Do you ever wonder where you got the idea that the husband is supposed to take out the trash, or that the wife is supposed to clean the bathroom? Though gender roles and stereotypes are furthered by many societal aspects and the media, the number one factor for our views on marital roles comes from the families we grew up in.
Furthermore, many of our patterns of behavior, communication styles, ways we choose to handle conflict, beliefs and values all have their origins in how we were raised. Some of our patterns and decisions come as a direct result of our families: doing what they did according to how it was modeled; while others come more as a response to what we saw: doing the opposite of something we saw because we felt it was ineffective. Either way, we make many conscious and subconscious decisions in our future relationships based on our families of origin.
A lack of awareness of the learning that occurred in our individual families can lead to numerous difficulties in our marital relationships. Proper time and attention needs to be given to discussing the various beliefs and tendencies we carry as a result of how we were raised before entering into a long-term relationship.
The reality is that there will always be differences in how we were raised versus our potential spouses. I hope by now you are seeing the theme that having a lasting healthy relationship has less to do with whether or not there will be conflict (because there will be), and more to do with what you do with that conflict. (More on this in future posts…)
I am a certified facilitator of Prepare/Enrich, a very well-known and reputable premarital/marital counseling assessment and curriculum, and I find their presentation of family mapping to be extremely helpful in regards to this subject. In their assessments, Prepare/Enrich measures Closeness and Flexibility of both the partners relationship with each other, and both of the partners’ relationships with their families of origin. Both closeness and flexibility fall on a continuum. Your family growing up may have been anywhere along the continuum between overly connected and disconnected. In the same way, your family fell somewhere along the lines between very flexible and inflexible. For more information about Prepare/Enrich, or to schedule as assessment for you and your partner contact me here.
You will have certain perceptions and expectations, based on how connected or disconnected your family was, that will effect how connected or disconnected you are, and how much you expect your spouse to be. If person A grew up in an overly connected family, they may expect the same level of closeness that was in their family to be present in their marriage to person B. If person B grew up in a disconnected family, though, they might have a very different understanding of what is a “normal” level of closeness. Even if these two manage to strike a balance and land somewhere in the middle for their own relationship, it might not always feel like enough closeness to person A, while person B might be feeling smothered. You can see how these same scenarios would play out with the aspect of flexibility as well.
Closeness and flexibility are just two examples of difference in family of origin that will effect your marriage relationship. There are many others as well, and we will spend some time addressing Family and Gender Roles in the next post. The best marriages don’t have to agree and be exactly the same on all areas. There does, however, need to be an understanding of each others families and what types of relationship norms and expectations will be carried into the marriage. Be sure to sit down with your partner and take time to discuss what you learned about marriage and family from the home you grew up in. If you aren’t sure where to start, feel free to schedule a session with me, or consider going through the Prepare/Enrich curriculum with a certified therapist like myself to discuss your families of origin. You will benefit greatly from the time and money invested at the front-end to build a strong foundation for your relationship rather than waiting for problems to develop.
As you reflect on your current relationships and your family of origin, what type of connections come to mind?
What expectations and perceptions have remained unvoiced up to this time that would be beneficial to discuss?