Something that happens very often in marriage is that we don’t realize that what is normal for us might not necessarily mean it’s actually normal or healthy and could be causing problems in our marriage. Into our marriage we bring a lot of baggage that originates from things in our family of origin, previous relationships, and experiences in life. As humans we adapt to situations and develop patterns of behavior to be able to handle and cope with what is thrown at us. While it’s great to be adaptive, those very same survival techniques can be the source of problems in our marriage.
All of us have brokenness and baggage. There is no exception to that rule. When we enter into marriage, we have to realize that we need a willingness for change and adaptability. Just because there was a way of functioning under our parents’ roof doesn’t mean that was the right way of functioning or that it’s the way we should continue to function. If you listen to your spouse, you usually can begin to hear where there might be some areas to re-train our way of thinking and functioning. The first step in taking out the trash is to acknowledge that we are broken and there is a need to adapt to what works best for our marriage.
The second step in taking out the trash is to be able to identify the areas that need to change. The identification process can be a long and painful process because a lot of times we don’t easily see, let along accept these areas. This step requires being open to discussion with our spouse to find out what these problematic areas could be. It requires introspection and the willingness to realize that some of our adaptive patterns from our family of origin or previous relationships could be hurting our spouse and damaging our marriage. Carefully listening to your spouse is so important in this step. Think about this, it’s much easier for you spouse to keep his/her mouth shut about something than to bring it up, get slack for it, and have to argue over it with you. If your spouse is bringing up a concern, it’s usually because it’s important and in your best interest to hear it. Listen to his/ her concerns and begin to identify together areas that need to be adjusted so that your marriage can function in a healthy and satisfying manner.
Here are some classic scenarios:
- In your family of origin, communicating about problems was simply not something you did. Instead, you shut down and just wish the problem away or assume it will resolve itself. You get married though, and your spouse is trying to work through problems in your marriage. You shut down, and the frustration and hurt is compounded in your spouse & in your marriage. The problem here is shutting down instead of communicating. If this were your situation, the person shutting down would need to re-program themselves to realize that shutting down is not a healthy way of resolving issues and in fact escalates, worsens, and compounds the problem. Learning to communicate would be essential to the health and survival of the relationship.
- Your parent is overly involved. They insist to know everything you are doing, when you are doing it, and weighing in on decisions for your life and even your marriage. You always give in to placate your parent because that’s how you grew up and learned to function in order to keep your parent happy. Meanwhile your spouse is stuck feeling invaded, excluded, frustrated, and hurt because there is no privacy and sense of unity between just the two of you. The problem here is the inappropriate over-involvement of the parent. If this were your situation, you would have to begin to detach and set up healthy boundaries limiting the invasion and over-involvement of your parent. You would need to begin to make decisions without involving and including the parent and would have to limit the information shared with that parent. The movement would be toward establishing life as a husband and wife only.
These are just a couple of examples to give you an idea as to what practical examples of these unhealthy patterns are and what the transition to healthy patterns would look like. Step one is acknowledging that you have some patterns of behavior in your life that need to change in order for your marriage to function at its best no matter who you are. Step two is identifying those patterns and what they need to be through introspection and carefully listening to your spouse. We will continue on in what to do to change those behaviors tomorrow.
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