Jill: What we learn from childhood can stick with us even up to our adulthood and affect how we behave in marriage. In our formative years, we develop our belief system, our view of the world, and the means by which we cope in times of stress.

Mark: As we meet with couples for marriage coaching, we often take a moment to dive into their past experiences in order to uncover the impact it has on their marriage today. Jill and I have had to do both individual work and work as a couple to discover how our expectations and experiences from childhood have affected how we relate to one another.

Jill: It’s true! One of the things that I brought into our relationship from my childhood was my pursuit of perfection. From my family of origin, I learned to value accomplishment as it was often rewarded as I was growing up. As an adult, this led to me valuing achievement above everything else.

Mark: Likewise, I brought some perspectives of my own to our relationship from my childhood, particularly with conflict. You see, my home wasn’t a safe environment and conflict in my home was often handled with aggression, which looked like screaming, yelling, and sometimes even physical abuse. I have had to learn a better path forward with approaching conflict and emotions. I tend to feel the emotions of conflict very strongly and disagreements can take a lot of emotional energy out of me.

Jill: How we were raised, the lessons we were taught, and the home environment we grew up in all formed that blueprint that eventually becomes the framework of how we live our lives. Some blueprints, both good and bad, have even been handed down from generation to generation. We carry that blueprint into our adult relationships—including our marriage.

Mark: By taking a closer look at five key areas from childhood that can impact your marriage today, we can better understand our patterns of thinking, keep the parts that “work,” and, with God’s help, rebuild the parts that need renovation.

1. Connection

If you felt like you were always trying to connect with one or both parents, but they were too busy or were wrapped up in their own life struggles, you are more likely to long for that connection in your marriage. It typically will push you to become either anxiously connected (codependent) or avoidantly connected (independent).

Jill: Do you know your attachment style? This is one of our favorite things to talk about because it was one of the primary things that helped us understand how we relate to one another within our marriage and what was getting in the way of building connection with one another.

Mark: There are three primary attachment styles—anxious, avoidant, and secure. These styles impact practically everything in your relationship, but a secure attachment style is able to accept their partner’s shortcomings and be direct and open about their feelings and needs.

Jill: We learned that Mark had an anxious attachment style while I had an avoidant attachment style. When we look back at how these played out in our early marriage, it’s easy to see where these approaches hindered our connection with one another. You can read more about attachment styles here.

Take a moment to pause now and consider these questions. You may even want to share your responses with your spouse to begin to understand how your childhood is impacting your marriage:

What is your attachment style?
What makes you feel disconnected from your spouse?
What helps you feel connected?
How can you better understand each other’s attachment styles to foster better connection?

2. Cultivating Space

Did you see your parents take time for their marriage? What you witnessed is what will feel most natural to you in marriage. This is your “normal,” but “normal” is not always “best.”

Mark: My first birthday we celebrated as a married couple came just a month after our wedding. Jill made plans for us to celebrate with a homemade cake and having family over for dinner. When I was growing up, my family always celebrated birthdays with a store-bought cake and going out to dinner. Was there anything “wrong” with how Jill wanted to celebrate me? Not at all! However, it felt like it in the moment.

Jill: When two people get married, there is a process of taking each person’s “normal” and determining what your new normal will be as a married couple. Sometimes these normals clash together when they are not discussed. This can encompass everything from how we load the dishwasher to how we make time for investing in our relationship.

Mark: It’s important to take some time to consider your preconceived notions about marriage, chores, and everyday life. Remember, what you saw displayed in your childhood may not be healthy to carry on into your own marriage and family life. When it comes to taking time for the relationship, we often have to create a “new normal” that puts our relationship on a better course than we may have seen displayed.

How did you see your parents interact in your home?
What traditions did you have growing up?
What traditions would you like to cultivate in our relationship as a married couple?

3. Conflict Resolution

Was conflict swept under the rug in your home? If so, you may feel uncomfortable with the idea of conflict. If it was loud and angry, you may overreact to conflict.

