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3 Ways Your Childhood Impacts Your Relationship

Thinking about when you were growing up – are there things your family did that you were surprised to learn that was not how everyone else did it?

I grew up in a farming family and didn’t realise until I was a teenager that it wasn’t normal for kids to work before and after school for their parents.
The fact is, what we experience in our family growing up affects our relationships in one way or another. Let me give you three examples:

Scenario A: On Christmas Eve, you always open one present, saving the rest for Christmas morning, when you practice patience and build your anticipation of what else you will be getting. It’s not Christmas otherwise.

Scenario B: On Christmas Eve, sometimes you are at home, some years you spend it with family members at their place. Being together was the main goal.

Whether you identify more with the first or second scenario, you’ll carry these tendencies with you as an adult into your relationship. When you form your own family unit, you’ll likely think about the role traditions will play and how important it is to you to carry on the ones you grew up with or create your own. If you grew up in a more go-with-the-flow family, you’ll probably have a similar attitude.

Dealing with stressful events
Your grandfather was just admitted to the hospital after suffering a heart attack. Your mother needs to go to see him and be with your grandmother at the hospital – she’ll be gone for three days.

Scenario A: Your family goes into emergency mode. You and your siblings each have specific chores you’re in charge of, and everyone is expected to step up and help out. There are specific “dad’s-in-charge” rules that everyone knows and is expected to follow.

Scenario B: Your family goes into chaos mode. The house is a mess and homework is not getting done, but we are having Maccas at night. (You never get that when mum is in charge.) Dad just does his best making sure you’re getting off to school in the morning fully dressed.

You might have felt a sense of rigid order or disorganised chaos during those times, or you just felt like this is how it must be for everyone.

Have you gone through stressful life events with your partner? What tendencies do you fall back on? If they are the opposite of your partner’s, you might experience some conflict, especially if you don’t understand where each other is coming from.

Dealing with conflict and emotions
Your parents just found out that your sister has been skipping school.

Scenario A: The dinner table is icy silent except for the clinking of silverware on plates. You look at your parents and your sister and no one is happy. Your mum says, “Please pass the salt,” and with those four words you know your sister is in for it.

Scenario B: The dinner table is silent for exactly one minute before the yelling begins. It is very clear that your parents are not happy, and your sister is defiant. Punishment is dealt out amidst the yelling, and it ends with the slamming bedroom door.

What is your natural inclination when handling high emotions or addressing conflict? 

Do you display your emotions clearly and confront the issue/person head on in the heat of the moment? Or do you maintain a reserved exterior subscribing to the notion that emotions are best tempered and kept to yourself while conflict is dealt with quietly? 

Neither is ideal, but the behaviour you were accustomed to growing up has likely etched itself into your psyche in some way. Perhaps you’ve learned to lower your voice instead of yelling when you’re angry or your logical side knows not to bury your emotions, but when you’re tired or stressed, these natural, knee-jerk tendencies can still bubble up.

What does all this mean for your relationship?

Takeaway #1: Your family experience does influence your couple relationship, whether you’d like it to or not.

Takeaway #2: Understanding differences and similarities between you and your partner’s family can give you a lot of insight into certain dynamics of your relationship.

Takeaway #3: Communication is key. Talking to each other about your family experiences not only increases intimacy and mutual understanding, it also gives you the opportunity to reflect on what each of you wants to carry forward or leave behind. What is most important to you? What are possible benefits and pitfalls of your similarities and differences? Where might you have to compromise? Discussing expectations now can prevent conflict and hurt feelings later.

Let me know how you resolved your different family experiences.

About David Lawson

Finding the Light is a locally owned and operated counselling and life coaching business based in Bundaberg. We seek to empower our clients to find their way forward to a better life by using the approaches of counselling or coaching. If this blog article has raised more questions please contact us by email or call us on 0407 585 497 to arrange a time for us to discuss the article. Mention this blog and we will give you a FREE 30 minute session to discuss.

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