For better or for worse, we’ve all learned how to be in relationships from observing the unions that surrounded us throughout our lives. If you grew up in a family where faithfulness, compassion and commitment were top priorities, and conflicts were dealt with rather than swept away, you’re likely to bring these pro-relationship qualities to your marriage or relationship. If, on the other hand, you observed infidelity, deceit and intolerance, you may struggle with similar patterns in your own marriage or relationship.

The manner in which your caregivers responded to your needs will also impact how you relate to your partner. For instance, imagine that whenever you became frightened as a child you sought out your parents for comfort. But instead of receiving the comforting responses you needed, your parents minimized your feelings with statements like, “Oh stop it. There’s nothing to be afraid of,” or “Why are you acting like such a baby?” From such experiences you learned to devalue feelings and learned that expressing emotional needs leads to a dead end. With this emotional backdrop in place, you may find that when your partner expresses his/her feelings, you become impatient and believe s/he is over-reacting. In this example, you’re reacting to your partner’s feelings the same way your parents reacted to you as a child.

Past patterns often become present patterns.

Learn to identify your patterns:

Reflecting on your primary care relationships from childhood is helpful if you’d like to develop the awareness needed to put the brakes on potentially bad habits.

The questions below are categorized across two relationship dimensions that are essential for healthy relationships. Give enough time to reflect on each question and journal your responses. Journaling will help you gain a greater perspective on the ways in which your past relationships can impact your marriage or relationship.

Intimacy and emotional closeness.

Did you feel that emotional closeness existed in your family of origin? In what ways was intimacy expressed? Or did it feel like your family was distant and disconnected? Were there a lot of secrets in your family?

After answering these questions reflect on how these issues impacted you and think about your current relationship. Then answer the following:

Are you comfortable with intimacy in your current relationship or do you pull away from emotional closeness? Note any similarities between relationships you observed in your childhood and your current relationship.

Communication of needs.

Think back to your family of origin again: Was there an atmosphere that supported open communication? Were your parents responsive to each other’s needs? Responsive to your needs? If not, did you give up trying to get your needs met?

After answering these questions reflect on how these issues impacted you and think about your current relationship. Then answer the following:

Are any of these patterns being repeated in your current relationship?

You are not destined to repeat the same behaviors you observed and experienced as a child. However, it is human nature to repeat the patterns that are learned from the past if you don’t become aware of them and consciously work to change them. There is no formal education on how to be in a committed, intimate relationship. So it is to be expected that you will fall back onto what is familiar from your past when attempting to navigate the complicated terrain of your present day relationship.

If the interpersonal habits that are most natural to you result in a marriage or relationship filled with conflict, negativity and alienation, then make it a top priority to discover how your past undermines your ability to create a healthy and fulfilling connection with your partner.

Is your relationship worth protecting? Are you ready to make your marriage everything it can be?

Find out how to create the relationship of your dreams: Sign up for Dr. Nicastro’s free Relationship Toolbox Newsletter at and immediately receive two FREE reports that will help you achieve your relationship potential.

Author's Bio: 

Richard Nicastro, Ph.D. is a psychologist and relationship coach who is passionate about helping couples protect the sanctuary of their relationship. He has worked for over twelve years helping couples create more fulfilling unions. Rich and his wife Lucia founded LifeTalk Coaching, an internet-based coaching business geared toward helping couples strengthen their relationships.