3 steps to healing the childhood wounds affecting your marriage


Does your partner’s controlling behavior open up old wounds of feeling smothered by a controlling parent? Or does your partner’s emotional withdrawal trigger wounds of abandonment or rejection from an emotionally distant parent?

Here’s some good news!

Because your partner can trigger your childhood wounds, your partner is also the one who can heal them.

Marriage is all about getting what you didn’t get in childhood.

How do childhood wounds happen?

Your parents may have unintentionally wounded you in two ways: Intrusion or Neglect.

Intrusion is over-involvement. Neglect is under-involvement.

If that intrusion or neglect caused you to feel a loss of connection, it’s what we call a wounding experience.

And unfortunately we bring these old wounds and unmet needs into our marriage where they can cause problems if we don’t address them.

Here is a helpful tool (created by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt) that will help you identify your unmet childhood need and find healing from your partner.

1. Identify the “early challenge” that may be affecting your marriage.

Think about whether your parents were intrusive or neglectful. Then study the two lists below under MY EARLY CHALLENGE. Write down the ONE (and only one from the two lists) that most represents your greatest early challenge.


If I had INTRUSIVE parents…
I wanted:’‹
  • To get free from feeling controlled by others.
  • To express my own thoughts rather than what I should think.
  • To express what I felt rather than what I should feel.
  • To experience my thoughts and feelings as important.
  • To do what I wanted to do rather than what I ought to do.
  • Other (If there was something you wanted not on the list)
If I had NEGLECTFUL parents…
I wanted:
  • To experience feeling seen and valued rather than invisible.
  • To be approached by others rather than feel alone or abandoned.
  • To feel appreciated as a person.
  • To get support for what I think or feel.
  • To have someone interested in what I want and like.
  • Other (If there was something you wanted not on the list)

After you’ve written down one item from the two lists above go to step 2.

2. Identify the “early need” that may be affecting your marriage.

Just as you did with your early challenge, study the ten items below MY EARLY NEED. Write down the ONE (and only one) that most represents your greatest early need. 


If I had INTRUSIVE parents…
I needed:
  • To have space and time to myself on a regular basis
  • To experience trust from others in my thinking and my decisions. 
  • To be asked what I feel and what I want.
  • To experience genuine and reliable warmth when I need it.
  • To experience what I do and want is valued by others.
  • Other (If there was something you wanted not on the list)
If I had NEGLECTFUL parents…
I needed:
  • To experience a show of interest in me when I am talking.
  • To be responded to when I asked for it.
  • To ask me what I want, feel and think and then respond.
  • To show curiosity about my experiences in life.
  • To get love and a gentle touch frequently and without having to ask.
  • Other (If there was something you wanted not on the list)

After you’ve written down one item from the two lists above go to step 3.

3. Communicate your early challenge and need to your partner in a ‘Safe Conversation’.

Use the Couples Dialogue format below to share with your partner the childhood need you brought into your marriage. Allow your partner to respond in a way that will meet that childhood need and bring healing.

YOU: ‘When I was a child, I lived with caretakers who were generally _______________ (Neglectful or Intrusive), and my relational challenge with them was to ________________ (the CHALLENGE you wrote down).’

PARTNER: (Mirrors)

YOU: ‘And when I remember that, I feel __________ .’

PARTNER: (Mirrors)

YOU: ‘What I needed most from them was _______ (the NEED you wrote down).’

PARTNER: (Mirrors)

PARTNER: (Summarizes) ‘Let me see if I got all of that. In summary, your caretakers were generally  _____ and the relationship challenge you had with them was to _____. When you remember that, you feel _____. What you needed from them was _____, and not getting that from them, you brought _____ to our relationship. Did I get it all?’

PARTNER: (Validates) ‘You make sense, and what makes sense is that if your caretakers were _____, then your challenge would have been _____, and that your relationship need would be ______. It also makes sense that not getting that in your early years, you would bring it to our relationship. Is that an accurate validation?’

PARTNER: (Empathizes) ‘And given that, I can imagine that if you’re relationship need to ______ was met by me, you would feel _______ (glad, relieved, happy, connected, heard, etc.). Is that your feeling? Are there other feelings?’

PARTNER: ‘Thank you for sharing with me your unmet need caused by your childhood challenges. I want very much for you to have your needs met in our relationship.’

YOU: ‘Thank you for listening and for wanting to understand this about me, and for helping me with it.’

Give each other a one-minute, full body hug.


Finally, let me know how it went in the reply section below! Share your story with all of us!

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    Author: Chuck Starnes

    Chuck Starnes is a relationship coach who is passionate about helping couples find the safety, connection, passion and full-aliveness they are looking for together. He also helps organizations become more productive by improving relationship and communication skills.

    2 thoughts on “3 steps to healing the childhood wounds affecting your marriage”

    1. Terry Doran says:

      So true Chuck ! Thank you. I know your insight is Divinely inspired. I am friends with Clifford Sullivan from TOW in Ireland.

      1. Terry, thanks so much for your comment. Best to you and Clifford and your TOW team in Ireland!

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