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Childhood Patterns & Couples Therapy: How Couples Work Can Help

Updated: Jan 24

Why do we sometimes feel like the worst version of ourselves with our romantic partner? The movies and society at large sell us on the idea that finding our “Soul Mate” will mean that we will enjoy perfect attunement from our partner. It also makes us think that we will feel “complete” or at least feel like we are perfect teammates! Now, this may be true for some people, but as a couples therapist, I see many wonderful couples that consist of two very good people who find themselves in conflict with each other or often feel that they are speaking two different languages and are unable to get the understanding from their partner that they so desire. That is why Couples Therapy in Los Angeles, CA with us here at The Holding Space can be so beneficial for couples.

One theme that has been supported throughout many couples therapy philosophies, is that of how our childhood wounds can be easily stimulated. They can even be reenacted with our romantic partners. This seems to be less true in other relationships like friendships or colleagues. That might explain why it can feel so confusing when we are with our mate! We might be perfectly capable of having a rational and relational conflict resolution at work or with a friend, but with our partner we feel as though we become dysregulated or revert to behaviors that might feel more connected to our child or adolescent selves!

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How Relational Trauma Affects Couple's Work

Often these responses are the result of relational trauma in our childhood. Relational trauma is also known as Little “t” Trauma, which is a negative experience we have with our parents or caregivers over the course of years. Behaviors such as anger, shaming, intrusion, or any other rupture in the family dynamic occurred over and over again and we had to find ways to adapt to. Often these ways we learn to adapt in our family system works for us when we are relating to our family. Later on though, they become maladaptive coping mechanisms when we are trying to relate to people who did not grow up in our family system.

It is usually the case that we get into a relationship with someone who may stimulate our wounds without knowing it and also does not understand the way we react to them. This can be the basis for a lot of misunderstanding and frustration between partners. This is why it is so important for couples to understand each other's points of pain. To clarify, this is not to tell our partner that it is okay for them to act out in any old way they want to because they have childhood wounds. This is to help each member of the couple have empathy for the other person and not personalize their partner's reaction if it is clear that they are triggered.

Understanding Triggers in Couples Work

We all have “triggers”, but we don’t get a pass just because we have trauma. However, in couples work we can help each person have more care and empathy when their partner is clearly in their “stuff” and stay centered so that we don’t also get triggered. Two triggered people rarely lead to better communication much less more loving communication! In relational models of therapy, it is common for the therapist to do “individual” work with each member of the couple in the presence of each other. In less relational models it is believed that individual work is for individual therapy and doesn’t have much place in the couple's work.

But, in models like Relational Life Therapy (Terry Real) it is believed that when each member of the couple witnesses the deep individual work of their partner, they feel let into the private world and wounds of their mate. While also being able to hold this new understanding in mind when inevitable ruptures in communication occur.

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Skill Building in Couples Therapy

So how does this translate into skill-building for the couple? If we begin to understand how our partner triggers us and how we react to that trigger, we can find words to express what is happening for us rather than being reactive. That might sound like, “Honey, when you tease me like that I can feel those old feelings of rejection and anger. I don't want to get pissed at you so can you change your tone?” When the other partner understands what teasing brings up for their partner, they will hopefully be more willing to modify their behavior.

Empathy doesn’t mean you have to agree with your partner’s point of view! One person may feel that the teasing is “mean” the other partner may feel they are being “playful". The trick is not to get into an argument about who is right, but rather take in the other person’s perspective and respect it. So the teasing partner might say something like, “ honey, I don’t want you to feel upset. I wasn’t trying to be mean, but I understand why you might take it that way. I’ll stop.”

Obviously, this conversation might be a little messier in real-time, but the basic gist is that we try to make the other person's perspective matter to us and even make sense to us, even if we disagree with the “truth” of it. Terry Real says that in relationships, the answer to who is right or who is wrong is “who cares?”. When one member of the couple “wins” by being ”right”, it is pretty likely that the relationship loses.

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Want to Begin Couples Work through Couples Therapy in Los Angeles, CA with The Holding Space Today?

Ready to strengthen your relationship and deepen your connection with your partner? Couples Therapy in Los Angeles, CA can provide a safe space for both of you to explore your dynamics, improve communication, and work through challenges together. Whether you're facing specific issues or simply want to enhance your relationship, The Holding Space offers tools and guidance to help you thrive as a couple. Take the first step toward a healthier and more fulfilling relationship by following the steps below:

  1. Reach out to schedule a free consultation.

  2. Speak with a compassionate couples therapist.

  3. Foster a stronger connection with your partner!

Other Therapy Services Offered at The Holding Space in Los Angeles, CA

At The Holding Space, we offer more than just Couples Therapy in Los Angeles, CA. Our comprehensive therapy services are designed to address a wide range of relational and personal challenges. Our experienced therapists specialize in Anxiety treatment, Couples Therapy, Depression treatment, Addiction Therapy, Art Therapy, Brainspotting Therapy, and LGBTQ+ Affirmative Therapy. We also provide support for common issues like relationships, family, parenting, codependency, illness, and trauma. Whether you're seeking to enhance your relationship or address personal struggles, our Los Angeles-based practice is dedicated to helping you achieve greater well-being. Reach out today to begin your journey towards healthier and more fulfilling connections.

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