Understanding Childhood Influences

Understanding Childhood Influences

Somewhere, sometime, you were a child. That is an obvious fact, universally acknowledged, yet frequently ignored or forgotten. You cried, you laughed, you learned about yourself and the world around you. You had fears and favorites, likes and dislikes.  You were impulsive, and loving and stubborn. In short, you were a child.

Then came the intensive rush to become independant, to become an adult. In the process, it is possible that you deliberately pushed aside that "child within" and mistakenly submerged important childhood experiences into your subconcious. After all, you were done with all of that! Unfortunately, in doing so, you planted seeds of much adult misunderstanding and unhappiness.

Childhood feelings and attitudes influence and, to a great degree, determine the quality of our adult relationships.  By gaining insight into the influence your past has on your current life, you will shed light on troubling situations and might be better able to handle recurring problems, especially in your marriage...

Can your childhood actually influence your marriage? The answer to this question is only useful to the extent that it helps you understand and improve your present situation. It is only important if it helps you answer: "Why does my spouse react the way s/he does?" "Why do I get so upset?"

The first key to a happier marriage, then, is to examine the influence childhood has on current behavior, so that you can use this knowledge to improve your marriage.

The first key to a happier marriage, then, is to examine the influence childhood has on current behavior, so that you can use this knowledge to improve your marriage.

To accomplish this task, it is incumbent upon you to be familiar with your spouse's childhood. Do you truly understand what type of childhood your spouse experienced? Do you truly know in what type of home s/he grew up? You would be surprised at how many people are totally unaware of the answers to these questions despite their having been married for many years.

Why are most people so uninformed about their spouse's background? When counselors ask this question, they are often told that before marriage both partners didn't feel close enough to their prospective spouse to discuss such things. Then, after the marriage, topics of conversation quickly escalate: "Where will we live? Should we buy or rent? How can we save for a home of our own? Should a mother work? Can we survive financially if she doesn't? How can I get your mother to stop interfering?...With all of these important issues on the front burner, when does a married couple find the right time, the right place, the right mood to sit and share childhood memories?

In addition...if one is now in his or her 20s or 30s or 40s, why should one care what his or her spouse experienced so many years ago? What relevance can it have to today? We have left our childhoods behind us. Why not forget what was and concentrate on the here and now?

Everyone of us has an inner, driving need to recreate the familiar...

Because of this... we sometimes bring along alot of childhood baggage, ready to be "unpacked" in our new marriage. How many times have we called a friend and cried, "I don't believe it! Despite all my attempts at rebellion as a teenager, despite all my good intentions to the contrary, this morning I happened to hear myself talking to my children and you know, it was frightening: I heard my mother's voice coming out of my mouth!"

It is not frightening, but it should be recognized and admitted. Then you can decide to make the kind of changes that will prevent it from happening in the future.

Conversely, we must often deal with situations we didn't experience in childhood,and that too, is difficult. Adapting to new ways of thinking and behaving is an ongoing process. Being aware of the difficulties this presents to cultivating patience with ourselves and understanding why our spouse deals  differently with such challenges, is a vital key to marital happiness...

The point of dealing openly and honestly with your childhood experiences is to learn how to improve your present adult life. Whatever you grew up with, who your parents were, who their parents were, the kinds of lives they led, the way they related to each other and to you has been handed down to you and affects your attitudes, your goals and your behavior. What you learned from your family still affects your life today.

By recalling impressions, memories and associations, you can open up your range of choices. You have little choice about how to change your behavior until you reflect on who you are and where you came from. Your options are different if you can say to yourself, "This I want to keep and this I want to let go of; this is useful to me, and this is no longer relevant."

The reason it is vital to find out about your family patterns is to discover which of them you have absorbed, which have been playing out in your adult life, possibly even without your awareness.

The reason it is vital to find out about your family patterns is to discover which of them you have absorbed, which have been playing out in your adult life, possibly even without your awareness.

We tend to hope that in our marriage we will continue with all the good things we experienced as children and make up for all that we missed or that ws negative. Although you may not be aware of them, you entered into marriage with certain expectations about the way you were going to be treated. If these expectations weren't met, if they currently aren't being met, you might feel betrayed and disappointed.

Knowing that the child you were is still the child within is pertinent and enlightening. This knowledge can evoke feelings of sadness, or conversely feelings of contentment. All new information changes our perspective, demands introspection and hopefully leads to improvement. Yet awareness is not enough. It must be combined with conscious, continuous efforts to learn new ways of behaving.

Learn to recognize the feelings and needs of your inner child as important and deserving of your attention. Separate them from your adult feelings. This distinction is of utmost importance. It will clarify whether your child within is threatening your marital happiness or helping you achieve your adult goals.

Behavior rooted in childhood experiences can be altered, but only with the information available to you on which you can reflect and act. Based on understanding how childhood experiences influence your marriage, you can take responsibility for changing that which is no longer useful. This is the first vital key to helping you become the spouse you truly want to be in your marriage.


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