Whole Life Magazine

February / March 2016

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Page 25 of 43

T he confl icts between Katherine and Greg had become too intense. It seemed the only way the couple could deal with dis- agreement was through shouting and harsh words. It wasn't until they decided to try therapy that they realized they were acting just as their parents had. It be- came clear how growing up in equally troubled families was infl uencing the way they were handling anger in their own marriage. Greg and Katherine are like all of us: Our experiences as children inevitably have an impact on the relation- ships we form as adults. Realizing this can o en be the fi rst step in mending a troubled relationship. THE FORMATIVE YEARS As children and adolescents, we are infl uenced by a va- riety of sources—friends, relatives, teachers, culture and, perhaps most profoundly, our parents. " e level of satisfaction you have in your marriage tends to correspond to the degree of marital satisfaction you witnessed while growing up," said Lloyd Sinclair, a psychotherapist at the Midwest Center for Psycholo- gy and Sex erapy in Madison, Wisc. "If your parents were loving, if they showed respect and aff ection, you are much more likely to have such a relationship yourself as an adult." On the other hand, children who grew up in fami- lies that were short on aff ection, abusive or otherwise troubled "are more likely than others to have great diffi culty in their adult lives." Does this mean that the signifi cant number of us who grew up in troubled homes are doomed to fail at forming stable, satisfying relationships as adults? Not necessarily. "I've seen people who had terrible childhoods and be- came wonderful adults," said Sinclair. In such instances, "You usually fi nd that there was someone along the way who provided a positive role model and gave emotional support." FORMING RELATIONSHIPS AS AN ADULT e family dynamics of our childhood can aff ect our adult relations in any number of ways. Sometimes the connections are fairly obvious. For instance, someone who experienced inappropriate sexual conduct as a child or grew up receiving negative messages about sex may develop into an adult who is sexually inhibited or has other problems with intimacy. In other cases, the link between a person's family back- ground and adult relationships may be more diffi cult to recognize. "Without consciously realizing it, people o en pick a partner who represents unfi nished business from the past," said Emily Brown, a marriage and family therapist. If, say, you had a parent who was emotionally remote, you may choose a partner with similar qualities hoping you can change the person and thereby heal the hurts of your childhood. Choosing a partner on this basis, said Brown, sets the stage for failure because we can't change another person and trying to do so is like- ly to cause problems. However, people can change themselves, and recognizing the How Family Dynamics Mess Us Up The trickle-down effect of troubled relationships BY ELLEN RAPP and recognizing the BY ELLEN RAPP 26 wholelifetimes.com

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