Couple sitting on a couch turned away from each other emphasizing relational unhappiness.

The Hidden Influences that Fuel Relational Unhappiness

Restablishing an Sense of Trust

Discovery of sexual betrayal, particularly in the context of sex addiction, destroys trust in the sense of connection in our relationship. Much of early recovery is dedicated to trying to establish a fragile sense of trust in the relationship, such that we can work toward strengthening that connection. That often seems daunting for couples in recovery. However, our very nature assists us in that aim: we are hardwired for connection. Literally.

Our brains are wired from the start to find meaning and purpose through those around us. When we are children, the dominant source of that connection is our parents. We define who we are through their eyes. Not simply mannerisms, traditions and dialect, but the very definition of how we see ourselves. Our sense of purpose, identity and safety. Our understanding of emotions and what to do with them. Our sense of self-value as well as our insecurities. All of these have deep roots in our childhood.

The only relationship that starts with a blank slate is the one with our mothers, and that begins in the womb. After that, every subsequent relationship is influenced by the experiences that came before. Every moment of joy, pain, fear, insecurity, expectation, disappointment, loneliness, becomes a part of the new relationships we form. Psychiatrist Dan Siegel refers to the brain as an “anticipation machine”. That means that it is constantly scanning our environment looking for opportunities and threats based off past experiences.

Understanding Family of Origin Influences

Most of the memories that influence us are held in our subconscious as implicit memories – memories that are more emotional than experiential. In other words, you can recall the emotion but not the experience that caused the emotion. This often happens on a subconscious level, where we are essentially running on automatic pilot, unaware of how these hidden memories are influencing us in our present relationships. When your partner uses a tone or gives you a look that stirs up automatic feelings of anger or shame – those are likely fueled by an implicit memory.

“Why do we fight about the same triggers over and over?”, “Why are there some issues we just can’t navigate?”, “Why do we suffer through destructive choices and how do we recover from them?” All these common issues in relationships require an examination of “why do I do the things I do?” (by each of you). Without answers to this fundamental question, we will find ourselves wrestling with the same basic issues in all our intimate relationships. As the Spanish philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.