6 signs your partner has unresolved issues from their childhood

Dr. Gabor Maté, a Hungarian-Canadian physician and author was born in 1944 Budapest just two months before the Germans occupied the country. “At the time, Hungary was the only country in Eastern Europe whose Jewish population had not yet been annihilated, but now it was our turn,” Maté said in an interview

The day after the German army marched into Budapest, his mother called the pediatrician saying that the two-month-old Maté was crying all the time and that she didn’t know what to do. She asked that the pediatrician come to see her son. 

The pediatrician said that he would come, but he also told her that all of his Jewish baby patients were crying all the time. “Of course, this is the infant picking up on the mother’s terror and stress,” he said. 

When he was a year old, Maté’s mother put him in the care of a stranger for over five weeks in order to save his life. When mother and son were reunited, Maté was so hurt that he avoided looking at his mother for many days. 

The period had a huge impact on his development and he says he had lifelong struggles with depression, ADHD, self-shame, and other issues.

Jumping ahead, Maté said his parents said very little about that time while he was growing up, so the trauma was never brought up or dealt with. 

Because of his own family history and the impact that trauma had on him as an infant, Dr. Maté has a special interest in how childhood trauma has lifelong impacts. 

Childhood trauma can come from many things, neglect, verbal, physical and sexual abuse, for example. 

What if you suspect that your partner is the one who has unresolved issues from their childhood?

In adulthood, the effects of these unresolved issues tend to creep up to the surface in a myriad of subtle—and not so subtle—ways.

Here are six signs that could point to the realization that your partner has issues from their past that could be affecting their present—with you. 

1) They tend to have issues with trust

Does your partner tend to text you a lot when you’re not together? Maybe they phone you to “check in” even though they know you’re out with friends.

Maybe they’re secretive about the financial aspect of their lives. Or they don’t like to talk about what kind of childhood they had. 

Adverse childhood experiences can make trusting others an extremely complex issue, says the team at Khiron Clinics. “[This often] leaves survivors isolated, unable to form healthy relationships, or in a perpetual re-enactment of their childhood trauma.”

Trust involves being vulnerable, and as adults, our instinct is to protect ourselves, which can put up walls with others—especially with people with whom we have an emotional connection. 

Many suffer from the logic that if they couldn’t trust our own parents to keep them emotionally—or even physically—safe, how can they trust our partner?

But their past doesn’t have to affect their future

There are many ways to encourage your partner to build trust, says therapist Jaclyn Gulotta from Choosing Therapy

One way is to encourage open communication. “If you’re more comfortable being open, you can become more vulnerable, stop overthinking, and limit resentment in the relationship,” she says. 

“Trust can be built when your partner knows that you are willing to openly share intimate details.”

2) They might have anxiety about being abandoned

Maté says the trauma of “abandonment, rage, and despair” continues to come up in his adult life. He says he still suffers from a fear of abandonment, especially from his wife.

While it’s natural to fear losing someone you love, therapist Joslyn Jelinek from PsychCentral says that “if you persistently worry about others leaving you, even when there’s no evidence that they will, you may be living with abandonment anxiety or a fear of abandonment.”

If your partner happens to be a child of divorce, or was abandoned by a parent at any time in their childhood, they may take these feelings into their own adult relationships. 

Jelinek says that a fear of abandonment is deeply connected to emotions such as shame and anxiety. For example, your partner subconsciously believes that they were the reason the parent left—or that they were the reason for their parents’ divorce.

The fear can be from either emotional abandonment or physical abandonment, adds Jelinek. 

“Emotional abandonment refers to emotional distance. If you’ve been emotionally neglected in the past by parents, [or] a caregiver…you might fear that other people will neglect you too.”

Physical abandonment is when an important person exits your life, she says. 

“Fear of abandonment may lead you to experience what some people call ‘commitment issues,’ an intense fear of getting permanently close to somebody else.”

3) They tend to withdraw and don’t fully live in the here and now

relationship is making you unhappy 6 signs your partner has unresolved issues from their childhood

A partner who has unresolved issues from their childhood might seem like they’re distracted a lot of the time—or even living in their own world. 

It’s like they’re here but not here. 

It could be that they can’t fully enjoy living life. 

In her blog entitled Fighting To Stay Present When Triggers Occur,” Scarlett Jess Perrodin talks about how triggers—especially those that resurface from suppressed memories of thanks, often lead to dissociative symptoms with PTSD. 

“In an instant, I am sent time-traveling as my body prompts my mind to return to the past. I am not here anymore, I am not present,” she writes. 

Perrodin says that dissociative symptoms are common when recalling past trauma and can feel overwhelming because it takes away a person’s ability to be present. “It’s difficult to function when the human kind is not tending to the present.”

She says that when a trigger leads her to re-live a painful event of the past, the challenge is to return her thoughts to the “here and now”.

She says that extensive therapy and guidance have helped her complex PTSD and that the healing is hard work. 

“I began the task of chiseling at my most haunting memories with intention. Still, sometimes they appear when I least expect it.”

4) They suffer from flashbacks in the form of nightmares, for example

Last year, I interviewed Marina Nemat, who, in 1982, was imprisoned in Iran as a young woman for simply speaking out in school against the Iranian regime. 

Nemat was held in Iran’s infamous Evin Prison for two years and came very close to execution. She was compelled to marry a guard who fell in love with her. Refusing would have meant danger to her and her family. 

By a series of events that were nothing short of miraculous, Nemat was freed. She also married the church organist she had feelings for prior to her imprisonment. 

Years after her release and as a new immigrant to Canada, Nemat began to suffer horrible flashbacks of her imprisonment in the form of nightmares—so much so that she began to be afraid to go to sleep at night. 

Nemat’s is certainly an extreme situation, but if your partner is suffering from nightmares, these could be flashbacks resulting from a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—perhaps from an abusive childhood. It’s a sign from the subconscious that a certain trauma (perhaps from their childhood) needs to be confronted. 

Encouraging your partner to see a trauma therapist is the best route to go, so that they can process their past and finally begin to heal. Nemat said that part of her healing came from writing down what happened to her which eventually became a book called Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir.

5) They exhibit some self-destructive behaviors 

Because childhood trauma isn’t processed until the child is much older, they don’t have the coping mechanisms to handle what happened to them. 

This can lead to self-sabotage and a dependency on such alcohol, recreational drugs, and prescription drugs, for example. They also may not be able to keep a job. 

People who have childhood trauma say that there is a level of depersonalization between the person and the trauma. Self-harm can be a way to not only numb the pain but it also gives them a sense of control—something they didn’t have as children. 

6) They are afraid of being vulnerable

It’s understandable that being vulnerable can be scary to someone who has unresolved issues from their childhood

Jennifer Aldoretta of Ready to Groove, says that her fear of being vulnerable was one of the most difficult symptoms of her childhood trauma. “It took a lot of courage to overcome this, and it’s something I still have to be very mindful and conscious of.”

She continues:

“If we learned that it wasn’t safe to feel our difficult feelings as a child, then naturally we bottled them up and shoved them way deep down inside of ourselves. Now, as adults, we silence our voice out of fear of what could happen if we don’t. We avoid stirring the pot to prevent confrontation or conflict. I know I sure did.”

Letting your own guard down can encourage your partner to trust you enough to show their own feelings. They might see that vulnerability isn’t a weakness, but one of the bravest and most courageous things we can do in life. 

This is often a process so remember to have patience with them. Also, give them a safe space where they feel free to open up. Showing empathy will also help your partner to feel validated. 

Picture of Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has been published by The Globe & Mail, ELLE USA, ELLE Canada, British Vogue, Town & Country, and others.

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