Evaluating your parents’ marriage can drastically improve your own. This needed process will allow you to unpack some needed lessons and clarify some genuine expectations with your spouse.
In order to have a healthy marriage, you need to evaluate how healthy the marriage was in your home growing up. With such a majority of people now growing up in divorced or single-parent homes, that ensures a host of potential scenarios that might put you at a disadvantage in your own marriage. In reality, every possible scenario can have positive lessons and negative consequences.
Example #1: Healthy Marriage
If you witnessed two godly people who loved each other very much, you run the risk of thinking that came easy. Healthy marriages do not come about by accident or without a great amount of intentionality and effort. They might have made it look easy, but it was extremely challenging to make it look easy.
Example #2: Disconnected Marriage
If you watched two roommates who seemed disinterested in each other, you fear that you might repeat that example. Many couples drift away from a strong relational connection, especially during the time of raising children. The constant demands and relentless schedules make couples feel like business partners or detached housemates. If this example was before you, be careful not to take this as the normative example.
Example #3: Combative Marriage
If you endured volatile disagreements and dysfunctional interactions, you are dumbfounded as to what healthy communication should even look like. Parents who fuss and fight in front of children unnerve them during the formative years and discourage them for the future years. Never accept that ungodly or unhelpful forms of communication are standard practice.
Example #4: No Marriage
If you never saw a marriage in your home, you might feel defeated at the start because of the lack of an example. So many people get married without ever seeing one up close. You might have heard people describe marriage, but without a tangible example to study, you might understandably feel at a horrible disadvantage.
Even if you aren’t aware of it, you will bring the baggage of your parents’ examples into your marriage.
Whether the example was good, bad, indifferent, or non-existent, that example has formed you. No situation can doom you to fail. No exposure can guarantee you will succeed. But if you’re not careful, you will overlook one of the greatest opportunities to improve your own marriage – learning from the example your parents gave you. For any captivating displays of sacrificial love lived out in front of you, praise God for it and seek to imitate it. For any disappointing reminders of marital opportunities lost, don’t waste that opportunity to learn from that example as well.
It is important to evaluate from the examples before you regarding what you want to repeat and what you want to reject in your own marriage.
This exercise can be seismically sanctifying if you will allow it to be. Reflect upon your parents’ examples regarding marriage and articulate three things you would like to repeat and three things you would like to reject. The process of evaluation might be heavy, but it will prove to be helpful. Not only will you find yourself wiser for it, but you can also clearly communicate with your spouse expectations and exhortations of what you desire your marriage to be.
What to Repeat
Whenever I have done this exercise with a couple, I will typically hear positive elements like, “They tried to make time for each other,” “I never heard my dad criticize my mom in front of us,” or “Mom never felt threatened by Dad’s hobby, and Dad never let it take him away from us too much.” These memories seared into a conscious reveal that something within these things you remember spoke an important message to you. It’s an example that bears repeating in your mind, but if not shared with your spouse, you might get frustrated because of simple unmet expectations. Since your spouse isn’t a mindreader, you might be asking for more conflict since your unmet expectations might simply be uncommunicated expectations.
What to Reject
In addition to the elements worth repeating, you probably saw some worth rejecting. This part of the discussion can be a bit heavier than the first part, but it is extremely necessary. I have often heard examples like, “I couldn’t stand when she demeaned Dad in front of us,” “I never saw my father lead out in our home, and I always knew Mom was trying to get him to try,” or “Money was always a stressful thing between them.” Whatever the specific source of contention, those stressful elements created awkward, angry, or anxious moments within a family. In fact, if the scenario was consistent or combative, a simple annoyance that could appear in your own marriage can feel more like layered levels of dysfunction due to the filters through which you now see it. A disagreement in your marriage may feel longer if you saw the same one playing out before you for eighteen formative years.
While this exercise is helpful in understanding how you and your spouse are wired, and what each of you is silently expecting for your own marriage, it also can reveal potential points of conflict. In addition to revealing positive expectations and negative concerns, you might discover that you have differing hopes for your own marriage. Your desire for a big family due to your loneliness growing up as an only child might disagree with your spouse’s fear of what many children might do to your marriage because of the stress seen while growing up in a packed minivan. I have often heard an individual desire to reject a particular type of interaction followed by a spouse wanting to repeat that very thing. What can be seen as positive in one house or through one personality can be seen as negative by another.
If you have differing perspectives, that doesn’t mean you are incompatible, it just means you need to be careful.
Allow the cumulative lessons that each of you learned to strengthen your own marriage. Don’t waste the opportunity to learn from any example that you had before you. Without unpacking such vital information, you run the risk of repeating patterns or intensifying conflict.