Jill: One of the things I noticed after I got married is that I was inept at resolving conflict. As a child, I didn’t witness conflict in my parents’ marriage, so I thought that “good marriages don’t have conflict.” I know today that is incorrect, but I thought our marriage was headed toward divorce the first time we had an argument!

Mark: I was on the other side. My background of witnessing aggressive conflict led me to be deeply insecure and seek out people-pleasing behaviors to try to keep the peace.

Jill: How conflict was handled in your childhood home has likely impacted the way you disagree in your marriage today. Take a moment to pause now and consider these questions:

In what ways did you witness conflict being handled as a child?
What do you believe today about conflict as a result?
Are there any behaviors in conflict resolution that you have an aversion to?
(i.e. raised voices, leaving the room before the conflict is resolved, being able to share your feelings, etc…)

Mark: If this is an area you need to work on, be sure to check out our guide on how to have a safe conversation with your spouse. We’ve found this framework to be so helpful as we navigate conflict resolution in our relationship and unlearn some of the blueprints we learned in our childhood!

4. Communication

Did your family sit around the table and talk or did everybody grab their food and sit in front of the TV? Did you see your parents problem-solve together or argue about preferences? Good communication helps you navigate disagreements and share preferences.

Jill: In marriage, especially if you have children, we have to communicate about a million little things a day—from who’s dropping the kids at soccer practice and picking up the grocery order to who’s making dinner and who’s washing the dishes. But it’s also important to establish good communication to navigate your wants and needs and build a strong marriage.

Mark: If your childhood home displayed reckless, rushed, or thoughtless communication, it’s likely that you carried some of that into your marriage. This type of communication can cause criticism, defensiveness, and even contempt to creep into your heart and steal the closeness between you and your spouse.

Jill: We have to be intentional about recognizing the wrong ways we have communicated about things and learn to communicate with intentionality, kindness, and compassion. Not to mention that in today’s social media and technology-driven world, it’s even more important to make sure you have intentional tech-free times built into your schedule so that you aren’t missing out on an opportunity to communicate with one another. Consider these questions:

In what ways has our communication hindered connection?
How can we create intentional moments to communicate about our day in the midst of our busy schedule?
What would it look like to have a phone-free time in our schedule or during dinner time?

Need to address this area of your relationship? Here’s an resource to start with: Communication in Marriage: Turn Hurtful Conversations into Healthy Ones

5. Childhood Scripts

What was said to you as a child? Were you told “You can do anything you set your mind to”? Or were you told “You’re not going to amount to anything”? No matter what it was, these childhood scripts are what you will typically carry with you into adulthood.

Mark: Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will inform what we believe about ourselves and influence our behavior. Now, this may not be how we all learned this phrase but it is certainly true! Childhood scripts are things that were said either intentionally or unintentionally that inform us about our value.

Jill: This could be something as simple as a comment from your mother about how you would be prettier if you wore a dress or something more intentional like your dad telling you that “winners never quit.” These scripts inform our beliefs about ourselves and impact how we behave in our marriage.

Mark: These scripts from your childhood may affect your marriage by informing your belief that you aren’t a good wife if you don’t have a home-cooked meal on the table each night or that you aren’t a good husband if you don’t like mowing the lawn. It’s important to understand what scripts from childhood you are carrying and how they affect what you believe about yourself and even your spouse today.

What messages were you told about yourself as a child?
How have those affected your behavior as an adult?
What childhood scripts do you need to dismantle and replace with new messages?

Jill: We hope these have helped spark conversation between you and your spouse about how our childhood can impact our marriage. We have found it to be so important to spend time looking back at where we came from in order to move forward in our relationship in a way that connects us with our spouse and creates a healthy dynamic.

Mark: If you want even more help navigating how your childhood may be impacting your marriage, consider booking a marriage coaching appointment with us! If you want something deeper, take a look at our Marriage 2.0 Intensive Retreat.

If you’d like to understand some of these dynamics from an individual perspective, you might want to consider our upcoming Transform Weekend. 

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