists have continued to build on his seminal work. Many of the current models of couples counseling are based on the foundation of attachment theory.
I tell you all this for one reason: your relationship problems are not unique—we all have relationship problems! Our relationship problems originated in our childhood and continue to haunt most of us well into our adulthood. So, please, give yourself a break.
Don’t naively assume your relationship problems are all the result of a poor choice in a mate. You subconsciously chose your mate in order to heal your childhood wounds, so let the healing begin!
My intention is to help you be more comfortable with your humanness—so please give yourself a break. We all need to lose the shame of not doing relationships perfect.
Have a blessed day.
Peace and Love,
Ah yes…in our house of adoption we are well aware of attachment issues. It has helped me to see my own attachment junk clearer. Healing is a lifelong process, is it not? Thanks Travis, my humanness appreciates you.
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