The Simple Complexity of Marriage (And the Role of Childhood Trauma)

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When we think of marriage, we think of a romantic union between two long-time lovers – two dedicated and established adults who are ready to commit to a lifetime of civil union. However, marriage did not always have very much to do with mutual ardor. Up until the eighteenth century, marriages were pre-arranged, pragmatic, and likely rather passionless. People got married because it was what society expected them to do. It wasn’t until sometime during the early 1900s that people started marrying for love – and even then, marriage was often perceived as a binding contract rather than an amorous commitment. Divorce was frowned upon, so people stayed unhappily married just to save face. This was typically so until the 1970s, when divorce became more socially acceptable than it had ever been previously. By the time the 70s were over, divorce rates in the United States had risen more than 50 percent.

Conflict Resolution and Romantic Partnership

Why do over half of marriages fail, still to this day? There are numerous reasons, of course, but a lot of the long-term issues that partners experience result from a lack of compromise. The better we get to know someone, the more black-and-white our disagreements tend to become. “I am right, you are wrong, and I’m not going to budge on that.” Communication is a vital component of every healthy relationship, as is the ability to meet halfway. This does not mean sacrificing your own well-being to meet the needs of your partner (that is more along the lines of codependency, which you can read more on here). What this means is sitting down and calmly hashing out differences, coming to a mutually agreeable solution. This can be exceedingly difficult, however, seeing as we are typically attracted to individuals who possess communication styles contradictory to our own.

You’ve likely heard the old adage, “Opposites attract.” As it so turns out, this saying bears a great deal of confirmed psychological weight.

Anxious and Avoidant Communication

Our formative years – infancy and early childhood – have more to do with the way we function in our adult relationships than we might imagine. When we experience insecure attachment in early childhood, we fail to learn the ins and outs of healthy intimacy. If we are neglected or abandoned by our primary caregivers during childhood, we will be far more inclined to land on a partner who possesses some of the same characteristics – an avoidant. Avoidant attachment is characterized by a need for emotional distance – an inability or unwillingness to be emotionally vulnerable – or available – in romantic relationships. On the other hand, people with anxious attachment styles deeply yearn for emotional closeness, but find themselves incapable of healthy intimacy. Anxious attachment styles are subconsciously attracted to avoidant attachment styles, because they feel safe and comfortable in a relationship where their emotional needs are not being met.

Unfortunately, this pairing has an even more difficult time communicating in a healthy and productive way. Effective communication techniques can be learned, of course – we must simply trace our dysfunction back to childhood and do a little long-due healing.

Childhood Wounds and Picking a Partner

None of us have had perfect childhoods, regardless of how nurturing and supportive our earliest environment was. Why? Because our parents (or primary caregivers) are inherently imperfect, and they were inevitably unable to meet all of our intricate needs. Human beings are extremely complex, and require an extensive amount of emotional attentiveness. Especially during infancy and early childhood, when we are doing the majority of our development, do we require attention from our caregivers. After all, we learn how to behave by observing and interacting with them. When we are wounded in the past (as children), we subconsciously search for what we were missing in our present relationship. We continue striving to get our earliest needs met, though we are often completely unaware of this.

Rather than spend our entire lives stuck in unhealthy and ineffective behavioral patterns and styles of communication, we can begin healing childhood wounds, and eventually become capable or giving and receiving a fulfilled and mutually-beneficial love – a love we have likely never experienced.