If you’re like the average person, you were shaped by your childhood. It’s in those younger years where you learned foundational things, things like what love is, what safety is, and even how to handle stress and conflict. After all, that’s the goal of childhood, to learn and to be prepared for adulthood. The problem is that not every parent takes that job of teaching seriously, and not every parent understands that their choices, good, bad, or indifferent, are all shaping their children.
Most of the time, what brings out the things you’ve learned over the years is relationships, especially marriage. You might not be aware if you feel safe or not until someone does something that scares you. You might not recognize that you’ve defined love wrong until someone shows you what it’s supposed to look like. There’s so much you learned that you didn’t know you learned until your spouse often unintentionally points it out. And that’s where the opportunity for growth comes in.
Marriage gives you the gift of testing what you know and seeing if what you believe is true or if it is not.
How your Childhood Can Cause Triggers in Your Marriage
Let’s talk triggers. This is one of the more difficult ways your past can show up in your present. When a trigger pops up, there’s usually some automatic reaction that takes place. You get triggered when your brain picks up a warning sign that danger might be present. The problem is… your brain isn’t always right. It’s just trying to keep you safe from things that have hurt you in the past.
Here’s a personal example. One night shortly after losing my mom, in a moment of grief, I was crying and talking to my husband
vulnerably. While I was talking, he turned his back to grab his water, and I instantly said, “Never mind!” and proceeded to roll over, really hurt. He was clueless as to what just happened. But here’s what was going on: I grew up in a home filled with emotional abandonment. As a child, if I was hurt, I was on my own to deal with my pain. Therefore, his turning his back to get a sip of water was received as him not caring that I was hurting. I was instantly that neglected child again.
Reactions to triggers don’t often make sense, but they do happen for a reason. Triggers reveal where you still need healing. God gave you your spouse to help with that healing, and while it can be painful, it’s designed to become beautiful. You just need to learn to listen to your triggers and discover the lies or fears they’re attached to.
I may have been rejected and left on my own when I was hurting as a child, but that was not what was happening in that moment. In fact, when we realized what was happening, it became a moment for my husband to speak the truth and reassure me that he indeed does care a lot about my pain. Speaking truth over a trigger is what begins to silence it. When you lean into them and explore what’s really going on, your brain will begin to re-evaluate what it once knew as a threat and start to determine that it no longer is. It begins to learn that it doesn’t need to hit the alarm all the time.
If you grew up in a home with a mean alcoholic father, smelling beer on your husband’s breath might throw you into a panic. You’re fearing a blow up in the house, but your husband just had a beer while watching a game.Your mom used to be selfish and controlling, and now your husband asked you to try not to spend any extra money this month. Your response may be an immediate trip to Target because you’re an adult and can buy whatever you want.
Maybe your mom was highly critical and judgmental, and your husband asks you if you’re sure you left the hamburgers cooking long enough. You may instantly get defensive, letting him know he can now cook all the meals since he clearly hates your cooking.
So, here’s your clue; if you have a big and often irrational response to something, that may be a trigger that you need to explore. Because while some things may be real threats, sometimes it’s just a drink with a game, a husband trying to budget, or a husband who just is asking a question.
Make sure you’re reacting to what is true instead of what was taught.
If you want more on this subject, watch the Expedition Marriage podcast, Episode 29, Why How You Grew up Matters.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Expedition Marriage