Did you know that the first skills you learn about marriage and friendship come from your parents’ marriage relationship? Did you know that the attachment, comfort, or discomfort you experience in your marriage stems directly back to what your parents taught you about love? Did you know that because all marriages are founded on friendship first, basic relationship attachment skills might feel like a struggle with your spouse even when romance doesn’t?
Everything we see as children shapes our perception about something in the world and when it comes to marriage, the primary lesson your parents taught you is whether or not it’s safe to be vulnerable with another person. We watch our parents closely as we grow up and, knowingly or not, they shape what we believe about love. Their day-to-day interactions answer questions inside us like…
“If I share my dreams, goals, and passions with you, will I be accepted or rejected?”
“If I tell you that something you did hurt me, will I be validated or shamed?”
“Does the way I see the world mean anything to my spouse or should I keep it to myself?”
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It is through watching their auto-pilot day-to-day interactions and habits with each other that you learn what is safe and what is not safe, and what is expected and what is not expected in relationships. In other words, any parent can put on an intentional act for their kids, but kids see everything, and what matters most is what they see when their parents think they aren’t watching. Thankfully, healthy marriages model love and respect whether the kids are watching or not. Unfortunately, not all marriages are healthy, and the damage to the kids watching can be catastrophic to their relationships later on.
For example, say you consistently watched parent A walk up to parent B and start telling him/her about their day and parent B’s response routinely given was to be stone cold, make no eye contact, and grumble something in an annoyed tone under their breath before walking away to the next task. Then, once parent B left the room, you also saw the look of sadness in parent A’s eyes as they were left standing alone. Additionally, let’s also say you routinely saw parents A&B share a quick daily kiss and say “I love you” before one of them left the house. How do you figure a daily experience like that might have shaped you and what you believe about relationships? Is it possible seeing this daily might have taught you that people don’t actually care as much as they say they do? Or that saying “I love you” is just for show and doesn’t really mean you can count on that person to listen to you and engage with you? Maybe it taught you that marriage is a facade and the real stuff is fake. You CAN unlearn this.
We all become relationally paralyzed by fear when we witness someone we love being treated in a way that hurts them. What if it happens to us, too? How damaging! Better question? What if it doesn’t and you can forge a new path? Let this be a starting point for getting curious and asking questions. It’s all about self-awareness and using that awareness to create positive change! We’re here to help 🙂
If there is a certain area in your attachment process (the way you connect to another person) that you’re struggling with, take some time today to think about what your parents taught you about marriage and friendship by reading through these questions on your own or with your spouse.
- What did my parents’ daily interactions teach me about friendship?
- What did my parents’ daily interactions teach me about romantic love and relationships?
- What lessons do I want to unlearn from my parent’s marriage?
- What lessons do I want to keep from my parent’s marriage?
- How does my parents’ marriage impact my own marriage the most? Is it healthy? Unhealthy?
- What is one personal belief that I learned from my parents’ marriage that is hurting me/my marriage and needs to be addressed immediately?
- What is my marriage modeling to my kids? What are we unconsciously teaching them in our day-to-day interactions?
- What did my in-laws’ marriage teach my spouse about marriage?
- Is my marriage teaching the positive or the negative things we learned from our parents to our kids? Am I comfortable with what they are learning from us?
And, remember, just like your parents taught you all about marriage and friendship… your marriage is teaching your kids too.