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7 Ways Childhood Trauma Can Show Up in Romantic Relationships

7 Ways Childhood Trauma Can Show Up in Romantic Relationships

“Love is the greatest miracle cure. Loving ourselves creates miracles in our lives.” ~Louise Hay

If you’re not lucky in love, it is easy to blame yourself and blame fate. Everyone else around you is in happy, long-term relationships, but you just can’t get there.

You might come to the conclusion that there is something wrong with you—you’re too old or too fat—and all the good ones are already married, and you will just die alone! It is not possible to see that your entire relationship history has been playing out since childhood.

For the past 37 years, I felt this way. It was almost as if I had been dating the exact same man for thirty-seven years, but with different bodies. My feelings were always the same. I was always looking for someone who wasn’t available in some way. There were many reasons for this. Some people were addicted, others were in relationships, and some preferred other people. However, the feeling underneath was the same. I’m not worthy to be loved.

Sometimes I avoided all relationships or ran away from those who wanted me. I believed they weren’t what I wanted. In all situations it ended in the same way—me single, feeling incredibly lonely and hopeless. I looked at all the people who were able to manage a relationship and wondered what was wrong.

I continued to look for love in the wrong places, unaware of the impact my childhood had on my relationships. I started a journey to healing, which began with self-help content and reading. After reading the book of the same title, I was introduced to Pia Melody’s concept of love addiction.

This was a trauma response to the relationship behavior I kept repeating. My dad was an emotionally distant father, who was very focused on his own needs. Unconsciously, I found him in these other relationships. After his suicide, it got worse.

Since then, I’ve learned a lot about how our childhood trauma plays out in relationships. Here are seven ways this can happen.

1. You are in a relationship but don’t feel loved.

Although you are happy in the relationship that you desire, you feel empty and like you are to blame. You would feel complete and loved if they did x.

You can’t blame them. Are you expecting them to give you the same love and care that you do for yourself? Do you feel like you are giving away your love to others so that they can love you back? Is it possible to notice how they love you? You might not be able to see the love language. It’s possible that things are not going as planned. Are you focusing on fixing the problem instead of blaming others or ignoring them completely?

We learn attachment through our first relationships (with parents or caregivers in childhood). If your relationship with your parents was sometimes really loving but other times they were cold and distant, you didn’t grow up with love being available and consistent. Relationships can cause anxiety and make it difficult to feel secure.

2. You are the one who fixes it in love.

Your partner is likely to be the “broken bird” that you obsess about fixing when you get married or date. You might find them a narcissist, who only cares about you and their needs. Either way, you have found yourself in toxic relationships that don’t feel safe or good.

They might be an addict. You can spend your entire energy trying to save them, but you feel empty and unloved. It’s easy to become obsessed with saving the person you love. It’s quite possible you’re repeating a dynamic with one of your parents.

My dad’s mental health was the focus of my relationship, so I kept repeating my pattern of seeking out men to fix him. I was always there to save him and would get love from him when I did. I believed this to be love and I continued this behavior unconsciously in other relationships.

3. You chase unavailable love.

You waste your energy trying to find someone else. They need fixing, have addiction or family issues, are in a relationship already, or won’t commit to you. They are your thoughts and concerns every single day. You are obsessed with getting them to choose you, but they don’t and this spirals you into despair.

Keep trying, and sometimes you resort to other addictions to ease the pain. I was addicted to a psychic line at the height of my love addiction with an unavailable man because I was looking for confirmation that we’d end up together. I was able to start my healing journey because of this. It made me feel crazy at times, especially when my object of affection kept running away.

Many times, we attract people who have been through their childhood attachment trauma. Of course, they will be opposite of us. If you chase love, you might attract someone who runs away.

4. You avoid relationships entirely.

It can feel too overwhelming to fall in love and cause anxiety. You might try to avoid it altogether and be more independent. The loneliness can be intense. You long for a place to call your own.

You will do things to avoid these feelings, like overwork, take care of others, keep your social calendar super busy, numb with TV, drink all the time—whatever you can do to not feel your feelings!

Your heart rate increases and you feel afraid if you attempt to use a dating app. So you run back to your safe single life, wondering what is wrong with you that you can’t even go on a date.

5. It is easy to ignore warning signs.

The object of your affection does things that don’t feel safe, yet you don’t say anything out of fear of losing them. You have no idea how to set a boundary and ignore warning signs that this person may not be good for you—how they talk to you, put you down, deny your reality, or even get physically violent.

Because you were raised by a parent who did the same for you, you feel almost at home. Although your body may tense around them, it is normal. You stay too long in relationships that don’t make you feel good, where you get very little. This is what you feel is the best. You focus on the positive and not the negative.

6. You feel trapped in your relationship.

Your brain begins to question the safety and ease of a relationship. Are they attracted? Are they making me feel trapped? Is this the right person for me? You’ll convince yourself that they aren’t right for you, and you’ll end the relationship. You feel anxious about ending up with the wrong person.

7. You don’t think you can get better.

You are in a relationship because you don’t want to be alone, but it doesn’t make you happy. But you don’t think you deserve any better. Fear of being alone and leaving feels too overwhelming so you stay. Resenting the other person because they are not making your life easier, but not taking any steps to make it better.

Many people fall in more than one of these categories.

If we don’t do inner work and healing, we subconsciously replay the patterns of our past and are unable to have a happy relationship.

We can’t even objectively see what is wrong because so much of what we are experiencing in our relationships is based on our past trauma wounds. We don’t know what we don’t know, and if no one  modelled a healthy relationship for us growing up, how can we know what it is ?

I had no ideas my parents’ relationship was unhealthy because the constant fighting was my normal, so I had no idea I could have something different.

My years of stress from romantic love were a result. They drove me crazy or I was pining for them. I didn’t know there could be any another way.

Understanding my relationships and their origins has made a huge difference in my life.

After a long journey of healing past relationship traumas with my parents, through therapy, books and support groups, now I am able to love healthy. What I discovered was how to love and care about myself in a way that is different from what I had expected.

This changed everything…

My relationship with myself and my relationships with men improved as well. I am now married, and thankful my marriage is nothing like my parents’. When there’s conflict, we have the tools to move through it and come out stronger.

Our strong relationship is a result of my inner work and healing. I have a better understanding of myself than in any previous relationships. I can also express my needs and boundaries with kindness and love, which is something I’ve never been able to do before.

I took responsibility for my actions and stopped being a victim. This change made a difference in my relationships, and not only romantic. It was easier to love myself and treat others with respect. This made my love more fulfilling.

Our relationships reflect our internal struggles. When we heal from within, everything changes.

Love yourself as you would love someone else. Notice when your relationship is triggering negative emotions and ask yourself, “What do I need?” Start to give yourself what you need and then you will learn to ask others for what you need. You can change everything by embracing your love.

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About Manpreet Bernie

Manpreet is the creator of a podcast Heart’s Happiness, where she talks about intergenerational trauma, and is also a coach who helps people make peace with their past and rewrite their story by learning how to love themselves and their inner child. You can access her FREE MASTERCLASS FREEDOM FROM ANXIETY, where she shares her method to reduce anxiety and improve our relationships with our emotionally mature parents. Follow her on Instagram here.

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Tiny Buddha’s article 7 Ways Childhood Trauma Can Show Up in Romantic Relationships originally appeared on Tiny Buddha.

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