Childhood experiences shape us in profound ways, leaving imprints that linger into adulthood. For those who endured abuse during their formative years, the impact echoes through their lives, influencing their relationships, behaviors, and emotional responses. The aftermath of such trauma manifests in multifaceted ways, permeating daily existence in intricate, often subtle, yet immensely influential manners.

From reflexive apologies to persistent fears, startle responses to a perpetual anticipation of the worst, the scars of childhood abuse cast a long shadow over relationships. Understanding these coping mechanisms, shaped by developmental trauma, is pivotal in comprehending their role within the dynamics of a partnership.

Here are 18 ways you may be coping if you were abused as a child:

  1. You’re Always Apologizing and Saying You’re Sorry. You were taught that you could never do anything right. Apologizing is reflexive for you. You still hope that apologizing will keep you safe.
  2. You Have Above Average Self-Discipline. If your family of origin was always criticizing and berating you, you may have a perfectionist streak in you.
  3. You Startle Easily. If you grew up in a household of screamers, you may associate any loud noises with being hit or slapped.
  4. You Can Take or Leave People. Many people with Developmental Trauma hold people at arm’s length. This behavior can range from slight discomfort to crippling social anxiety. People who have had a hard childhood may tend to be shy, withdrawn, and self-amusing.
  5. Trying to Not Be Defensive is Particularly Difficult. This is an area that might cause you to have longer battles than necessary with your partner. People with Developmental Trauma are often very defensive and sensitive to criticism, which can be very frustrating and aggravating to their partners.
  6. You’re Waiting For The Other Shoe to Fall. Childhood abuse shapes the nervous system to always be on guard. Even with “good news” the attitude of a spouse with Developmental Trauma can be that every silver lining has a dark cloud. This can be frustrating to a normal partner.
  7. You Fear Being Abandoned by Your Spouse. This trait is particularly present in people who have developed a Borderline Personality Disorder (which also often develops out of childhood trauma).
  8. Anger Comes Easily to You. Anger was modeled for you, and it may flow quickly easily to you, especially with your spouse.
  9. Or Hardly at All… On the other hand, some folks with Developmental Trauma can be extremely conflict avoidant. They have a difficult time standing up for themselves. They flee from conflict with their spouses, but internalize their anger into lingering unspoken resentments that they hold onto, sometimes for years.
  10. You Have Issues With Addiction and Risky Behavior. Recent research tells us that many victims of childhood trauma struggle with addictions. These may include alcohol, or other drugs, or compulsive behaviors such as shoplifting, gambling, compulsive eating, etc. New research shows that if you were traumatized at around 8 years old, your brain can not accurately assess the impact and consequences of your risky behavior.
  11. You Dissociate. You might find yourself slipping in and out of a mental fog, losing track of a conversation. You retreat into your own mind easily, and your partner may feel neglected or not valued because of your inability to consistently focus on the conversation.
  12. You Look For Problems and Second Guess Everything. It’s hard for you to count on other people. You expect the worst in every situation.
  13. You Are Always Putting Yourself Down. If you put yourself down first, at least you spare yourself the pain of listening to your spouse do it.
  14. Compliments Make You Queasy. You already know for sure that you’re worthless and weak, why would anyone go out of their way to contradict this obvious fact?
  15. You’re Extremely Sensitive. People who were abused as children had to read people and situations fast.
  16. You’re Nervous, Fretful and Easily Overwhelmed. Your spouse may worry or find themselves restricted by the fact that you are so easily overwhelmed. But overwhelm was your normal state as a kid wasn’t it?
  17. Intimacy is a Challenge.  You want to get close to your partner, but you find yourself managing the relationship more than just trusting in it. Some people with Developmental Trauma wonder if they would be better off alone while fearing solitude at the same time.
  18. You Panic Easily. Panic attacks come unexpectedly. Sometimes when the phone rings, you’re fine. Other times you might have to be scraped off the ceiling. You can’t trust what your nervous system will do next.

Understanding What Your Having Been Abused as a Child Means in Your Relationship

There is a great deal of responsibility on the person with Developmental Trauma to do something that they dread doing: Going for extended psychotherapy. They fear that dredging up the past will be a painful waste of time. They don’t acknowledge that they already live in a great deal of pain, and that pain radiates and impacts everyone around you.

Developmental Trauma is a burden on the healthy partner too and your children. Sometimes spouses with Developmental Trauma can be extremely self-focused and unaware of their partners’ struggle to live with a traumatized partner.


The legacy of childhood abuse extends beyond the individual, affecting partners, children, and the fabric of relationships. Addressing developmental trauma within a relationship necessitates acknowledging its impact, a process that requires professional guidance and support.

The burden of coping mechanisms often blinds individuals to the extent of their pain and its ripple effects on those around them. Engaging in science-based couples therapy offers a pathway toward healing, fostering mindfulness, and unveiling the automatic responses embedded in one’s nervous system.

Embracing this journey isn’t merely a personal quest but a collective effort to untangle the knots of trauma that entwine relationships, paving the way for understanding, growth, and the possibility of reclaiming a healthier dynamic. If you or your partner have experienced childhood abuse, seeking therapy can illuminate the intricate ways trauma affects your relationship and guide you toward a path of healing and greater awareness.

If you or your partner were abused as a child, science-based couples therapy can help. The first step is to work with a therapist who can help you both understand how Developmental Trauma is interfering with your relationship, and assist you with a treatment plan to help you become more mindful of the specific automatic behaviors that are hijacking your nervous system and keeping you mired in conflict with your partner.

Is Your Childhood Killing Your Marriage?