In recent weeks, I've written of the common communication problems encountered by couples. When conflicts arise, we can find fault in one another or believe something is wrong in the relationship itself.
But often the roots of recurrent marital conflict lie outside of the current relationship itself; the source may lie in your past. Each person has core beliefs about themselves, relationships and marriage. They shape our expectations and shade how we see our current relationships.
Like our core beliefs about ourselves and others, these are largely subconscious and unquestioned. When couples find themselves in recurrent conflict, it may be helpful to reflect on these deep beliefs.
Our biases and expectations are not unlike baggage and old furniture that we move into our new home together. We will continue to trip over and walk around them until we look at them clearly and judge their value today. Take a step into your past. What was the emotional tone in your childhood home? Was it joyful and warm, angry and conflicted, anxious and tense?
Remember your own parents. How did they relate?
How did they model their marriage to you? What was your dad's role? What was your mom's? How did they make decisions together? How did they manage conflict? How was anger expressed? Did they talk about feelings including sadness and worry, or were negative feelings ignored, suppressed and suffered in silence?
How were positive feelings -- particularly affection -- expressed? Was love expressed in words, kindness, gestures and actions? Were there plenty of hugs and kisses?
Your own way of relating may not necessarily be the same as your parents; you may do the exact opposite. If your parents were frequently fighting and shouting, you may follow the same pattern in your relationships or the opposite, avoiding conflict altogether.
If you were raised in a home where physical, emotional or verbal abuse was accepted, you could continue the pattern as either the victim or the abuser.
By shining a light on the darkness of the past, you could more clearly see what has been subconsciously influencing your thoughts, actions and relationships. You could evaluate them in the light of this day, and consider the best approach to your life today.
As an adult and no longer a child, you do not need to maintain the core beliefs and style of relationship your parents modeled. As an equal partner in a reciprocal relationship, you can co-create your new rules of engagement.
In upcoming columns and in my blog at davidicuswong.wordpress.com: more on improving how we relate and communicate in marriage and other significant relationships.
Dr. Davidicus Wong is a physician and writer. His Healthwise column appears regularly in this paper.