October 28, 2013
What are your beliefs about marriage? It’s a big question – and one that many people fail to ask themselves before taking the plunge. But our beliefs about what marriage is, what it’s for, and our part in it, form the basis of our expectations of what a successful marriage should be, and how ours measures up.
Our beliefs about marriage come from several sources. The first is our family of origin. What family structure did you grow up with? Was there an intact nuclear family– mom, dad and kids all living together – or was there some other arrangement? Were you raised by close relatives, adoptive parents, or a foster family? Did your parents divorce while you were growing up? Was infidelity or substance abuse a factor? How was the household labor divided? Was there enough money?
The situation in which we are raised has a huge impact on the assumptions we make about what married life will look like. Some researchers say that we are drawn to relationships that are similar to ones we had with our family of origin – and not always a parent. I believe there’s some truth to this, for the simple reason that whatever situation a child grows up in, they learn to think of as normal. And once we’ve established “normal,” we tend to go looking for it. But since our relationships – like ourselves – are imperfect, we keep trying to resolve the same old conflicts over and over again.
If you grew up with caregivers who were abusive, addicted, adulterous, bad with money, critical, depressed, helpless, incarcerated (etc., I think you get my drift), you had better believe that it left an impression on you that will impact your relationships.
That’s why your relationship with yourself is so important. If you don’t know who you are, how can you share yourself intimately with your partner or spouse? But more about the sharing later; we’re still figuring out where we get our ideas about marriage.
We also get our beliefs about marriage from our culture, which is often a mix of social influences (advertising, entertainment, social trends, etc.), and family influences, such as ethnicity, spiritual or religious values, language, and traditions. This mix of social and family influences is unique for each of us, but there are also elements we share in common. The larger history of marriage has had its influence, too.
We didn’t always marry for love. In fact, until the last two hundred years or so, marriage was considered far too important a decision to be influenced by an emotion as fragile and transient as love. For many thousands of years, marriages were arranged. No dating. No falling in love. When you got to the proper age, your parents (or other family members) picked out an “appropriate” person, someone of the same ethnicity, religion, and social status, and you got married. Marriages were for protecting or expanding bloodlines, property, and other assets; cementing alliances or preventing war; and providing a stable environment for the next generation.
Although we can all agree that providing a stable environment for our children is an important function of marriage, we generally don’t marry for reasons of property or dynasty anymore…or do we?
To be continued…