When working with individuals and couples struggling with relationship problems one of the most common things I hear is “That was what I saw growing up so I don’t know how to do things any differently.” It is true that we are strongly impacted by our upbringing and that it can shape how we express and carry ourselves in relationships. What I caution people against is using this as an excuse to not change and adapt.
Growing up we are modeled certain behaviors. This shapes how we interact with people and how we feel individuals should behave in relationships. For example, if growing up we witnessed our dad never express his emotions, as a male we would view this as appropriate and acceptable behavior. Or, if we witnessed our mom become passive aggressive when she was angry, as a female we may view this as normal and maybe even healthy behavior. These behaviors are not conducive to a healthy relationship. Instead, they start to break apart the connection and leave both people feeling alone and hurt.
So does your past determine your future? Are you doomed to have history repeat itself? No way! While it may take us some time to realize some of the patterns we have in our relationships and how our upbringing has helped shape our interactions with loved ones, we by no means have to stick to that.
Usually it takes something serious to happen, like a failed relationship, for us to realize just how these patterns hurt instead of help us. Hopefully, if you are reading this, you can catch this before that happens.
What I recommend you do is take a step back and ask yourself what the common complaints are that you hear from your partner. Do you never talk about your emotions? Has your communication resorted to half answers leaving all issues only partially resolved? Are you constantly nagging your partner as a way of getting attention? Once you have done this ask yourself the impact you think this has on your relationship and if maintaining these patters is worth it. Sure it may seem easier in the moment to not take the time to fully work through a problem, but when your partner has her bags packed and is out the door you will really be wishing you had.
Finally, make a conscious effort each day to try to do one thing differently. Perhaps give a full answer when your partner asks how your day was instead of a one-word answer. Or, if you are needing some cuddle time, tell your partner you want to spend time with him instead of nagging on him. Also, look for a positive role model in your life that you believe you can learn something from and try to learn some of their strategies.
We have to be intentional to change our behavior and to override what we were modeled growing up but it doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Your past does not predict your future so if you are wanting to strengthen your connection with your partner, make today the day you start.