What Your Parents Taught You About Marriage

Our parents are the most powerful people in our lives. They are the first experience we have with the concepts man, woman, husband, wife, mother, father. This knowledge we acquire in our early lives shapes our understanding and expectations of these ideas as adults. It impacts whom we choose to date and how we define our relationships. These influences are rarely examined as a source for our relationships turn out the way they do. They are treated like background noise; a constant, unquestioned and normal way of approaching the world. In our society it is not uncommon for families to be on their second or third generation of divorce. What we have learned in our families of origin may well hold the key to our marital success.

Experts agree that children are resilient and can recover from divorce. However, it is my experience, both personal and professional, that they are not unscathed. When the family breaks apart it leaves a lasting impression and changes who children are. Depending on how troubled the marriage was, a child can develop the belief that marriage is a hurtful state and has no advantage. Even if the discord was not that great there is still a sense of protecting oneself from being hurt like that again. Many children of divorce wonder if this will be their fate as well. This can play out in one of two ways: either they never allow anyone inside the protective wall around their feeling or they stay in relationships which are not healthy and supportive. They believe going through the pain again is too much. It also may lead to the idea that divorce is both acceptable and inevitable so the commitment necessary for a lasting marriage is never made.

Our experience with our parents marriage influences us in other ways as well. The roles they each performed become the templates for our own relationships. As I mentioned in a previous article (available atwww.balancedfamily.com), my best friend believed her job was to take care of the home because that is what her mother did. The fact that she was not an accomplished cook and her husband was led them to an examination of what their relationship needed to look like. Even in this day when many couples work outside the home, I frequently come across couples whose underlying belief system requires the man to have the higher salary. When this belief is not acknowledged it sets the stage for unnecessary tension and misunderstanding. When asked about it the women?s response is frequently that it?s just the way they thought it would be. No examination has been made of what works best for their long term relationship goals.

When couples fall in love and plan to marry it is unusual for them to give any thought to what their parents? marriages were like. This is unfortunate because an assessment would allow them to make conscious choices about what they would like to have as part of their marriage and what they want to leave out. In addition, this type of discussion would enable them to identify areas where they may disagree, such as roles, household tasks, finances, intimacy, etc. One of the most common and most dangerous approaches to marriage is not to worry about these differences due to the belief that you can change your spouse after you marry. Ingrained and unexamined concepts of marriage in the mix is a recipe for disaster and disappointment.

The best course of action is to discover what your and your partners understandings and expectations of marriage are by asking the following questions:

What kind of relationship did your parents have?
How did they handle conflict?
What did they fight about?
Did you ever see them fight?
Did you see them make up?
How did they divide the household chores?
How did they handle money?
Did they keep score?
How did they communicate?

These questions are a good way to get a better grasp of the way your partner thinks and his/her underlying assumptions about marriage are. The more you know the easier it will be to negotiate your perfect relationship.

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