Did You Bring Your Dysfunctional Childhood Into Your Marriage?

a man and woman laying next to each other

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We all have an "inner community" of influences over our thoughts and behavior. This community involves the internalization of many experiences from our family, our upbringing, and other significant relationships throughout our lives. Much of this lies beneath the surface of conscious thought, yet it is shaping the way we feel, act and respond to others. It, therefore, makes sense to explore how these past experiences may be undermining your marriage. 

Here are some questions to help you think about if and how your inner community is impacting your marriage: 

Are You Able To Feel Safe and Secure In Your Marriage?

Were you abandoned, physically and/or emotionally, by your parents? This may have left you very needy or anxious, and sensitive to rejection. You think that those you love you will leave you. Alternatively, were you abused, physically and/or emotionally? You may have been left feeling ashamed, suspicious, or intimidated. You believe that those you love will hurt you. Your sensitivities are around control or dependency. These experiences make vulnerability tough. You might do things to distance yourself purposely as a form of self-protection. 

Are You Able to Function Independently?

Were you discouraged from forming your own identity as a child? Were your parents too enmeshed in your life, making you unsure of your ability to make decisions, your ability to survive on your own and have your own ideas? If so, from these blurred boundaries, you may have developed feelings of incompetency, vulnerability, and dependency.
As a result, you are controlled in your personal relationship and have become passive. Your fear to assert yourself has you using deceptive or secret strategies instead of communicating directly with your spouse. You may have a deep belief that you cannot make it on your own and let your spouse over-function for you. This makes it hard to just "be yourself" in your spouse's presence. 

Are You Able To Connect Emotionally With Your Spouse?  

Did you grow up in an environment that lacked warmth and affection? You may have a pattern of fleeting or brief prior relationships. You might describe having feelings of loneliness, emptiness or feeling that no one cared about you. You now have indifference about your relationship with your spouse and act aloof or detached. You do not have confidence that someone would be there for you. This will affect intimacy and commitment in your relationship as you can't grasp what it should actually look or feel like. This makes it very difficult for you to reach out to your spouse in a loving way. It may also make it hard to reach out to your spouse when you have needs. The disconnection will inevitably ruin your relationship

Do You Value Yourself?

Do you remember being made to feel that you did not measure up? Were you constantly criticized in the past? You may not have been praised or encouraged in a healthy way, causing feelings of being unlovable or defective.

You constantly feel that you are never good enough and are quick to take the blame. You are "sensitive," can't laugh at yourself and easily feel inadequate. This makes you continually seek external validation, sometimes at the expense of your spouse who loves you (warts and all).     

Are You Able To Express Yourself?

Did your parents let you have a voice? If not, you are now a "people-pleaser" who does not speak up. You commonly feel dismissed, misunderstood, or manipulated. You think to yourself that your needs do not matter, so why bother. This encourages you to keep your emotions and needs bottled up while silently building resentment. This leads to either a victim mentality or pretending that "everything is fine" in your relationship, even when it isn't. 

Are You Able to Let Go Once In a While?

Did you grow up in a high-stress, impoverished or overly religious environment? Did you have to take on more responsibility than is appropriate for a child? This may have led to you become over-disciplined or a perfectionist. You may even expect this of your spouse (and children) as well.
Your self-talk says, "No one can do it better than I can so I may as well do it myself." You may unwittingly believe your spouse to be lazy or weak due to your extremely high standards. This may also spur you to do something suddenly and spontaneously out of character and make poor choices. This mentality makes it hard for you to slow down, or be playful and romantic with your spouse.  

Are You Able to Accept and Set Boundaries?

Did your parents coddle you, do too much for you, or put you high on a pedestal? You now expect the same special treatment and balk at people who do not do this. You have a sense of entitlement and think you are above others.

To your spouse, this grandiosity and inability to see how you treat others would be unsettling, to say the least. He or she will feel unable to live up to your expectations, believing that you simply cannot be satisfied. You desperately need a frame of reference for a mutual and loving partnership.

Have you answered “no” to any of the heading questions? Continuing to let this emotional baggage sabotage your marriage can ultimately lead to dissatisfaction, disconnection, and potential infidelity. Be honest about what part of your behavior and feelings stem from interactions between you and your partner, or from past negative experiences.

If you need professional help to work through this, then confide in your spouse, ask for his or her help in working on the issues, and commit to it. You can undo the harm and find a happier way to relate to your husband or wife. A safe, secure connection with your spouse can also reverse the damage of such negative influences and make you a happier person.

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