Bend Marriage Counselor Asks: How Does Your Childhood Affect Your Adult Relationships? Part 3

August 16, 2015 by

In childhood we all learn how to protect ourselves when we were scared, hurt or threatened. These adaptive behaviors are our “defenses”. When neglected, we may have yelled, cried or screamed. When our mother or father was angry we may have shut down, froze or withdrawn. We also learned a variety of defensive behaviors when something bad happened in our family. The negative patterns that we experienced in childhood, and how we learned to survive in a less than perfect environment became hardwired in the emotional part of our brain. It often resides below our awareness until a similar experience triggers it. This part of our brain, called the limbic system, doesn’t understand time or place. My workshop partner, Norene Gonsiewski, calls it your “time traveler”. Its job is to determine if it’s safe or dangerous.

In relationship, when it’s safe this part of our brain relaxes and we play, collaborate, work together, have sex, share affection, become vulnerable and grow closer. When it experiences danger we pull out one or more of our defenses with some form of fight or flight, surrender or freezing. The biggest problem our defenses pose to a fulfilling marriage is we can’t get past the conflict when we get defensive. The unfortunate consequence in a committed relationship is that we argue, fight or distance ourselves from our partner. Criticizing, blaming, contempt, judging, stonewalling, shutting down, defensiveness, yelling, physical abuse, sarcasm, belittling, dismissing, tending and befriending, nagging, and nonverbal cues that show disdain, disgust or disapproval all create a negative feedback cycle of defensive behavior between couples. The sad part is we are sabotaging our attempts to get our needs met with these ineffective behaviors.

At Bend Marriage Counseling we can help you gain insight into your own defensive behaviors and where they came from. This will free you from your ineffective defenses by teaching you new more effective skills to get your needs met in the most important relationship you have. As David Steele, founder of Relationship Coaching said, “We are not born knowing how to have a successful relationship”. With a little effort and a commitment to make your love last, you can learn how to have the relationship you want.