Want to Wreck Your Most Important Relationship?
Ignore Your Own Past
Many people have unresolved issues from their past that are destroying their present relationships. These issues cloud the lenses through which they see themselves and others to such a degree that a perfectly good marriage or partnership can be completely ruined. When one partner can't unhook from the way they were raised or traumatic events from their past, they become taunted by an internal ticker tape of negative thoughts and feelings that inevitably spill over into every day life - and into their marriage.
Let's face it, many of us come from backgrounds of abuse, trauma, loss, abandonment, mental illness, addiction and/or divorce. Life has dealt us some very tough blows and the families we grew up in left us with some very real wounds. And because some of these things can be so painful to deal with, many of us who don't know how to effectively handle the internal after-shocks of a troubled childhood wander off into the world of "coping" instead. By coping we mean that people will often try anything and everything to ease the emotional pain they feel rather than address their core issues. A few examples of coping include:
- Over-eating (or under-eating)
- Watching TV for hours on end
- Shopping when you cannot afford it
- Using substance to an extreme or illegally
- Over commitment in activities
- A compulsion for success, recognition, or accomplishment
- Anything to an extreme, just to avoid feeling, even healthy behaviors
Though many of these activities may seem harmless to you, they are not, when viewed in the bigger picture. Often, these types of behaviors will put you at odds with your partner because they can destroy trust, ruin your finances, shatter your reputation, threaten your health and/or humiliate those around you. But mostly, these ways of coping take you away from showing up in and nurturing the primary relationships in your life. Constant involvement in escapist activities can literally make you a ghost in your own house.
And usually, for the family of someone who engages regularly in these things, there is a price to be paid. Unfortunately, it is most likely the family bank account, a career, the kids, or your integrity that will pick up the tab for a life of excessive or out-of-control coping.
Deal With Your Stuff
You had no control over the kind of family you grew up in as a kid. Thankfully, you do have control over the one you create now, as an adult.
Here's the bottom Line: You will be happier, your family will be closer and your marriage will be stronger if you deal with your past. You are shaped by your past. The events and people of your life - for better or worse - have made you who you are. Without knowing it, many people wreck their marriage and repeat the same harmful patterns they were brought up with unless they take the courageous steps to change those patterns. Here are some practical steps:
- If you struggle with an addiction or two, admit it and seek treatment and support.
- If you experience the mental torment of depression or anxiety - help yourself and your family by talking to a doctor or therapist and investigating medications.
- Get moving - Exercise and a healthy diet make everything look better - including you!
- Develop a spiritual life; it helps you realize the universe revolves around something greater, higher, and larger than you.
- Attend couple's counseling with your partner. It can help to have an objective set of eyes on the scene.
A Word of Hope: When people begin to deal with the interior of who they are and where they came from, it can be tricky and a bit messy. Don't lost heart! We have rarely met a person who has courageously taken the "inward journey" of making peace with their past and regretted it.
As you begin to come to terms with the story of who you are and where you came from, seek out people who can be in your "circle of trust" to support you and challenge you as you confront your demons. These are the folks who know all your flaws and struggles and love you anyways. They accept you unconditionally and share their struggles with you as well. The Celts have a word for this type of relationship, it's called Anam Cara - it means "Soul Friend." A true friend of your soul will travel with you through the ups and downs of life and help you get where you need to be.
But you need more than one Anam Cara friend in your life or you run the risk of wearing them out when you hit a wall or run off the road during your healing process. So, spread out your needs a bit and consider taking a trained professional like a therapist or a minister into your circle of trust as well. When you do choose someone to help you heal look for these characteristics in a friend, clergy or professional:
- They know and understand pain by heart
- They're not afraid of it
- They won't look down on you or judge you
- They are grateful to help a fellow traveler
- They aren't shocked when they hear about your "secrets"
- They maintain your privacy
- They can help you see the light when all else is dark
The ideas in this series of articles were meant to inspire our readers to evolve and change and to hopefully improve their most intimate relationships. But we know that change can be hard. So, remember, Price Pritchett said, "Change always comes bearing gifts." So, be sure to look for the gifts ahead for you on this journey to a better relationship.
This three-part series on relationships was co-authored by Cindy Finch, LICSW and Dr. Gary Brink, D. Min.