How The Past Affects A Marriage


Fortifying A Marriage Part 3

Knowing how past experiences play a part in a marriage will help fortify a marriage. In the book Why You Do The Things You Do, Dr. Clinton and Dr. Sibcy suggest that the desire for intimacy is the root cause of emptiness and desperation (P. 7). Today’s generation is in search for purpose, meaning and value; many are experiencing a sense of emptiness and isolation (Clinton, 2005). Some enter marriage to find meaning and value; however, this does not happen.  Each person brings their past to the marriage.

The dominate factor that exists in a marriage is the relationship each person has or had with their parents. Dr. Clinton and Dr. Sibcy point out that children depend on their mother’s sensitive and responsive care. The early relationship between mother and child shape chemical processes in the brain. The processes that are being developed are a person’s impulse control, emotional calmness, and early memory development (P.16). A child’s relationship or lack thereof with either a mother or a father will shape a person’s relationship style. Every person has a relationship style. There are four primary styles; Secure, Avoidant, Ambivalent, and Disorganized (Clinton, 2006). Knowing what each relationship style and knowing how to work with the style is important to further fortifying a marriage.

The first relationship style is Secure. The beliefs that fuel the Secure style are “I’m worthy of love,” “I’m capable of getting love,” and “Other people are willing and able to love me (Clinton, 2006).” A person with the Secure style is confident in who they are; both in their abilities and in their deficiencies. Secure people don’t feel pressure to perform for others to earn self-worth points. The internal sense of security frees people with this relationship style to freely express their thoughts and opinions with confidence (Clinton, 2006). Dr. Clinton and Dr. Sibcy write that people with the secure relationship style have been shaped in an environment where their feelings have been respected so in turn, they respect the feelings of other people (P. 52). Since a person with this style has confidence, they trust others; a trust not based on naivety, but based on trusting others that they have selected through a connection (P. 54). Sensitive parenting lays the stepping-stones to a secure relationship style. Sensitive parenting is characterized by four main goals; regulating emotions, knowing a warm relationship, self-awareness, and developmental focus (P.55).

The second relationship style is Avoidant. The beliefs that fuel the Avoidant style are “I’m worthy of love based on my success and accomplishments,” Other people are either unwilling or incapable of loving me,” and “Other people are unreliable when it comes to meeting my needs (Clinton, 2006).” Dr. Clinton and Dr. Sibcy’s research shows that avoidant style people can be very desirous of a relationship, but love ones may actually feel much unloved and abandon. The two doctors go further and say that the person with an avoidant style does not enjoy being known because it awakens repressed feelings of loss about not being known as a child by a parent or parents (P. 70). Research has identified insensitive parenting (i.e. dismissive parenting, rejection, and intrusive parenting) as the one behavior that must consistently leads to insecurity and avoidant relationship style (Clinton, 2006).

The third relationship style is Ambivalence. The beliefs that fuel of the Ambivalent style are “I’m not worthy of love,” I’m not capable of getting love without being angry, clingy, or desperate,” and “Other people are capable of meeting my needs but might not do so because of my flaws.” The major factor in this relationship style can be traced back to the fear of abandonment because being raised in an emotionally confusing climate (Clinton, 2006). On the outside, people with the ambivalent relationship style are wonderful people to be around. Their outside shows one thing but in the inside they are full of fear; the fear of abandonment. This fear can be traced to how this style was parented. Dr. Clinton and Dr. Sibcy suggest that the primary goal of good parenting is to help children develop into functioning adults. They go further in their book and show the parenting styles (The Cold-should Treatment, Overprotection, Withholding Affection/Approval, and Invisible Fences) that can produce an ambivalent style person. The cold-shoulder treatment is when a child disagrees with the parent and they push them away emotional. Overprotection is when the parent keeps the child from any type of harm; they remain dependent. Withholding affection and/or approval happens when a child shows too much excitement when try some independence from their parent; this response dampens a child’s sense of autonomy. Invisible fence works a lot like the invisible fencing that keep animals in a yard; there is pain associated when the child crossed an unidentified line. The result for the ambivalent style person is fear and anxiety when faced with independence from the caregiver (P. 96-97).

The fourth and final relationship style is Disorganized. The beliefs that fuel the Disorganized style are “I’m not worthy of love,” Other people aren’t able to meet my needs,” and “Other people are abusive, and I deserve it.” Persons with this relationship style find darkness everywhere they turn. There is no greener grass on the other side of the fence; the grass is dead on both sides. This relationship style is a product of their upbringing. The person could have suffered abandonment, been treated with inconsistent love and abuse, and have been subjected to contradictory communication; all of which contribute to the person sense of helplessness (Clinton, 2006).

Dr. Clinton and Dr. Sibcy write that a person’s past experiences will affect who they are in a relationship. The same experiences that created their relationship style will affect a marriage and all other relationships. Past experiences shape how people view their own self-worth. Past connections with people form a relationship style. This style is strongly formed as a person is nursed or not nursed by caregivers and then shaped further by relationships and experiences over the course of a lifetime (P. 179).


Clinton, T., Hart, A., & Ohlschlager, G. (2005). Caring For People God’s Way. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Clinton, T. & Ohlschlager, G. (2002). Competent Christian Counseling. New York, NY: WaterBrook Multnomah.

Powlison, D. & Yenchko, J. (2000). Pre-Engagement: 5 Questions to Ask Yourselves. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing Company.

Tripp, P.D.. (1999). Marriage: Whose Dream. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing Company.

Smalley, G. & Trent, J. (1989). Love Is A Decision. Nashville, TN: Word Publishing.

Smalley, G. (2000). Secrets to Lasting Love. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Clinton, T. & Sibcy, G. (2006). Why You Do The Things You Do: The Secret to Healthy Relationships. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Eggerichs, E. (2004). Love & Respect. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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