Do you ever reflect on what lessons your parents taught you about marriage and family life?
It’s estimated that of the 7 people out of every 1,000 in the US that marry each year, 4 will eventually divorce. That’s about a 50% divorce rate. And I’m not even counting the couples that are still unhappily married.
Now there are lots of distinct reasons why a couple may describe themselves as unhappy, but research shows that many of these reasons go back to what we call your family-of-origin.
Your family-of-origin is the family where you grew up, and it’s where most, if not all, of your ideas about marriage and family life, originated.
Nowadays, families are often quite different from the traditional nuclear family of the 1950s. You might have had only one parent, two parents, or even a series of foster parents.
And what your parents taught you about marriage and family life, and how it has shaped you, is perhaps one of the most profound life lessons you have ever learned.
We are a block of wet cement that our parents are writing in with a big heavy stick. This is where we learn about the importance (or lack of importance) of love, respect, fidelity, honesty, etc. We are apt pupils of these lessons. The kind of marriage and family life we end up with often resembles what we grew up with.
We lug that block of cement into every intimate relationship we have for the rest of our lives. And whether we are aware of it or not, we’ll carry it into our adult relationships faithfully.
If you were lucky, you learned some wonderful lessons about marriage and family life. These lessons help you to develop a Secure Attachment style.
But research also tells us that if we came from troubled families, it will weigh us down. It will be that much harder for us to successfully navigate the emotional demands of marriage and family life.
If, as a child, your home life was distraught, you might harbor a great deal of self-doubt about your ability to have healthy boundaries that nurture and sustain a close relationship with your intimate partner.
You might also have anxieties and expectations that may significantly impact your level of satisfaction with your spouse.
Because of thwarted expectations of what they imagined marriage and family life to be, many couples experience emotional gridlock.
The cement block of beliefs and values you learned in your family-of-origin will have a massive impact on your marital satisfaction.
These beliefs and values often lurk beneath your threshold of awareness.
What your parents taught you about marriage and family life is the total of what “feels right” to you.
You may feel this sense of abiding correctness, while at the same time be utterly unaware of the source of these notions. In science-based couples therapy, these hidden beliefs are teased out in great detail during the assessment process.
As I mentioned in my previous post, fighting in front of the children, kids from relatively happy homes have more secure attachment styles. They are more at ease in social situations, are more comfortable with intimate relationships, more comfortable relying on their spouses, and have higher self-esteem and resilience.
The kids who were dealt a bad parental hand tend to have beliefs and values that make healthy intimate relationships much more challenging. They might be dominant and overbearing, mercurial and explosive, or overly sensitive and unpredictable.
In other words, because of what your parents taught you about being married, the quality of your marriage, whether good or bad, will tend to echo through time. It will seek its own level, not only for your marriage and family life but also for the intimate relationships of your children and grandchildren long after you are gone.
I don’t know about you, but I find this to be a profound and sobering thought.
In evidence-based couples therapy, we work with you to help them carefully unpack what your parents taught you about marriage and family life.
We will help you to explore precisely what negative impacts your family-of-origin issues are having on your marital bond right now.
In addition to fostering a healthier dialogue between the two of you about your family-of-origin differences, couples therapy also encourages an intense curiosity about what your parents taught you, and invite you to reflect on the impact it is having on you today.
Often this therapeutic work results in a profound healing process that invites you better understand, re-frame, and resolve, your problem-laden past.
If you confront what your parents taught you about marriage and family life, you may become better able to intentionally cherry-pick from these lessons, and decisively move past them.
Once you can grasp the lessons you learned, you may choose to move forward in your marriage and family life by consciously leaving some, if not all, of them behind.
It won’t be easy. Once you get a closer look at that block of cement, you might want to take a sledgehammer to it and completely re-invent yourself. There may be laughter… and there may be some tears. But a good couples therapist will faithfully walk that path with both of you.
With help, you can recognize exactly what your parents taught you. You can acquire the sweet freedom to decide on a different path. You might decide that you want the tools to nurture closeness and have a better marriage and family life.
Good couples therapy can help.
You will not only make your own life better, but you might also discover that you are now able to hand down a vastly improved emotional legacy for your children as well. Science-based couples therapy requires commitment and preparation.
But many couples say it’s well worth the effort. What kind of marriage and family life do you want to have? Your courage and wisdom will echo through time.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He is the Blog Editor. He currently works online seeing couples from Massachusetts at Couples Therapy Inc. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.