These days, the expectations of our romantic relationships are evolving faster than the pace of our personal growth and our ability to meet them. Combine this with our culture of steadfast individualism and immersion in a consumer economy, and we have developed the idea that we can approach relationships with a grocery list of needs that our partner should meet.
When we inevitably come up short in one area—perhaps our need for security, self-worth, or attention—we are quick to think of all the ways our partner isn’t doing enough for us. We are left feeling wounded and frustrated. Our list of needs turns into a list of resentments.
Realizing that we are expecting too much from our partners does not eliminate the fact that our needs are very real. The question is, then: Whose responsibility is it to meet them?
Meet Your Inner Child
While our romantic relationships should be rooted in a foundation of mutuality and respect for one another’s needs, they flourish when they can stand upon a foundation of personal responsibility. When we examine which of our expectations causes the most resentment in our relationships, it’s worth considering that it’s likely linked to an issue bigger than our partner.
These types of needs—the ones that habitually go unmet and cause us the greatest amount of pain—often belong to our inner child rather than our adult selves.
These unmet needs direct our attention to longstanding wounds and a longing for nurturance from our caretakers. When our inner child is the one crying out for care and attention, our romantic partner is not the person equipped to do the necessary healing work. That responsibility falls to us.
Why Your Inner Child Matters
Philosopher Martin Buber wrote, “A person wishes to be confirmed in his being by another person.” This wish stays with us our whole lives, but it’s particularly essential when we are children.
As children, we are largely unable to meet our own needs. We rely on our caretakers to provide us with the sustenance and love we need to survive. Therefore, we become highly sensitive to what behavior gives us the confirmation we yearn for and what behavior jeopardizes it.
Over time, we may repress ways of expressing ourselves or silence needs that our caretakers do not validate. We may forget this as we age into adulthood, but the inner child who still lives deep in our minds and hearts does not.
How to Parent Your Inner Child
Parenting your inner child starts with treating yourself with the same grace, patience, and unconditional love as you would a child of our own. Just as you would do everything you can to make your children feel safe, you create the same sense of security for your inner child.
However, most of us are not used to relating to our adult selves this way. This is why it’s helpful to remember our former childhood selves: It evokes our capacity for compassion and care. When we connect with this version of ourselves, nurturing becomes more natural, and we can take our own needs more seriously.
Still, the prospect of parenting your inner child can feel daunting. These three practices can help you connect and communicate with your inner child and gradually heal their wounds and meet their needs.
Practice Automatic Writing
Automatic writing helps us circumvent the walls our conscious mind has put up, especially around our inner child. It opens the doorway for communication.
To start, take out a pen and a blank sheet of paper. Mentally or verbally ask your inner child to share their needs, feelings, and thoughts. Then, set a timer for ten minutes. Without pausing, write freely until the timer is up. When you finish, read what you wrote and reflect on what your inner child shared.
If this practice feels awkward at first, that’s okay. You can turn this into a regular practice that grows with time.
Once you open up communication with your inner child, show them you’re listening. Find out what activities make your inner child feel validated, loved, and seen. Then, using that information, develop rituals around these things.
This could mean setting aside time once a week to do something creative, like painting, dancing, or playing an instrument. Or it could be as simple as making yourself a snack or meal you loved as a kid.
Making this commitment not only strengthens your relationship with your inner child but also helps you realize that you have the power to be your own caretaker and meet your own needs.
Stop Unhelpful Relationship Cycles
After we start spending time communicating and connecting with our inner child, we can reassess our current relationship dynamics.
We can see which of our needs are coming from our adult self (and belong in a romantic relationship) and which belong to our inner child.
With this knowledge, we can interrupt unhelpful cycles of expectation and disappointment that plague our relationships. When we feel triggered by our partner's behavior, we can step back and see if that way of communicating is our inner child talking. Then, we can pause and give our inner child the nurturance they need from their rightful caretaker: ourselves.
Parenting your inner child is an ongoing journey that takes time and is not without its ups and downs. However, committing to this work can bring about immense healing and liberate your relationships in the process.
Need more inspiration? Try these inner child healing journaling prompts.