Love isn’t Enough: Your Past Can Make or Break Your Relationship

Some crucial things are often neglected in conversations and counselling in the lead-up to marriage. These are essential and help to set a firm foundation for the relationship. Ignoring them could lead to a long miserable life, filled with ‘if only’s.

Know your attachment style

Attachment is a word used by psychologists to describe the dynamics of interpersonal relationships. Attachment is a bond typically formed in infancy between the child and their primary caregivers. The pattern developed in childhood creates a strategy in relationships throughout life. Attachment injuries or attachment-related trauma, therefore, refers to a broken connection that happens due to trauma, abuse, rejection, abandonment and other childhood traumas.

The relational style learned in your families of origin will be taken forward and used by you in all of your relationships unless this is known and healed. When this healing takes place, you can then enjoy safe, connected relationships as an adult. Without this healing, relationships can become a source of constant pain and discontent.

Attachment injuries can heal, leaving those affected to enjoy a secure attachment with their partners. You and your partner can learn your adult attachment style, and this will enable you to see the pattern you each developed in childhood, revealing to you both how you can work to make your relationship a safe place.

Attachment-related trauma is often not talked about much. Mainly because many people either do not know the name for it or do not understand its potential to derail a relationship, sometimes beyond repair. Most premarital counselling doesn’t address such things, partly because many clergies or lay people (meaning not skilled counsellors) who do premarital counselling are unaware of how the issue with regards to attachment injuries can impact the relationship.

Because of this gap in their knowledge, they are not likely to notice it or hear it in conversation; nor will they see how these injuries play out in the interactions between the couple. Not knowing is not an indictment against everyone providing premarital counselling. Still, I must share this, giving you the benefit of additional information which can help build your relationship. Our attachment patterning dictates how we respond in all relationships, so finding and learning your attachment style will help significantly in giving you the tools to connect with your partner securely.

Without this information, the next person might get blamed for issues that are not their fault, leaving you in a spiral of misdirected emotions.

Attachment injuries impact relationships in many ways; here are a few listed below:

· As an individual, you might want to connect, yet fear that connection secretly, or subconsciously. You might have views about people’s willingness or ability to stay with you. You might feel that you are not valued or that no one wants to connect with you

· You might experience fear around deep connection because you have never experienced it before. Because of a secret fear of rejection, you might frequently sabotage your relationships

· Fear of rejection and abandonment causes you great distress and this fear, therefore, propels you to be overly controlling in an attempt to ‘get’ them to stay

These ideas and beliefs operate at a subconscious level.

Without training or exposure to information around trauma, people remain unaware of why they relate in the ways that they do, even despite themselves.

Some questions to consider:

· What are you like in your interpersonal relationships?

· Are you able to make and retain friendships?

· Are you usually the one who people come to for support, but you feel like no one would understand your needs?

· Do you fear to talk to people about your problems?

· Or are you happy to share with anyone?

· Perhaps you are the friend that has no needs because you are afraid of losing people if they were to become aware of how needy you are?

· Were you raised to ignore your requirements and cater exclusively to the needs of others?

Whatever you became aware of in answering the questions above, it is essential to take time out to address them with the help of a professional who knows and understands how to relate to and treat attachment injuries. These are not pure feelings or thoughts that will go away or be grown out of — instead, they will dictate your relationships for the rest of your life and could lead to the demise of your marriage before it even really has a chance.

Becoming familiar with your past is getting to know you at a deeper level, which will enhance the quality of your relationship and help you enjoy life more. Digging deep might be uncomfortable, but it will undoubtedly be worth the effort.

Become familiar with any trauma history in your life and that of your potential partner

Talking and thinking about trauma isn’t sexy; it doesn’t inspire warm cosy conversations. However, the more you talk about things, the more comfortable the subject will become. Perhaps you’ve heard that communication is vital to the success of any relationship, and this is true. Therefore, your ability to talk about the problematic subjects will help you in resolving conflict and improving your relationship, which will help it to grow stronger.

However, before you try to talk to your partner about your trauma, you must have a reasonable understanding of it yourself and be comfortable talking about it. To do this, you first have to face up to whatever it is that you went through. Without this, it is unlikely that you will have the understanding or courage to communicate effectively with your partner. It’s essential that you process any unresolved trauma before you get married, or at least be in the process of working with someone to heal your trauma history.

These are the kinds of things we often would rather not talk about, or even remember. However, they do come up, manifesting in surprising ways and playing a massive part in how you communicate and respond to various situations, whether you talk about them or not.

Feelings of shame often dictate whether we process trauma or not. It is simple to underestimate the impact of childhood trauma on adults and adult relationships. Many are choosing to get help to limit the effects of their past on relationships. For your marriage to have a chance of survival and be a happy place for you and your family, processing your trauma history is vital.

Here are some further ways that your trauma history could show up in your relationships:

Co-dependency — In this manifestation of trauma, we sometimes deny our own needs to meet the needs of others. This habit is usually developed early in life, sometimes as a survival response, perhaps used as a coping mechanism while living in untenable situations. Although the co-dependent type is adept at meeting other people’s needs, they are less able to notice and express their own. A co-dependent will even deny that they have any needs because caregivers ignored their needs during the formative years.

Therefore not having any needs at all is more natural to live with than suffering through the risk of repeatedly not having them met. This habit is not sustainable in the long term, and often relationships, where this is a feature, can grow to become toxic and unhealthy places for both partners. Co-dependency can heal, and you can learn healthy ways of relating, where there is a right balance between helping others and having your own needs met.

People-pleasing -

The people pleaser is similar to the co-dependent. Both traits developed early in life to help the individual through their difficulties. Learning how to please others meant you were kept safe. Maybe allowed to eat; getting invited to the family function, or receiving much-craved validation. This habit grew with you and has become an essential part of how you relate as an adult. It is easy to miss the signs of people-pleasing because you are ‘programmed’ into thinking and connecting that way until it becomes how you define living with those around you.

If you are on the receiving end of someone else’s people-pleasing, there are ways that you can help. Start by not allowing them to do things for you that you are capable of doing yourself. Be firm with demonstrating your boundaries, which will help mirror for them healthy boundaries. They might appear hurt or even broken heart because your refusal might feel like rejection. They could experience it as a personal rejection and, feeling offended, may also push against your boundary, testing its efficacy. However, every healthy relationship has limits.

Lacking boundaries — Sometimes, people with painful or traumatic histories often lack boundaries, both personal and professional. Most people without such trauma can limit their time, energy, resources and finances, etc., and these boundaries are necessary because they place limitations upon relationships being able to take from you in amounts that would be unhealthy. Personal boundaries, therefore, also help to guard oneself against outside influences that could be destructive.

The lack of boundaries caused by unresolved trauma can disrupt many things in your life. Lack of defined space impacts how you listen and communicate; how you identify and manage feelings; the extent to which you are willing to allow others to exert control over your life and actions. This lack could lead to abusive relationships and the development of further trauma.

Knowing your trauma history gives you a guide to your behaviour: it will help you to understand why you choose the responses you do, giving you the ability to make lasting, positive change. If you identify as a person without boundaries, do not dismay, as healing is possible, and you can certainly grow to understand your values and be able to put adequate limits in place that will positively benefit all of your relationships.

If you would like to save your marriage before it starts, try to go in having all of your known trauma processed, while continually introspecting for more. Healing gives you a deeper awareness of self and helps you with the tools to connect authentically with your partner, making you capable of both giving and receiving support. Processing pain gives you the ability to communicate with people more deeply, and this is crucial because no relationship or marriage will survive without both partners having the capacity for emotional connection.

I write about trauma, healing and the Christian community.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store