Note: This is the first of a two-part series.

Are you fighting a lot about small petty things?  Is the anger or reactivity in your relationship seemingly out of proportion to the issue or conflict that began your fight?  Are either of you getting worked up over seemingly small issues, gestures or slights?

If so, there’s a good chance that what you’re really fighting about is not the small petty issue that triggered the fight—but rather deeper, hidden, subterranean issues that so often drive angry, bitter arguments, conflicts, disagreements or fights.

Everyone has these issues, because they come from our unmet or inadequately met childhood needs.  If, for instance, I grew up with parents that seldom hugged or touched me, parents who were non-demonstrative and who never said they loved me, you can bet I will have a major reaction if you withdraw your affection in our relationship, or quit saying to me that you love me.  It touches a raw nerve that I’ve had all my life.  That’s why I get so worked up over it.

Another example:  Let’s say that I grew up with parents or childhood caretakers who seldom praised me, but who did criticize me and punish me when I made mistake, or when I disappointed them.  If now you and I are in a relationship, and you yell at me for doing something wrong, or criticize me for something, even if I deserved to be criticized, my first response will be to defend myself from you and your criticism.  That will be far more important to me than actually hearing you and taking your criticism to heart.  As a result, you won’t feel hurt by me, and you won’t think that I’m honoring your needs and wishes, and then guess what we’ll likely fight about in our relationship?  You’ll fight to be able to have a voice and say what you feel is important, and I’ll fight not to be criticized and judged.

This then becomes one of my hidden issues that will emerge in all my intimate relationships.  The issue is so hidden that it is even hidden from me, but it will drive a fair amount of anger, reactivity and defensiveness.  Don’t you know that I can’t be wrong—and that I can’t make mistakes—because I feel you’ll reject or disapprove of me, and then withdraw your approval and love for me as well.

Here are the most common hidden issues that come from unmet or inadequately met childhood needs:

  • Approval
  • Acknowledgment/recognition
  • Attention
  • Have time for me
  • Nurturance/TLC
  • To be dependent.  To be able to lean on someone.
  • To be independent
  • For safety and stability.  To feel safe and protected.
  • To escape from my past.  To not be like my mom or dad, or to not replicate their relationship.
  • Connection.  Don’t reject, betray, abandon or leave me.
  • Belonging and/or bonding
  • Guidance
  • Support
  • Don’t criticize me or judge me.
  • Don’t control, manipulate, guilt or martyr me.
  • Empowerment.  To feel more powerful and in control.
  • I need to quell my emotions so I don’t feel so vulnerable.  Therefore, I can’t handle a lot of closeness and intimacy.

I will continue this discussion in next week’s column.

Has your relationship turned cold and distant? Neil’s book Love, Sex, and Staying Warm can help you rekindle your passion.

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