No family is perfect. In fact, many of us look back on our own childhoods with at least some measure of pain or feeling of brokenness. Even in Catholic families where parents are trying their best, this experience is common.
But while some of us have small amounts of brokenness or pain from childhood to wade through in our adult years, some of us had deeper childhood traumatic experiences.
Many times, scars from an ugly divorce between parents, or even from physical or emotional abuse, can greatly influence a person well into their adult years.
Maybe you haven’t experienced this level of trauma yourself, but what if you’re in a relationship with someone who has a traumatic family background?
Here are three things to consider if you’re thinking of dating someone who grew up in a dysfunctional family environment.
Is this person aware of their story?
If you’re hoping to marry and start a family, the most obvious goal is to find a person you’re attracted to and whom you could be able to love for the rest of your life.
But beyond this most obvious goal, there are other things to consider. Is the person you’re interested in capable of loving you for the rest of their life? Will they be able to work with you as a team to raise any children God may give you?
Coming from a dysfunctional family environment doesn’t make someone incapable of these things. But if they suffer from a childhood wound, the first step in finding healing is acknowledging that the wound is there.
For example, maybe someone was abused by their parents, but doesn’t realize how harmful that experience was. They might even think that the abuse was normal. Without an acknowledgement of the harm that abuse caused, this person may struggle to interact with their own spouse and children in a healthy way.
But if, on the contrary, a person realizes just what was terribly wrong in their own childhood, that can often be a good impetus for them to make sure they do everything they can to avoid repeating those mistakes.
Are they working towards healing?
It’s important to recognize that no one is truly perfect, and we all have scars of one kind or another that we carry around with us.
But it’s also important to understand that a person who has experienced deep trauma in their past needs to find healing in their story. Traumatic family experiences are scars that will not just go away and may not even fade on their own.
Has the person you’re considering dating (or are in a relationship with!) taken steps to seek healing from these wounds? Maybe they already worked through these things with a therapist, or are working through them now. Or perhaps they’ve sought help in a support group. Hopefully, they’ve also sought healing and comfort through their prayer life as well.
Someone who is willing to do what they can to heal is a person who knows themselves. They are likely to be able to work with you to confront problems of all kinds in a future relationship with you.
Are you in a healthy and whole place yourself?
We often make fun of that breakup cliché, “It’s not you, it’s me.” But this is one circumstance when it could actually be true.
While it’s important for someone to recognize the wounds from their upbringing and take steps towards healing, it does take two people to make a relationship work. Consider what a future together could look like as a couple and as a family and what your role in the relationship would be.
Do they still have a relationship or some sort of contact with the family member or members who hurt them in the past? What does that relationship look like today?
If there’s still some level of dysfunction in their familial relationships, there is a good chance that it could influence your marriage or family life. It could end up coming down to your boundary-setting abilities to keep your own family clear of that dysfunction.
There’s also the chance that, even if the person has healed considerably from the past, they might have instances where it all hits them anew and they need your emotional support.
Maybe, if you take an honest assessment of yourself, you can realistically see yourself able to make even these worst-case scenarios work for the good in your future relationship and family life.
But be honest with yourself about your true strengths and weaknesses, and try to assess realistically whether the two of you might be a good fit or not.
There is nothing saying that a person with deep wounds from their past can’t make a great spouse. But being honest with oneself can go a long way in helping you both to make a good choice.