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How Unmet Childhood Needs Affect Adult Relationships: Exploring the Role of Couples Therapy

Childhood experiences play a significant role in shaping our adult lives, particularly when it comes to relationships. The unmet needs we experienced in childhood can have a profound impact on our ability to form and maintain healthy adult relationships. Whether it’s the lack of emotional support, inconsistent care, or attachment disruptions, these unresolved issues can manifest in various ways within our intimate partnerships. In this blog, we will delve into how unmet childhood needs affect adult relationships. We will also explore the role of couples therapy in addressing and healing these wounds.

Understanding Unmet Childhood Needs

A child sits against a library shelf while covering their ears. This could represent past pain in childhood an online therapist in New York can address. Learn more about couples therapy and marriage counseling in Los Angeles, CA by contacting an Asian American therapist in Los Angeles, CA today.

Unmet childhood needs refer to the emotional, physical, and psychological requirements that were not adequately fulfilled during our formative years. These needs can include a sense of safety, trust, affection, validation, nurturance, and healthy boundaries. When these needs go unmet, it can lead to emotional distress and impact our ability to form secure and fulfilling relationships later in life.

The Impact on Adult Relationships

Unmet childhood needs often resurface in adult relationships, shaping our patterns of behavior, communication, and emotional responses. Here are some common ways in which unmet childhood needs can affect adult relationships:

Attachment Styles:

Attachment styles shape the way we relate to others. Children who receive consistent emotional support from adult caregivers are more likely to be able to feel secure and confident in relationships with others. On the other hand, children who experience neglect or inconsistency in their early years may struggle to feel that they can trust others. They may develop an anxious or avoidant attachment style. This can manifest as clinginess, fear of abandonment, emotional withdrawal, or difficulty in trusting others. They can create challenges in establishing healthy intimacy and emotional connection within couples.


Unmet childhood needs may also lead to codependent tendencies in adult relationships. When children’s emotional needs are not met by the adults around them, they have no choice but to rely on themselves. As they grow into adults, they may find that they are able to depend on others for the first time. But, they might not have any frame of reference for how much support is appropriate from another person. This can result in codependency, which looks like excessive reliance on a partner for validation, self-worth, and emotional well-being. Codependent individuals often struggle with boundaries, lose their sense of self, and have difficulty maintaining healthy autonomy within the relationship.

Communication Patterns:

Unmet childhood needs for validation, active listening, or constructive problem-solving can manifest in unhealthy communication patterns. When children do not experience adult modeling of how to manage difficult emotions or conflict, they can grow into adults who struggle to express their feelings, fear vulnerability, or resort to defensive behaviors. As an adult, they may find that they fear conflict and shy away from it. Instead, they may express their feelings in a passive-aggressive manner. This can be due to both fear of sharing their vulnerable feelings and worry that their direct communication will not be accepted. This can make it challenging for partners to connect and understand each other, leading to misunderstandings and further conflict.

Emotional Intimacy:

Deep emotional connection, known as emotional intimacy, is built upon trust, vulnerability, and the willingness to share one’s innermost feelings. However, when childhood wounds remain unaddressed, they can erect barriers that hinder the experience of true intimacy with a partner. Unresolved traumas like neglect, abuse, or abandonment can leave emotional wounds that significantly impact one’s ability to trust in others and build deep emotional connections. For example, a child who was abused may grow into an adult who fears that others will hurt them if they allow them to get close enough. This emotional weight can manifest as emotional distancing, heightened emotional reactivity, or difficulty in establishing profound emotional bonds with a partner.

A close up of a person holding the arm of their partner in support. This could represent the support couples therapy and marriage counseling in los angeles, ca can offer for relationships. Learn more about online couples therapy in California by contacting an asian therapist in los angeles, ca today.

How Can Couples Therapy Help?

Couples therapy can provide a supportive and transformative space for addressing unmet childhood needs within the context of adult relationships. Here are some ways in which couples therapy can facilitate healing and growth.

Identifying Patterns and Triggers:

Couples therapy can help couples identify recurring patterns, triggers, and behaviors that stem from unmet childhood needs. By recognizing these patterns, individuals can gain insight into their own emotional reactions and how they may be impacting the relationship dynamics.

Exploring Individual Histories:

In couples therapy, each partner’s individual history is explored. By looking into each partner’s childhood experiences and cultural background, they can each begin to recognize how they individually contribute to their current relationship dynamics. This exploration creates a deeper understanding of the root causes of unmet needs and allows for empathy and compassion toward one another’s struggles.

Building Communication Skills:

Couples therapy provides a safe environment for developing effective communication skills. Therapists can teach couples active listening techniques, empathy, and assertiveness, allowing them to express their needs, concerns, and emotions in a healthy and constructive manner.

Addressing Emotional Wounds:

Couples therapists utilize various therapeutic techniques, such as emotional-focused therapy, trauma-focused therapy, and attachment-based interventions, to help individuals process and heal these wounds within the context of their relationship.

A family of three hangs decorations on a window. This could represent the stronger bonds cultivated by working with an Asian American therapist. Learn more about online couples therapy in California and how an online therapist in los angeles, ca can help.

Creating Secure Attachment:

Couples therapy aims to foster secure attachment within the relationship. By addressing attachment-related issues stemming from unmet childhood needs, therapists can help couples begin to develop trust, emotional safety, and intimacy with each other. This creates a foundation for a healthier and more fulfilling connection.

Begin Online Couples Therapy in California and New York with Asian American therapists with Expertise in Unmet Childhood Needs

At Yellow Chair Collective, we understand the unique cultural and intergenerational dynamics that can influence unmet childhood needs. Unmet childhood needs can cast a long shadow over our adult relationships. However, through the power of couples therapy, individuals can heal past wounds, develop healthier communication skills, and foster stronger connections with their partners. By recognizing the impact of childhood experiences and taking proactive steps toward healing, couples can pave the way for a more fulfilling and harmonious relationship.

If you and your partner are facing such challenges, consider seeking the support of a qualified couples therapist. Together, you can embark on a journey of healing, growth, and transformation, laying the groundwork for a brighter future filled with love, understanding, and profound connection. At our Los Angeles, CA, and New York City, NY-based therapy practice, we have many culturally sensitive, Asian American therapists who specialize in couples therapy and can help you navigate this complex intersection of childhood background and relationship dynamics. For your added convenience and simplicity, we offer online therapy for anyone in the state of California or New York. We know that your mental health is important, and we want to help you work through whatever’s holding you back. Follow the steps below to begin.

  1. Fill out the contact form to get connected with us.
  2. Get matched with a skilled Asian American therapist.
  3. Start processing the ways that childhood needs may still impact you today.

Other Services at Yellow Chair Collective

There are many options for treatment using online therapy in California and New York, it just depends on what you’re needing. And while we certainly service Asian American folks, we also work with individuals from other cultures, too. So, whether you’re needing support in overcoming anxiety, burnout, trauma, or PTSD, we can help. Likewise, we serve teens and couples in need of support, too. So when you start online therapy with us, you can bring your whole self, including past struggles, cultural impacts, and more.

Relevant Resources

Yellow Chair Collective: The Podcast | Couples Therapy 101 – Get Expert Advice from Licensed Therapist Jessie Li

Yellow Chair Collective: The Podcast | Common Misconceptions Around Couples Therapy with Jessie Li