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How do you care for the needy “inner child” in your relationship?

How do you address the needy "inner child" in your relationship?
How do you address the needy “inner child” in your relationship?

Being an adult in relationship includes addressing the needy inner child.

There’s a lot of pressure to be adults in relationship, and behaving as an adult in your relationship is undoubtedly a good thing, but what about the needy “inner child” in each of us that is bound to show up from time to time? Is it necessary to indulge the needy inner child in you and your partner? Is there benefit, personally and as a couple? If we’re going to make space for our own and our partner’s inner child – an inner child who might be cranky, disagreeable and characteristically immature – how do we do it without upending our relationship and turning our lives over to the chaotic forces of a hurt or angry or demanding inner child?

These are some of the questions that The DailyEvolver‘s Jeff Salzman dives into with his guest, long-time couples therapist Tom Habib, in the attached video interview/podcast.

Their conversation caught and kept my attention because it addresses such a topical, even universal, theme that couples struggle with, often unconsciously: so-called regressive states, ie – when the inner child’s needs come to the fore of the individual and thus into the relationship arena. In simpler terms, what do you do when your partner acts irrationally and childishly?

Tom Habib offers a simple model for recognizing and working with regressive (childish, immature, irrational) states within a marriage or relationship. Rather than insisting that your partner “grow up”, Tom suggests that making room for the states in a relationship has real benefits for both parties, and he suggests a set of rules for doing so. Readers of my book “The Re-Connection Handbook for Couples” might recognize some similar themes in slightly different language.

Attachment therapy or differentiation therapy?

I’m struck by how Habib, without naming it as such, happens to somewhat integrate two apparently contradictory viewpoints within the marriage therapy community: Sue Johnson’s popular Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) which sees childhood attachment patterns as the foundation of marriage and relationships, and David Schnarch’s Differentiation-Based Therapy which de-emphasizes (though doesn’t deny) childhood attachment and instead emphasizes “growing up” and developing a solid but flexible adult self within adult relationships.

Effectively reconciling these two seemingly contradictory perspectives is no simple task, and Habib, in this relatively short interview, seems to approach some measure of success, without explicitly setting out to do so. He suggests that we can consciously trade off Adult/Child roles in relationship to each other in a way that facilitates both “inner child” and adult needs being met. In this way, regressive child-like states are held within adult consciousness, and given some room to roam. Of course, a certain amount of baseline personal development is required.

Habib offers an uncommon perspective in this interview, and it could be valuable to anyone stuck and struggling in relationship. Give it a listen and let me know what you think in the comments.

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