There is no truer statement in the world than “When you marry someone, you marry their whole family.” Even if you never interact with your spouse’s family, you are still seeing characteristics, behaviors, and attitudes that are a direct reflection or response to what your mate grew up with.
And your mate sees the same in you. How many times have you caught yourself doing something the same way you saw dad or mom doing it? How many times have you used certain phrases when disciplining your kids that you swore you’d never say when you were younger? How many times have you yelled because you grew up in a loud family, or went silent because your family tended to avoid conflict at any cost?
Parents, grandparents, siblings, extended family—they all contributed to everything from how you communicate, to how you handle conflict, to how you think about intimacy, to the things you obsess over, to how you see God. No family is perfect, but I pray that you had a good family growing up. I pray your mate had a good family. Because good or bad, you will either repeat or rebel against what you’ve experienced (and either can be good or bad depending on the behavior or characteristic being accepted or rejected).
Our families of origin often set a “default” in us. After all, the family you grew up with is the only experience of family you’ve had, so it is easy to become ingrained with the thought that this (whatever “this” was for you) is how family is supposed to be. Certainly we want to bring into our own marriages the good things we got from our families. But we are not doomed to repeat the not-so-good things. Thank God we have the ability to choose and to be intentional. It is a cop-out to say “Well, you knew that’s how I was when you married me,” or “That’s just the way I am and I can’t change.”*
As you think about your family, and your mate’s family, consider talking about/ doing the following:
- What are the good things you see in your mate’s family that you are glad he/she brings into your marriage relationship?
- Are there any actions/ patterns/ characteristics from your family of origin that you don’t want to bring into your own relationship with your spouse? (Let each person talk about his/her own family only so that you don’t open the door to saying anything that might be hurtful or misinterpreted.)
- Write a letter to your spouse’s parents (or whoever their primary family influence was growing up), thanking them for blessing your life through the good things they gave your mate.
In-laws and extended family is often one of the most challenging parts of a marriage relationship. But the qualities that made you fall in love with your mate were in some way influenced by his/her family. Thank God for who your covenant spouse is, and ask God to lead you to speak blessing and encouragement into your own children’s lives, as well as the lives of their current or future spouses.
*Obviously there are some things that are beyond one’s control to change, but I am referring to individuals who consistently make excuses for hurtful words and actions with no real effort to make changes.