Men, Marriage, and Childhood Trauma

men relationships trauma

In the current day and age, a whopping 7 out of every 10 marriages end in divorce, separation, or extreme dysfunction. While the U.S. Census Bureau found that divorce rates in most age groups have been steadily decreasing since the mid 1990s, divorce rates are still exceedingly high – much higher than they are in most other countries. In America, approximately one divorce takes place every 36 seconds – that is nearly 2,400 divorces per day, and a staggering 876,000 divorces per year. Oh, and most Americans who do get divorced do not just end a marriage once – many will wind up getting divorced a second and even third time before finding true companionship, or finally surrendering to single life. 41 percent of first marriages end in divorce, as do 60 percent of second marriages, and 73 percent of third marriages.

It certainly seems as if the odds are not in our favor when it comes to falling in love and living happily ever after.

Trauma and Interpersonal Relationships

Fortunately, we are not doomed to three successive failed marriages simply because related statistics are so grim. In fact, we have the beautiful ability to beat these odds, and find long-term happiness and fulfillment in a meaningful, functional relationship. One of the secrets to developing a successful, loving partnership that truly lasts a lifetime is understanding the imperative role that unresolved childhood trauma plays in adult relationships. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, the largest ongoing research study regarding the way that childhood trauma impacts our lives as adults, has conclusively found that unresolved traumatic experiences impact the way we feel, behave, and interact with others. The study asked ten questions to participants, all geared towards accurately assessing childhood trauma and related symptoms. Two-thirds of participants answered at least one of the ten questions with a resounding “yes” – and answering “yes” to one question typically meant answering “yes” to at least several more.

The ACE Study Questionnaire

Take a look at the ACE questionnaire, and tally up how many potentially traumatic experiences you underwent before your 18th birthday.

[  ] Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?

[  ] Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? or Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?

[  ] Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever… Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? or Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?

[  ] Did you often or very often feel that … No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? or Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?

[  ] Did you often or very often feel that … You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? or Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?

[  ] Was a biological parent ever lost to you through divorce, abandonment, or other reason ?

[  ] Was your mother or stepmother: Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? or Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? or Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?

[  ]  Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic, or who used street drugs?

[  ] Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide?

[  ] Did a household member go to prison?

Undergoing any number of the above-listed experiences will actually change the neuropathways in the brain, and cause us to develop deep-seated beliefs about ourselves and our surroundings. We may hunger for a healing relationship, while simultaneously being attracted to individuals who embody the dysfunction we experienced early on in life. The self-limiting beliefs that we develop about ourselves and our roles in interpersonal relationships may gravely affect the success of future partnerships, friendships, and even workplace associations. Most of the time, these beliefs operate in our subconscious minds, thus we may not be acutely aware of them. Take a look at the following misguided beliefs, and consider whether or not any of them are playing an active role in your life today.

Limiting Core Beliefs

  • I am bad.
  • I am alone.
  • I am worthless.
  • I cannot trust anyone.
  • I am not safe.
  • I am powerless.
  • I am not lovable.

Unresolved trauma may cause these beliefs to continuously crop up in our day-to-day lives, especially in our relationships. Even when our partner is nothing but loving, compassionate, and understanding, we may feel as if we are constantly on high-alert – scanning interactions for every sign of potential danger or instability. We may misinterpret constructive communication as a personal attack, and begin seeing our partner as a threat rather than as a supportive companion. When we fail to recognize the true root of our problems, we begin blaming others by default. Even strong and happy marriages have been known to crumble beneath the weight of emotional, mental, and spiritual symptoms that go hand-in-hand with unaddressed childhood trauma. When we begin to recognize and understand that our current relational problems are a reflection of issues surrounding our first relationship – the relationship we had with our parents or primary caregivers – we become able to heal on a deep and lasting level.

The Impact of Divorce on Children

And let us not forget the impact that divorce has on children. If a child grows up in a household complete with two loving, happily married parents, his or her risk of undergoing divorce later on in life decreases by 14 percent. Sadly, half of all American children will witness the deterioration and ultimate ending of their parents’ marriage. Of these children, nearly half will also witness the breakup of a second marriage. 43 percent of American children are growing up without present fathers, and 75 percent of children who have divorced parents live solely with their mothers. Of these children, 28 percent live in a low-income household, somewhere below the poverty line. The good news is that it is entirely possible to break the cycle at any point in time. We can begin the healing process as soon as we make the conscious decision to seek professional help, and address our past harms in a safe, therapeutic setting. We at Next Chapter have extensive experience working with men who have suffered at the hands of childhood trauma, and who have experienced significant, long-term interpersonal issues as a direct result. For more information on our program of trauma recovery for men, please feel free to call us today at 1-561-563-8407.