How Your Background Can Affect Relationships

married couple fighting

Your Background Can Affect Your Relationships

Ever wonder how your background can affect building a better relationship? In another blog article, Jim discussed how trauma can affect relationships. But even if the trauma is mild, we can sometimes carry those feelings and it may affect how we behave in a relationship. Sometimes understanding the root of the feelings can be the first step to helping us. Below is an example of this.

Rejection can distort our thoughts. Let me tell you what I mean. I had a client that got stuck in a cycle of pain after his marriage ended, let’s call him Sam. He was an attractive guy, very witty and bright. He had a sweet nature and was a chronic people-pleaser.  He had married his high school sweetheart. After 10 years of marriage, she left him for someone at work. She moved to another town and left Sam with 3 small children. Some family members were concerned about the potential of his hurting himself. The thought that his children needed him protected him from acting on his impulse.

Helping Sam with his Own Resiliency

By the time Sam came to me, he was a wreck. It had been 7 months since the break-up.His eyes were bloodshot from a lack of sleep. Missing work was becoming a problem. Spending hours talking on the phone with his brother who lived across country became an everyday thing. In these conversations Sam was obsessing about his ex.  He went over every little detail of it for hours. He said he would take her back in an instant, if she would just come back.

Sam was convinced that he would not be able to get through his ordeal.  Clearly, a divorce is painful and takes time, but Sam’s progress was unusually slow.

When I asked Sam about his childhood, he described a family that was a little chaotic. There was a family business and all the members of the family worked there. Most of Sam’s memories about his upbringing was that of  loving but exhausted and absent parents. His Mom and Dad were at the shop all the time. Sam was minded by an older “bossy “cousin. 

Childhood’s Impact

As a little boy, Sam wanted more attention, particularly from his Mother. This was not because his parents didn’t love him, they just were not there because they were busy with the store. He had to compete with his much older sibling for attention but also with the business and its many customers. The little boy kept trying to be appealing by pleasing everyone and by accepting the little bits of attention he did get.

How Your Background Can Affect Building Better Relationships

In time, Sam began to realize that his marriage replicated familiar and painful feelings of rejection. He began to recognize that his feelings of helplessness in his present situation were somewhat rooted in his childhood. Being abandoned by his wife started to feel like he did when he felt abandoned as a child. It wasn’t so much that he missed his ex as he felt helpless the way he did as a kid. He began to see that he was so distracted by the familiar pain of rejection from the split-up that he was not thinking clearly.

Getting Over A Break-up

Sam was able to calm down long enough to think about these insights through some mindfulness and breathing exercises which he now practiced daily. He was able to think back on hard times he had when he was younger and to realize he had gotten through those times. This made him realize he was more resilient than he thought.  Once he was able to think about the rejection more abstractly, he could see that many of the qualities his wife had were not what he truly wanted in a marriage partner. This realization was a surprise to Sam and eventually helped him to let go. The first step to seeing what is really going on is sometimes the first step towards getting over a break-up.

Moving On After A Breakup

I had a note from Sam 3 years later. Oddly, his wife was proposing that they get back together. This time it was Sam who had moved on. When we get stuck, usually we need to find out if there is an underlying reason.  In Sam’s case it was a serious dread of rejection. For other reasons, here is a link to an article by Dr. Randi Gunther that discusses 9 other reasons. If you are stuck and can’t move on, consider these ideas by Dr. Randi Gunth

Myriam Mayshark is a licensed mental health counselor in New York state.

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