7 Ways Childhood Trauma Shows Up in Your Romantic Relationships


“Love is the greatest miracle cure. Loving ourselves creates miracles in our lives.” ~Louise Hay

When you are unlucky in love, you tend to blame yourself for not being enough and maybe blame fate for not giving you a break already! Everyone else around you is in happy, long-term relationships, but you just can’t get there.

You might come to the conclusion that there is something wrong with you—you’re too old or too fat—and all the good ones are already married, and you will just die alone! You never think for one moment that your relationship history is playing out a dynamic from childhood.

I felt like this for thirty-seven years of my life. It was like I kept dating the same man but in different bodies. The way I felt was always the same. Always chasing after someone who was unavailable in some way. Some had addictions, some were in relationships, some prioritized other people, but the underlying feeling was the same. I am not good enough to be loved.

Other times I avoided relationships all together, or I was the one running away from the ones who did want me, telling myself that they were not what I wanted. In all situations it ended in the same way—me single, feeling incredibly lonely and hopeless. Looking at everyone who could manage a relationship wondering what was wrong with me.

I continued aimlessly looking for love in all the wrong places, completely unaware of how my childhood was impacting my relationship choices. Thankfully, I began a journey of healing that started by reading and listening to self-help content. I became aware of Pia Melody and the concept of love addiction after reading her book by the same name.

This relationship behavior I kept repeating was actually a trauma response. I had grown up with a dad who was emotionally unavailable and very much focused on his own needs. Unconsciously, I was finding him in these other relationships. It got worse after his suicide.

Since then, I’ve learned a lot about how our childhood trauma plays out in relationships. Here are seven ways it can happen:


1. You are in a relationship but don’t feel loved.

You are in the relationship you once wished for, but you still feel this emptiness and feel like your partner is to blame. If they did x, then you would feel loved and enough.

You blame them and they trigger you. But are you expecting the love and care from them that you are not even giving to yourself? Are you filling up your own love so that their love is just a bonus? Are you even noticing the ways they show you love? It may be different to your love language. Maybe things are not right, but are you working on repairing the issues rather than blaming or ignoring them?

Our first relationships (with our parents or childhood caregivers) teach us about attachment. If your relationship with your parents was sometimes really loving but other times they were cold and distant, you didn’t grow up with love being available and consistent. Which is why relationships can make you feel anxious and you can over-give and feel lonely in a relationship.

2. You are the fixer in love.

When you date or even marry, your partner tends to be the broken bird that you are obsessed with fixing. Or they might be a narcissist who is all about their needs and you taking care of them. Either way, you have found yourself in toxic relationships that don’t feel safe or good.

They could be an addict and you pour all your energy trying to save them while feeling depleted and unloved. You become almost obsessed with how you can save this person you love so much. It’s quite possible you’re repeating a dynamic with one of your parents.

For example, I very much repeated a pattern of finding men to fix because my relationship with my dad was all about his needs and his struggles with his mental health. I was always saving him, and when I did, I would receive love from him. I thought this was love, so I repeated this unconsciously in other relationships.

3. You chase unavailable love.

You spend all your time and energy chasing after someone who is not available in some way. They need fixing, have addiction or family issues, are in a relationship already, or won’t commit to you. But you think of them day and night. You are obsessed with getting them to choose you, but they don’t and this spirals you into despair.

You just keep trying and sometimes use other addictions to numb the pain. I was addicted to a psychic line at the height of my love addiction with an unavailable man because I was looking for confirmation that we’d end up together. This is what launched my healing journey, as it really did make me feel insane at times, especially when the object of my affection kept coming forward and then running away.

We often will attract people who are playing out their attachment trauma from childhood with us. Often one that is opposite to us. So if you chase love, you may attract someone who runs away.

4. You avoid relationships entirely.

Falling in love feels like too much and it just makes you feel so anxious, so you might avoid relationships entirely and seem to function better single. But the loneliness is intense. You wish you could be held at night.

You will do things to avoid these feelings, like overwork, take care of others, keep your social calendar super busy, numb with TV, drink all the time—whatever you can do to not feel your feelings!

If you even attempt to go on a dating app your heart races and you feel terrified. So you run back to your safe single life, wondering what is wrong with you that you can’t even go on a date.

5. You ignore the red flags.

The object of your affection does things that don’t feel safe, yet you don’t say anything out of fear of losing them. You have no idea how to set a boundary and ignore warning signs that this person may not be good for you—how they talk to you, put you down, deny your reality, or even get physically violent.

Since you grew up with a parent that did the same to you, it feels almost normal. Even though your body will tense up around them, you are used to that. You stay too long in relationships that don’t make you feel good, where you get very little. You feel like this is the best you can get, so you focus on the good rather than noticing the bad.

6. You feel suffocated in your relationship.

You are in a relationship that feels safe and easy, but then your brain starts to question it all. Am I attracted to this person? Do I feel suffocated by them? Are they the right one for me? You will convince yourself that they are wrong for you and end the relationship, as you have no idea what healthy love even is. It makes you feel so anxious to end up with the wrong person.

7. You don’t think you can get better.

You are in a relationship because you don’t want to be alone, but it doesn’t make you happy. But you don’t think you deserve any better. The fear of leaving and being alone feels like too much, so you just stay. Resenting the other person for not making you happy but not taking any action to make your situation better.

Many of us fall into more than one of these categories.

Without healing and inner work, we unconsciously play out patterns from the past and stop ourselves from having a fulfilling relationship.

We can’t even objectively see what is wrong because so much of what we are experiencing in our relationships is based on our past trauma wounds. We don’t know what we don’t know, and if no one  modelled a healthy relationship for us growing up, how can we know what it is ?

I had no ideas my parents’ relationship was unhealthy because the constant fighting was my normal, so I had no idea I could have something different.

Romantic love felt stressful for me for many years. I was either pining after them or they were driving me mad. I didn’t know there could be any another way.

But understanding my relationship patterns and where they came from has been a game changer for me.

Now, after a journey of healing the past relational traumas with my parents through therapy, books, and support groups, I know how to have healthy love. What changed was I learned how to love myself and care for myself the way I wish others would love me.

This changed everything…

As my relationship with myself improved, so did my relationship with men. I am now married, and thankful my marriage is nothing like my parents’. When there’s conflict, we have the tools to move through it and come out stronger.

We have a strong relationship in large part because I have done a ton of inner work and healing. Unlike in previous relationships, I now know my own worth, and I also know how to express my needs and boundaries with love and kindness.

I finally took responsibility for my behavior and moved out of victim mode. This changed the relationships I attracted, not just romantic. I now knew how to treat myself with love and respect, and this meant the quality of love I received was healthier as a result.

Our internal issues play out in our relationships. Once we heal on the inside, everything changes.

Prioritize loving yourself the way you wish to be loved by someone else. Notice when your relationship is triggering negative emotions and ask yourself, “What do I need?” Start to give yourself what you need and then you will learn to ask others for what you need. Showering yourself with your own love will change everything.

About Manpreet Johal Bernie

Manpreet is the creator of a podcast Heart’s Happiness, where she talks about intergenerational trauma, and is also a coach who helps people make peace with their past and rewrite their story by learning how to love themselves and their inner child. Check out her FREE MASTERCLASS Freedom from Anxiety, where she shares her proprietary technique to help with anxiety when we change our relationship with our emotionally immature parents. Follow her on Instagram here.

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