Home > Couples > Couple’s Therapy Lesson 2: Getting to Know Your Partner’s Inner Child

Couple’s Therapy Lesson 2: Getting to Know Your Partner’s Inner Child

How can you get to know your partner’s inner, wounded child?  Often your partner’s behavior will appear unfathomable.  Why does he seem withdrawn when I most need to talk to him? Why does he seem to be
smoldering with anger when I haven’t done anything wrong? Why does she give me these constant judgmental looks when I am doing the best that I can?

Surely, an inner child would be more accessible and not so intimidating.  The problem is that the wounded child, disappointed by early, parental attachment figures, has basically decided “I am mad and I am not going to take it any more!” As a result, she learns a variety of self-defense mechanisms that, when utilized by the adult, often antagonize subsequent relationships rather than cultivate intimacy.

These coping mechanisms usually take the form of “acting out” or “acting in.” For instance, the adult, whose emotions and needs were ignored as a child, when faced with a similar situation from her partner, will either become very demanding and critical (“acting out”) or very withdrawn and uncommunicative (“acting in”).  Or the adult, who experienced verbal or physical violence from his parents, will when feeling powerless in a romantic relationship, explode with anger as a way to reassert control (“acting out”) or smolder with internal anger and resentment (“acting in”). As you can imagine, this behavior does not naturally cultivate a response of “Gee, I would like to get to know THAT person better…”

So how do we push through our partner’s negative defense mechanisms to find the vulnerable child within?  First, you must pursue the relationship with your parner’s inner child.  Second, don’t be dissuaded by the acting out or acting in behavior.  And third, realize that this takes time and dedication (best devoted when both you and your partner are not triggered or upset).

In his book “Getting the Love You Want,” Harville Hendrix suggests a useful exercise. Summarized briefly it works like this:  You and your partner write a short narrative in which you describe what it was like to live in your parents’ house.  How did you spend your time?  What things did you like about living at home?  What things did you not like? Describe your interactions with family members.  Imagine walking around the house and approaching each family member and telling that person what it was like living with him/her.  Did they affect you positively and negatively?  What do you wish they would have done more of?  What less? What caused you pain? Sadness? Worry? And what brought you happiness? Comfort? A sense of security?

When you finish with this exercise, trade narratives with your partner.  Read and study the description of your partner’s childhood. Then, reconvene when you have time to talk together intimately and at length.  At that meeting, each person retells from memory the other’s story.  When you are finished, ask your partner: “Have I understood your childhood?  Is there anything I have missed?”  When they answer that first part in the affirmative, you have gotten to know your partner’s inner child.

In my next blog, I will elaborate on how this information can be beneficial to a relationship.  How couples can deescalate arguments and work through anger by addressing the inner child.  And how making room for the wounded child’s past can heal and even prevent problems from occurring in the present.

“Getting the Love You Want, A Guide for Couples” by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D can be found on Amazon:

Categories: Couples
  1. October 8, 2010 at 3:55 pm


    I found your summarization a great help. Just long enough to digest some meaty take-aways, and not so long I stopped reading and moved on. I will definitely consider this suggestion and use it to better understand my partner’s perspective on the world. Even though I think we get along pretty good already, this sort of reminder to take special care to learn about your partner is sage advice.
    Can’t wait for the next installment.

  2. Adam
    October 13, 2010 at 5:39 am

    That was some excellent and clear writing there! Bravo on distilling a complicated subject into easy to understand advice. Read all your articles and each one was great.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: