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Childhood Experiences And Adult Relationships

Our experiences as children inevitably have an impact on the relationships we form as adults – sometimes well into our mature years. A realization of this fact often can be the first step in mending a troubled relationship regardless of age. And for mature adults, it’s important to realize how our behavior can influence our children or even our grandchildren as we seek to raise new generations of psychologically and sexually healthy people.

As children and adolescents, we are influenced from a variety of sources: Our peers; relatives; teachers; the culture in which we live; and, perhaps most profoundly, our parents.” A huge amount of learning is done in the first six years of life, a time when the child is at home with his or her parents,” said Emily Brown, a marriage and family therapist, author, and director of the Keybridge Therapy and Mediation Center in Arlington, VA. Even in later childhood and adolescence, “parents continue to be highly influential,” not only in the way they raise their children but also in the way they treat each other.

“The level of satisfaction you have in your marriage tends to correspond to the degree of marital satisfaction you witnessed while growing up,” said Lloyd Sinclair, a psychotherapist at the Midwest Center for Psychology and Sex Therapy in Madison, WI. “If your parents were loving, if they showed respect and affection, you are much more likely to have such a relationship yourself as an adult.”On the other hand, children who grew up in families that were short on affection, abusive or otherwise troubled “are more likely than others to have great difficulty in their adult lives.”

oes this mean that the significant number of men and women who grew up in troubled homes are doomed to fail at forming stable, satisfying relationships as adults? Not necessarily. “I’ve seen people who had terrible childhoods and became wonderful adults,” said Sinclair. In such instances, “you usually find that there was someone along the way who helped – a teacher, a counselor, an aunt or uncle. This person provided a positive role model and gave emotional support that the parents did not.”

Nonetheless, therapists agree that children raised in a difficult family generally have to work that much harder as adults to understand and overcome their difficulties. Many seek help through psychotherapy, and while they never forget their past experiences they are able to transcend them and learn from them.


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