4 Reasons You Need to Understand Your Childhood Story

Once you’re past the initial shock of discovering your spouse has been chronically unfaithful, you may ask, “How did I get here? I want to understand how I ended up in this situation.”

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. And before delving into a partner’s trauma history pre-discovery or disclosure, it’s imperative to keep in mind that the deception, gaslighting, and crazy-making that go hand-in-hand with addiction keep partners deeply in the dark about who they’re in relationship with.

That being said, there are specific signposts from a betrayed partner’s history that can make her/him vulnerable to getting into a long-term committed relationship with someone who struggles with addiction.

Some of the most common signposts are:

  • Having a parent who struggles with addiction
  • Sexual abuse (including exposure to age-inappropriate material and/or behavior)
  • Chronic neglect and/or abandonment
  • Having a parent with severe codependency
  • Chronic emotional or physical abuse

If you experienced two or more of the above signposts, your childhood history is probably impacting how you navigate your journey as a betrayed partner or survivor of infidelity.

Here are the four reasons partners must understand their childhood story:

1
You are naturally attracted to what is familiar to you, even if “familiar” is painful, dysfunctional, or abusive.

This is true for all of us. A simple example is if you grew up in a family that was busy, loud, and boisterous most of the time, you probably won’t resonate with or be attracted to an intensely introverted, shy, or quiet person. I refer to this phenomenon as “calibration.” We are literally calibrated by our family of origin to be comfortable and at ease with certain ways of being and doing.

What happens if what is “familiar” is also abusive?

If you think about it from a calibration perspective, if you were repeatedly yelled at or physically abused, your tolerance for verbal and physical abuse must increase as a matter of survival. Fast-forward to adulthood, this toxic legacy of abuse will make you vulnerable to getting into relationships that feel similar. People who haven’t experienced verbal or physical abuse have a kind of “allergy”—and therefore a low tolerance—for these behaviors.

2
What you don’t know or don’t understand can hurt you
(and future generations).

Some people feel that what’s in the past should stay in the past. Or, they don’t want to go back and dredge up painful memories. Others have a kind of “get over it” attitude.

The problem with this perspective is that your past is with you right now, whether you’re comfortable admitting it or not. Most people are deeply impacted by their childhood experiences, and carry toxic beliefs about themselves into adulthood. These toxic beliefs handed down to them from parents, siblings, coaches, clergy, or peers literally stunt their success in most areas of their life.

In his book, Parenting From the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive, Dan Siegel describes how a child’s attachment style (the way the child will attach/connect with others) can be predicted by whether or not the parent has a “coherent narrative” about their own childhood.

Coherent narrative is a fancy way of saying that the parent can describe their childhood in a factual, truthful way and demonstrate appropriate, but not overwhelming, emotion about their childhood experiences. People who don’t have a “coherent narrative” about their childhood may smile or laugh while telling an intensely painful story, or describe a consistent pattern of abuse or frightening experiences and at the same time say their childhood was “happy” or that their parents were “great,” for example.

Siegel discovered that a child’s attachment style could be predicted by whether or not their parent had a coherent narrative of their own childhood—even if the child had not yet been conceived!

If you’re a parent or plan to become a parent in the future, this is one of the most compelling reasons to address any unfinished business from your childhood.

3
If your boundaries were repeatedly violated as a child, you will struggle to own your right to have boundaries as an adult.

This one speaks for itself. After repeated violations to your emotional, physical, or sexual boundaries, you become desensitized to their impact and you are far more vulnerable to being exploited and abused by others. The good news is that with knowledge, self-care, and self-awareness you can begin reversing this painful legacy inherited from your family of origin.

4
What you resist, persists

Business coach Dan Sullivan has a quote that sums this one up: “All progress starts with telling the truth.”

If your perspective is that your childhood history was idyllic and your parents were perfect, congratulations! Unfortunately, in my experience working with partners, this is rarely the case.

If you’re resistant or unwilling to tell the truth about your childhood, you will not make progress toward healing, just as you won’t make progress as a partner if you’re not willing to tell the truth about your situation or what your unfaithful spouse has done, and how those actions have impacted you.

If you’re reluctant to look at your childhood history for fear of what it might bring up for you, honor your reluctance and keep in mind that it’s in the past. It’s done and over. You survived.

I can assure you that telling the truth about what happened, and taking responsibility to heal what you can in the present, is not re-traumatizing or as scary as what you’ve already been through. In fact, for most people it is one of the most empowering pieces of work they do.

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© Victoria Priya, LCSW [formerly Vicki Tidwell Palmer] (2016)

Radiant Threefold Path articles are protected by U.S. copyright laws, and may not be reproduced, distributed, or re-published without written permission of the author.
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5 Comments

  1. Carol on January 31, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    I believe some of this information is damaging to partners. I married my husband because he was a believer in Christ, he was kind thoughtful. Caring in everyway. We spent lots of time together. Walking talking sharing our dreams and our fears. Praising our Lord. I came from a well balanced home. No addictions, no abuse. Supportive parents. The addict I married was a great lier and actor. Never abused me. We held hands in the car on the sofa and walking. I had no idea he was a sick person. Not all of who marry addicts had any signs. There is so much wrong with some of the ideas being thrown. I pray to God tge damage to partners will be small.

  2. carol on September 21, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    Not sure if anyone reads this but u need many answers. The addict, after 2 yrs of sobriety (he claims) is asking to put his ring back on. He wore it all the years of cheating. Why would he want it on? It is obvious ut means nothing to him. He saw it everytime he was planning and with someone. Why wear it? It only would remind me that he was willing to risk my health and heart every day. Thanks

    • Vicki Tidwell Palmer on September 25, 2017 at 9:42 am

      Hi Carol, an unfaithful partner’s choices about wearing their wedding ring can certainly create pain and confusion for partners, just as you describe. What is most important is what do you want? Do you want to make a request? And is the current reality something you want to live with, or do you want to make a different choice?

  3. David B on July 29, 2018 at 1:38 am

    Thx you so much for this article…Just had a aha moment. My ex broke up with me and I 1st realized she may have an avoidant attachment style and now I’m sure she is definitely a person that is attracted to the familiar from her childhood. It all makes clear sense on her behavior. Thx again!!

    • Vicki Tidwell Palmer on July 30, 2018 at 2:41 pm

      You’re welcome, David!

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