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Relationship Advice: Scratch An Adult, and You’ll Find a Scared Child Underneath

“Scratch an adult, and you’ll find a scared child underneath.” Who said this? I did. Ok, it’s not a very famous quote. But, I do say it, over and over. And people shake their heads yes, acknowledging that they know what I mean.

“Under stress, we regress.” The man who trained me many years ago said this. And I say it over and over again to people all the time. Given some stress, we drop back to a younger way of behaving, feeling and thinking. You might call it the “knee jerk reaction.”

So, this is the problem with many of your relationships. We see it in the boss who over-reactes. It’s in the over-wrought parent who abuses a child in the name of discipline. And it is certainly in the relationship spats we have with our lovers.We’re all scared children reacting in knee jerk ways as soon as any stress builds up.

Unless you’re more aware than most, this pattern is not immediately obvious. It can be a mystery as to why you blew up over nothing, or why your partner seems so unreasonable when you’re trying to be so logical. At some level, and it’s usually unconscious, we’d scared. We’re afraid of experiencing some level of discomfort, and our primal training moves us to react in inappropriate ways.

Add to this that our brain has spent years and years associating negative expectations to all kinds of events and it is amazing that we can have such normal relationships most of the time.

And what about those people that “never” react? They are always so pleasing and never would say anything unsettling to anyone else. I guarantee that they are doing the same process on the inside. They cringe, they run away, they feel pain. Their over-compliant ways are actually a form of knee-jerkiness that defines a life-time.

Compliant niceness and super-negotiability are, more often than not, a way to handle their own deep down fear that they will cause someone to have such a knee jerk reaction towards them.

The Solution:

How I wish I could give you a single, smart, simple answer for this problem! Not a chance! You’ll be learning to live in more productive ways for the rest of your life. In fact, working on this one personality reality is what your relationships are particularly suited for.

Here’s the solution as simply as I can put it.

First, be aware that “Under stress, we always regress.” And good stress is still stress. Ever wonder how two people at a wonderful wedding celebration can suddenly have a huge argument? It’s because the wedding is stressful. It’s good stress, but it’s still stress. Just acknowledging that this is how life works helps us to name it and bounce back faster.

Secondly, realize that you can not stop regressions from occurring. With practice you’ll identify it faster and recover quicker, but our reactions will always be with us lurking beneath the surface. You’ll just become better and better at handling it.

Thirdly, realize what maturity really is. It is NOT stopping it, but getting out of it faster and faster each time. What bothered me several days last year, may only bother me several hours this year, and next year it may only be a three second blip. It is still there but I become less and less reactive to it.

This is the basis of my therapy work with couples. I help them get used to the things that each of them react to, to recognize what stresses each of them, and to grow in maturity so that they don’t react so strongly in the future.

I encourage you to take this short outline to heart. If I could get this little lesson deep within you, you’d never have to read another of my articles.

You will ALWAYS react, but with time and awareness you can lower the power of this reactivity and create peace and serenity for you and your partner.

Steve Roberts is an experienced Marriage and Family Therapist who shares tips and real life relationship secrets from over 20 years of practice. Get Insight and Wisdom for your Relationships at: