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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Relationships: Unresolved Childhood Issues Can Create Conflict

As a psychotherapist and marriage counselor in NYC, I see many individuals and couples where unresolved childhood issues are creating conflicts in their relationships. Often arguments are about money, sex, housework, time apart vs spendng time together, and other issues that can come up in relationships. While this might not be a surprise to most people, how these unmet needs play out in your relationship might come as a surprise.

It doesn't matter how long ago it was, unresolved childhood issues can create problems for you as an adult 
How Unresolved Childhood Issues Get Triggered in Relationships
The following fictionalized scenario, which is a composite of many different cases, illustrates how unmet childhood needs can trigger problems in a relationship:

Jane and George:
Jane grew up in a traditional family where her father, Jim, controlled the money and her mother, Mary, took care of the children and the household.

When Jim came home from work, he expected his food and his newspaper on the table waiting for him. Mary and the children were expected to be quiet at the dinner table while Jim read the newspaper. If his dinner and his newspaper were not on the table when he got home, he would lose his temper, pound his fist on the table, and yell at Mary.

Mary would respond by apologizing and hanging her head down in shame. Jim was not interested in hearing whatever might have happened that prevented Mary from meeting his demands. After he finished eating, he would push his dish away from him, expecting that Mary would remove it immediately. For whatever reason, Jane felt the most resentment towards her father when he made this gesture of pushing his dish away.

Jane grew up in a family with a domineering father and passive mother
Each week, Jim gave Mary an allowance to manage the household. It was barely enough, but Mary knew how to stretch a dollar. Because the money she received from Jim was so little, she hardly ever spent money on herself.

Jane grew up seething silently with resentment towards both of her parents: her father for being so angry and bullyng, and her mother for being so passive and masochistic.

Until she met George in college, Jane told herself that she never wanted to get married if this was what marriage was all about. Jane saw her mother's beauty fade under the strain of her marriage, and she didn't want this for herself. But George was warm, kind and generous with Jane, and she realized that not every man was like her father. After they dated for a couple of years and graduated from college, they got married.

A year after they got married, Jane lost her job, and this is when problems began between them.
While Jane was looking for another job, she was at home most of the day, so she volunteered to take on more of the household responsibilities that she and George were sharing when they both worked. At first, she didn't mind doing most of the household chores. But as time went on and she felt bored and frustrated, she started to feel resentful and angry.

Jane was aware that she volunteered to do more of the household chores, especially after George was being asked to work longer hours at work, but she still felt increasingly irritable and annoyed, and she wasn't sure why she felt these feelings as strongly as she did.

Then, one day, after finshing his dinner, George pushed his dish away from him and this gesture triggered an angry emotional response from Jane. She exploded in anger and tears, yelling at George for taking advantage of her and telling him that she was not his slave. George was shocked by Jane's reaction and he didn't understand where it was coming from. When they were both calm enough to speak, Jane told George that she felt "useless" now that she was staying at home without a job.

Then, suddenly, her mother's face flashed into her mind, and Jane began to make the connection between her current feelings and her past resentments towards her parents. But even though she was able to make the connection, she didn't feel any less resentful or angry. George told her that he was more than willing to take on more of the chores, but Jane sensed that this was not the solution. After a few weeks of struggling with her emotions, Jane suggested that they begin marriage counseling to work out these problems, and George agreed.

A few weeks into their marriage counseling sessions, Jane and George learned how to communicate with each other so that these types of resentments didn't build up, fester and cause arguments. Over time, both Jane and George got better at communicating their feelings with each other. Unlike when she was growing up and she had to stuff her anger and resentment, Jane began to feel that she could voice her concerns, even when she didn't feel comfortable with them.

Their marriage counselor also recommended that Jane attend her own individual psychotherapy sessions to work through her unresolved childhood issues. Over time, although it wasn't easy, Jane was able to work through these issues so that they no longer got triggered in her marriage, and both Jane and George were a lot happier together.

Jane and George were able to work through their problems in marriage counseling
The fictionalized scenario that I presented above is an example where only one person in the relationship is getting triggered by unresolved childhood issues. But in many relationships both people are getting emotionally triggered and they don't even realize it. When both people are getting emotionally triggered, it's obviously a more complicated situation.

Relationships where one or both people are affected by unresolved issues often tend to spiral down, so it's best not to wait until there is so much anger and resentment that your relationship can't be salvaged. If you think that you and your spouse or partner are having problems because of unresolved childhood issues, you're not alone and you owe it to yourself and your relationship to get help.

I am a licensed psychotherapist and marriage counselor in NYC. I have helped many individuals and couples overcome unresolved childhood issues that are adversely affecting their relationships.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.

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