Murphy’s Love: Advice on Intimacy and Relationships


Dear Stacy:
My husband has a history of trauma. I won’t give specifics, but he had a rough childhood filled with all kinds of abuse. For the most part, this doesn’t affect him and our daily life, but I am starting to worry about how he disciplines our kids. He is really hard on them, especially our boys, when they do things that most boys do, like roughhousing and being aggressive about certain things. I want us to talk about our parenting and I know that we will have to talk about how his history is impacting our kids, but I worry about bringing it up. It’s not really something we’ve discussed very much and I don’t think he’s dealt with it much on his own. But when I see him get so angry with our kids, I worry that he might lose some control in the way he experienced as a kid. I don’t know what to do to prevent this.
–Worried and Watching

Dear Watching:

Thank you for writing this and giving me the chance to remind all of us (I’m talking to myself, here, too) that our childhoods absolutely do impact how we treat our own children. They do. Now, I’m not at all sure that’s what is happening in your home, but I want to reiterate that our childhoods impact how we parent.

I’m sorry that you are concerned about how Husband is disciplining your kids. That can be very frustrating, at the very least, and highly frightening, at the very worst. We have one defense against transmitting an abusive past into an abusive present: consciousness. When we become conscious of any negative messages we received in our childhoods (about what to expect from our relationships, about what to do when we feel angry, etc.), we are empowered to change the story with our own kids. Similarly, when we become aware of what worked in childhood – like when we felt most loved, or the ways we felt validated when we expressed ourselves – we are more inclined to value those things with our own kids.

So, going back to your situation, we know that Husband had a tough childhood. He may not be aware of how it influences the decisions he’s making about raising your kids, but I’ll guess he will be less defensive about looking at all of that if you gently approach him with a little curiosity about your own history (READ: this can’t be a lecture about how his Screwed-Up Childhood is harming your babies – seriously, that is not going to work). This needs to be a partnership process – and taking your turn first can make it easier for him to let down his guard.

Stacy Notaras Murphy ( is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing in Georgetown. This column is meant for entertainment only, and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to


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