Xena: "I let my fear and hatred blind me to everything."
Gabrielle: "Sometimes the past can do that. Xena, if I had been through what you've been through…"
Xena: "No. No! You understand hatred but you've never given into it. You don't know how much I love that."
Excerpt from "The Price," a second season episode of "Xena: Warrior Princess."
More from YourTango: Survey: When Would You Seek Help for Your Relationship
OK, so I'm a Xena fan. I've found many life lessons in these shows. In my therapy and coaching practice I see many individuals and couples who have experienced some pretty terrible childhoods. Some lived in fear of the very people who were supposed to nurture and protect them. Some learned hatred at their parents' knee.
Many adults came from dysfunctional homes, experiencing such horrifying things as
- Physical, sexual, and/or emotional and verbal abuse
- Alcoholism/drug addiction
- Parents who raged at each other and at the children
- Self-absorbed parents who were more concerned with themselves than their children
- Mentally ill parents
- Reversal of parent-child roles (the child had to take care of the parent and/or siblings)
Growing up in a chaotic situation leaves scars. Many adults who lived through these situations grew up thinking their experience was normal. Some realized that something was wrong but were powerless to change it. Either way, fear and hatred are very likely to become part of their adulthood unless they are willing and able to take a good look at their childhood and choose whether to remain a victim or to learn and grow from the experience.
At some point you may be faced with a choice to keep blaming your parents for your rotten childhood or to decide what you are going to do with yourself. It is almost certain that your childhood affects your adult relationships, and if it was a rotten one, you have probably repeated a lot of these destructive patterns.
It is perfectly understandable if you feel righteous anger toward either or both of your parents. At some point, you may feel the need to let go of that anger, especially if it boiling over in your personal relationships, especially in your marriage.
The danger of staying stuck in fear and hatred is that you risk recreating a similar situation with your spouse. Your spouse is in danger of becoming a stand in for your parent. You may be reenacting the fear and hatred with your spouse, even if your spouse has not done anything (other than trigger an old response in you). Be careful to avoid seeing your spouse through the lens of your parent. You may have married someone similar to one or both of your parents, but that person is not the same.
More from YourTango: Silent Treatment Spells Danger for Your Marriage
The wonderful thing about a loving marriage is that you can work through a lot of the pain of your past in a safe, intimate context. Your spouse cannot save you, nor can your spouse fix you. But you can experience healing and growth in the context of a marriage that you choose to create together.
If you are worried about the state of your relationship, I want to help. Contact me to schedule a complementary Get Acquainted session. I encourage you to get my free report, "Want to Improve your Marriage? Get Rid of These Seven Deadly Habits" at http://trueloverelationshipcoaching.com. Also, check out http://truelovesavemarriage.com.