John Trent knows about childhood pain. His father deserted the family before John was three months old.
John was a teenager when he finally met his dad—but not before enduring more heartache. John and his twin brother, Jeff, were expecting their father to watch them play in a high school football game. "We played our hearts out thinking he was going to be there, and then he got busy and never came," John says. He eventually got to know his dad, but he never was able to break through the elder Trent's emotional detachment.
In his book Life Mapping (WaterBrook), John talks about the lingering effects of childhood neglect, abandonment or abuse. He had to confront the consequences of his fatherless childhood after he and Cindy got married in 1979. Today, John is a writer and speaker and president of Encouraging Words, a counseling and training organization based in Phoenix. We asked him how couples can avoid repeating their parents' mistakes.
Why is it so difficult to escape destructive patterns from the past?
We have to recognize a problem before we can seek a solution. And we like to believe our childhood experience doesn't affect us. We think, "I'll never be as angry as my dad was. I'll never be as manipulative as my mom was." Then we wake up one morning and realize we're living out the patterns we grew up with.
You confronted the effects of your upbringing after you got married. Why does marriage bring these things to a head?
Living close to someone who had a different family experience helps us recognize the effects of our own upbringing. I had to admit that Cindy saw things in my life that I didn't see. It was uncomfortable, but that's part of the process.1