They say that when you marry someone you marry their entire family. There’s a lot of truth in that. In reality, you don’t just have to deal with parent-in-laws, there are sibling-in-laws, their respective spouses and children, grandparents, step parents, and ex-spouses too. My wife and I were very lucky when we got married because despite the fact that we come from totally different countries and cultures, our two families accepted us as their son/daughter and brother/sister in law respectively with no issues. Its not the same for some other couples who I would imagine have faced different issues around acceptance into each others families.
If you really want to know your spouse, nothing tells you a story like they way they interact with their family. My wife and her family can speak on the phone for two hours at a time, whereas my family and I hardly spend more than ten minutes on the phone with each other. We have very different ways of interacting with our familys. There’s no way to get out of the reality that your spouse’s family history will have a major impact on your relationship. It matters whether your spouse grew up in a loving home or a harsh one, a broken home or a whole one; it matters how his or her parents chose to parent and it matters how his or her character was formed as a child. If there are things you don’t like about the way your spouse and his family treat one another, it’s important to discuss it because it’s almost guaranteed to come up in your married life together at some point. And that goes for the good things, too. If there are things you really like about your spouse’s family relationships, you can feel more confident that you will have a similar experience together. The more my wife and I shared bits an pieces about our pasts before we met , the more we got to start understanding who we really were and why we both react positively or negatively to different day to day situations that we have faced in our married life. Our childhood experiences and the way our parents related to us have imprinted certain thought patterns and behaviors on us.
Understanding each others childhood and evaluating our current approach to family life and marriage has helped my wife and I to face our positive and negative behaviors head on so we can build on our weaknesses and solidify our strengths. Its not a character attack but a true self evaluation with an objective to genuinely grow.
There are five love styles that can leave marriages at a disadvantage: the avoider, the pleaser, the vacillator, the controller and the victim. Many people have more than one style arising from several imprints in childhood, and often they see themselves using a blend of several styles in marriage.
The avoider: People with this love style often come from performance-based homes that encourage independence and minimize (even discourage) the expression of feelings or needs. Kids respond to insufficient comfort and nurturing by restricting their feelings and learning to take care of themselves. So, as adults they avoid emotions and neediness both in themselves and others.
The pleaser: As children, pleasers try to be good in order to keep parents from worrying or being angry. Some kids in this environment become extremely well-behaved to compensate for an unruly, disabled or ill sibling. Pleasers often feel anxious, but they don’t get to be comforted. Rather, they end up giving comfort—appeasing the angry parent or calming the fears of the worried parent.
The vacillator: Children of parents who connect in sporadic and unpredictable ways tend to be vacillators. These kids get just enough connection to make them desire more, which leads to waiting and wondering when their parent might show them some attention again. As they wait, they become hypersensitive to signs of connection and rejection. These long periods of waiting make the vacillator feel unseen, misunderstood, alone and abandoned.
The controller and the victim: Kids who are raised in chaotic homes—where connection is not just unavailable or sporadic, but also dangerous—tend to become controllers or victims. Their parents often have serious problems including addiction, anger, violence and mental illness, so they don’t relieve stress for their children. They are the source of stress.
By identifying our love styles, couples will be able to address the root of each others problems with compassion for one another. Growth also brings challenges. It requires vulnerability to admit our brokenness. We had to break the destructive childhood patterns of relating that we both brought into our marriage. This is still a work in progress.
The goal was to create the “secure connection” . Being a secure connector means becoming more like Jesus, who gave and received love in healthy ways—honestly addressing problems with patience and grace, repairing ruptures when they occurred. Couples with a secure connection are able to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, own their contribution to relational difficulties and apologize sincerely when they make mistakes.
Despite what may have been the case with either of your families, you can find comfort in the fact that your family unit is still separate and comes first. This refrain has been a peace-creating balm for my own marriage since my spouse and I come from different nationalities and cultural backgrounds. We both have our family history, but its now more important to us to create our own path and our own legacy for our children. Love also demands us to make ourselves utterly vulnerable, revealing our flaws and weaknesses and accepting those of our spouse. These commitments are so intense.
When you say “I do” you are opening your heart to embrace a group of people who love and care about your spouse and therefore have some natural right to a relationship with you and especially with the children that might come from your union. That said, while we should always try to maintain a healthy relationship with our partner’s family members, we can discriminate when it comes to deciding the level of influence certain family members have on our own family unit and the level of intimacy of those relationships. So, yes, marriage involves loving each other’s families but our marital commitment to our spouse is a higher priority, and that’s an important difference. To experience deep, lasting change in your marriage, you need to address problems at their root. And grow from there.
Wilbert Frank Chaniwa