As a marriage counselor, if there’s one common theme between the couples I work with, it would have to be how quickly and easily one or both overreacts to the other. It could be a simple eye roll that triggers a defensive response from the other. Or one person gets quiet because they don’t want to upset the other because of something they may say or do.
Reactivity (rage, depression, isolation, hopelessness, etc.) in relationships tends to stem from an activation of a previous experience from our distant past usually around childhood (all unbeknownst to us as adults). Any parenting that lacked the love and nurture a child needs has the strong potential to leave an imprint of how we view ourselves and the world around us as adults. These childhood experiences creates a narrative of “I can’t trust you because you’ll hurt me” or “I’m not good enough”. This is especially true within a marriage relationship that has experienced disappointments, hurts, and wounds.
When we allow feelings that have not been dealt with properly (such as shame) from our childhood to follow us into our adulthood, we tend to react in 1 of 3 ways. We can find ourselves attacking our spouse, beating ourselves up in our head, or slowly withdrawing emotionally from the relationship.
If you are reactive but you don’t know why, the answer may be found in your family of origin. Somewhere in your upbringing, you realized the only way to deal with hurtful situations is to pull inward, run, or fight back. This worked for you effectively as a child to protect you from feeling the pain of disappointment. However, as an adult using the same strategies will kill true intimacy in a relationship over a period of time.
These intense feelings can be dealt with it in a healthy manner. It will require coming to terms with our past, understanding our coping strategies, viewing ourselves with kindness, and committing to show up differently each and every day.
If you’re looking for a new beginning, we encourage you to visit our Breaking Free Workshop page. We would love to help you experience freedom from the past so you may live more in the present and build a better tomorrow!