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Couple’s Therapy Lesson 1: Taking Care of Your Partner’s Wounded Child

September 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Here is one of my best pieces of advice for couples:  Take care of your partner’s inner, wounded child. Who is this inner child, you might ask?  Let me explain.

We all have “emotional baggage.”  In other words, on our journey through life, we carry with us wounds from previous relationships.  And these wounds still ache, fester, and sting.  So, for example, the child who suffered his father’s wrath is, as an adult, very sensitive to other people’s displays of anger.  The child whose mother was very distant gets very distressed when intimates remove themselves emotionally.  The child whose parent was very critical is hypersensitive to others’ judgment.

In other words, we have a tendency to experience the present through the prism of our emotional past.  Imagine that your partner has a sore spot on her body which is sensitive due to previous injury.  Your relationship behavior, which, perhaps, might only be slightly annoying to someone who doesn’t carry the same “wound” or sensitivity, really hurts your partner because it pokes that wound and triggers unpleasant memories she experienced as a child.  And the rub is that your partner may not even be aware of this wounded child within.

Why is it so important to take care of your partner’s inner child?  The first answer is simple caring.  Who has the ability to address that which hurts your partner the most?  You do.  As your partner’s most intimate relationship, you are in a unique position to take care of, and heal him, like no other.  Your relationship can be a corrective emotional experience to everything that happened before.

The second reason is more selfish.  What happens when your partner’s inner child gets upset?  Things can get ugly.  The unhappy, inner child lives in an adult’s body – and this person can make your life miserable.  Getting  angry, withdrawing emotionally, becoming defensive, and going on the critical attack are just a few of the tactics the angry inner child will avail himself of when upset.  Who would you rather deal with – the vulnerable part of your partner who yearns and waits to be protected and nurtured, or your partner’s angry self who perceives she has been treated negatively?

So, how exactly do you take care of your partner’s inner child?

First, get acquainted.  Know your partner’s emotional and family history intimately.  What was it like for your partner growing up at home?  What was her relationship like with mom?  How did dad treat him?  What upset or saddened her the most?  How did he react or behave when disappointed by those close to him?

Second, use that information to make a healing gesture everyday.  If she suffered from feelings of critical judgment, take a moment to praise her.  If her mother was loud and angry, talk to her in a soothing voice.  If his father was unavailable emotionally, spend time asking about, and listening to, his feelings.  Every day.

Getting to know and nurture your partner’s inner child will yield positive benefits for your relationship.  So reassure, talk to, and comfort that child.  Every day.

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Categories: Couples
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