When you are in a committed relationship or dating, have you ever acted in a way that surprised you?
Maybe you started shouting during an argument even though you’re usually quiet and soft-spoken…
Maybe you burst into tears when your partner went out for a night with the guys…
Maybe you felt unusually detached and unemotional during your last breakup…
Intimate relationships can bring out the best, and worst, in ourselves. Sometimes the emotions that arise during a conflict or even a seemingly normal circumstance can be shocking to us and our partner.
What determines how we approach intimate relationships? Are we programmed to behave a certain way based on our genetics and/or upbringing?
Through my work with clients and in my own experience, I’ve found our childhood experiences may shape our ability to love and be loved.
Here are a few ways your childhood may be influencing your love life:
#1 Subjugation (people-pleasing)
Subjugators are people who will bend over backward for someone, and put their needs before their own. They are the “people-pleasers” in the sense that they will do almost anything to keep peace and make their partner happy. They are the first to apologize after an argument, even if they are not at fault.
Subjugators behave this way in order to add value to their partner’s life so that the partner will love and stay with them. They are afraid of conflict and being left behind. Unfortunately, a subjugator’s needs often go unmet. And when they do ask for something or express their feelings, they often feel guilty and out of place.
These types of people may have had parents who were subjugators themselves. Or, they had parents who made them feel that love was conditional. Maybe they felt they could never earn their parent’s affection, and so they overcompensate in adult relationships.
#2 Abandonment (fear of rejection)
Having neglectful parents can lead to fears of abandonment, or trouble developing a deep emotional connection with a partner. If one of your parents abandoned you as a child, you may have a difficult time trusting your partners. You may hold back because you are afraid of the pain of loss.
This fear may lead to either excessive clinginess and need for constant validation, or trouble developing deep connection (you hold your partner at arm’s length). These types of people may experience serious emotional damage with breakups, or they may appear cold and uncaring because they never allowed themselves to fully attach.
#3 Entitlement (unrealistic expectations)
If you grew up with parents who didn’t set good boundaries, you may approach relationships with a sense of entitlement. You don’t respond well with being told “no” and become angry when your partner tries to set healthy boundaries.
You may gravitate towards partners who are passive and will do anything to please you, even if it’s not healthy or realistic. This can lead to imbalanced relationships, burnout, and a lack of fulfillment and growth.
What can we do to re-program the way we approach relationships?
Healing from childhood experiences and relationships takes a deep commitment to inner awareness. It takes time, patience, gentleness, and a willingness to shift in ways that are uncomfortable to us. But when we are willing to face our inner demons, it can make a tremendous difference in the types of people we attract, the success of our relationships, and our long-term happiness.
It is also important to see that, in most cases, our parents did the best they could with the tools given to them. It doesn’t invalidate the hurt you experienced, but it can be healing to realize that our parents were doing the best they knew how. Some of our parents never learned to heal their own wounds and this caused them to perpetuate the hurt they themselves experienced as children.
Your story can be different.
Committed Relationship: Childhood Influence
Mar 8, 2021