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How Your Childhood May Be Affecting Your Relationship

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistMarch 27, 2019
From the WebMD Archives

People are often surprised to realize just how much their childhood relationships seem to be playing out in adulthood, especially in their marriages.

The truth is, though you are continually learning how to connect with yourself and others throughout your life, your early years are particularly powerful in shaping your general style of relating, even as an adult.

Children who feel supported and loved by their families develop a positive sense of themselves and so, carry into adulthood an expectation that significant people in their lives will be supportive and caring. Children who did not get the consistent acceptance, comfort, support, and encouragement that they needed often struggle in adulthood. They may feel inadequate or flawed as people, and they may not feel fully comforted or supported by their relationships. Even when people want to create a different reality for themselves as adults, they often repeat the patterns established in childhood.

This was illustrated well in a wonderfully insightful and imaginative story published in Currents in Theology and Mission (1988). The story goes something like this:

While Jack grew up in a nice family, it wasn’t perfect – which often made Jack uncomfortable. “At these times, Jack would hear a roaring in his head, experience a tightness in his head and shoulders, and a queasy feeling in his stomach. He didn’t know what this was about, but he did know that they showed that there was something seriously wrong in his family.” He called this the “sound of the Dragon.”  Whenever he thought about having a family of his own someday, he promised himself that he would not allow dragons in his house.

Meanwhile, in a not-so-far-away town, Jill grew up in a nice family, which wasn’t perfect. She also heard the “sound of the Dragon” in her head and promised herself that she would not allow dragons in her home when she eventually had a family of her own.

Jack and Jill went to the same college and fell in love. Whenever they spent time together, they heard the tinkling of bells – a sure sign that they were meant for each other. “What they didn’t know, what they couldn’t know, is that when two Dragons roar simultaneously, it sounds… like the tinkling of bells!”

Eventually, they married and lived happily for a couple of years… until one night, as they were going to sleep, they began hearing that long-forgotten dragon’s roar. They tried to ignore it, but it persisted each night. They blamed each other for bringing a dragon into their marriage. Finally, they looked under the bed and found a single two-headed dragon!

Not knowing what to do, they put it in a cage. But its constant roar scared them, and the cage was always between them. Furious with each other, they planned to separate. But then they realized that the dragon might just divide in two, reverting back to their separate childhood dragons and then follow them into their next relationships. Finally, they chose their only real hope for happiness… they slew the dragon.

This is a story that plays out over and over again in marriages, though the ending is not always so happy. If you struggle with tension and problems in your marriage, it can be easy to see your spouse’s dragon. But for the sake of yourself, as well as your marriage, it’s essential that you consider that, maybe, the roaring you hear is, in part, the dragon you’ve brought with you.

You might decide that you are better off separating and then facing your personal dragon alone. But you might also realize that working with your spouse is the best way to slay your dragon… enabling you to walk happily into the sunset, together.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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