How Our Childhood Affects Our Relationships

Imagine you’re cooking dinner with your partner, planning to have a nice evening together. But then, your partner does something that makes you feel really disrespected or embarrassed. Without even thinking about it, you react in a way that you used to when your older brother teased you as a kid. Suddenly, you’re treating your partner like they’re your annoying older brother from when you were three years old.

upset-couple-in-distress-traumaYour partner might be confused and wonder why you’re acting this way. Or, even more likely, they’ll respond with their own automatic reaction from their childhood. Before you know it, you’re both arguing and acting like children again.

This happens because relationships often trigger old feelings and reactions from our past. When we’re in a close relationship, we’re more vulnerable to being triggered because those old hurts and traumas can resurface.

Whether we had parents who were neglectful, distant, loving but unpredictable, or even if we had a generally happy childhood, we all have sensitive spots. These “hurt places” can get triggered by our significant others, even if we’re generally healthy and well-adjusted.

So, it’s important to recognize that these reactions are a normal part of being in a close relationship. By understanding where these feelings come from, we can better manage our reactions and work through conflicts in a healthier way. Remember, everyone has these triggers, and it’s part of what makes us human.

How Trauma Affects Relationships

couples-in-therapy-traumaIn my work with couples, I’ve seen how trauma can deeply affect their relationships. Trauma impacts the part of our nervous system that helps us connect with others. This is called the social engagement system. It’s what allows us to communicate, bond, and even have fun with others.

When we’re not feeling threatened or triggered, our social engagement system is active. This means we can think clearly and feel our emotions at the same time, allowing us to handle different situations well. But when we sense danger or experience trauma, we get triggered, and our social engagement system can shut down. This happens because our body, having survived trauma, switches into survival mode to cope with the threat.

When our social engagement system is off, our nervous system goes into defense mode. The first line of defense is using our physical strength to either fight or run away. This response makes us combative and defensive, not loving or open.

When our body senses a threat, it triggers the autonomic nervous system, which takes over and shuts down our social engagement system. All our body’s resources are then focused on survival responses like fight, flight, freeze, collapse/submit, or attach/cry for help.

When our social engagement system is turned off, we can easily miss or misunderstand our partner’s words and actions. This often leads us to think that they are being mean or threatening, even if they are not.

Understanding How Past Trauma Affects Relationships

couples-getting-relationship-help-traumaWhen my clients start to understand how trauma affects them, they realize just how much their past relationships impact their current ones. This understanding can help them see why their spouse or partner might get confused or hurt by reactions triggered by past trauma.

When someone is triggered by something from their past, they have trouble staying focused on the present. This difficulty in staying present can cause new problems in their relationship. It’s like a cycle: past traumas trigger reactions, these reactions cause issues in the relationship, and those issues create more distress.

By learning about this, partners can start to break the cycle and improve their relationships. Understanding the connection between past and present helps everyone involved feel more understood and less hurt.

Healing Relationships Through Therapy

couples-loving-embrace-traumaWhen partners come to me for couples therapy, they learn how to connect with each other in healthier and more positive ways, especially if they have experienced trauma in their past.

They learn how to handle common relationship problems like conflicts, unmet expectations, and misunderstandings. This helps prevent past traumas from disrupting their ability to connect and communicate in the present.

In therapy, I help couples get their social engagement system working again. This is the part of our nervous system that helps us feel safe and connected. When it’s back online, it can transform their relationship and their lives.

By working through their issues together, couples can build a stronger, more understanding relationship that increases their capacity for self-observation, repair, and trust.

If you’re in need of relationship help, please call or text today for a free consultation (720) 443-1071