Evaluate Your Parents’ Marriage Before Starting Your Own

To have a healthy marriage, you need to evaluate how healthy your parents’ relationship was in your home growing up. This process might be the single issue that starts your marriage with the greatest potential to finish well.

With many people now growing up in divorced or single-parent homes, a host of potential scenarios might put you at a disadvantage in your marriage. In reality, every possible situation can have positive lessons and negative consequences. 

Healthy?

If you witnessed two godly people who loved each other very much, you risk thinking their flourishing relationship came easy. Healthy marriages do not come about accidentally or without tremendous intentionality and effort. They might have made it seem effortless, but I guarantee that it was highly challenging if they made it look easy. 

Tolerant?

Maybe you didn’t witness two parents loving each other, but they barely tolerated each other. If you watched your parents live essentially as two roommates who seemed mutually disinterested, you probably fear that you might repeat that example. Many couples drift away from a robust relational connection, especially during the season of raising children. The unending 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 expected norm. 

Dysfunctional?

Maybe your parents weren’t roommates, but they blatantly treated one another as enemies in front of you. If you endured volatile disagreements and dysfunctional interactions, you are most likely dumbfounded about what healthy communication should look like. Parents who fuss and fight in front of children unnerve them during the formative years and discourage them in the future. Never accept that ungodly or unhelpful forms of communication should be your standard practice.  

MIA?

If you never actually 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 you might understandably feel at a horrible disadvantage without a tangible example to study. While you might commence marriage with such drawbacks, no one is beyond the opportunity to experience a healthy relationship.  

The Baggage Is There

Even if you aren’t aware, you will bring the baggage of your parents’ examples into your marriage. That example has inevitably formed your mindset whether the model was good, bad, indifferent, or non-existent. No situation can doom you to fail. No exposure can guarantee that you will succeed. But if you’re not careful, you will overlook one of the most incredible opportunities to improve your marriage – learning from the example your parents gave you. For any stunning displays of sacrificial love in front of you, praise God for it and seek to imitate it. Yet, for any disappointing reminders of marital functionality lost, don’t waste that learning opportunity displayed before your eyes.

It is essential to evaluate from the examples before you regarding what you want to repeat and what you want to reject in your marriage.

The Lesson Is Waiting

This exercise can be seismically sanctifying if you will allow it to be. Reflect upon your parents’ examples regarding marriage and articulate what you would like to repeat and what you would like to reject. The evaluation process might be heavy, but it will ultimately prove helpful. Not only will you find yourself wiser for it, but you can also clearly communicate expectations and exhortations with your spouse regarding expectations of what you desire your marriage to be.

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 what you remember spoke a vital 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 mind reader, you might ask for more unnecessary conflict since your unmet expectations may simply be uncommunicated.

In addition to the elements worth repeating, you probably saw some worth rejecting. This discussion can be a bit heavier than the first, but it is indispensable. I often hear 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. If the scenario was consistent and combative, a simple annoyance that could appear in your marriage could feel more like layered levels of dysfunction due to the filters through which you now see it. A disagreement in your marriage may feel more intense if you saw the same one playing out before you among your parents during your formative years.

While this exercise helps you understand how you and your spouse are wired and what each of you is silently expecting for your marriage, it can also reveal potential conflict points. In addition to displaying positive expectations and negative concerns, you might discover that you have differing hopes for your 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 navigating life within a packed minivan. I have often heard an individual desire to reject a particular type of interaction followed by the spouse wanting to repeat that very thing. What can be seen as positive in one house or through one personality can be seen as unfavorable by another.

If you have differing perspectives, that doesn’t mean you are incompatible, but it does mean that you need to be careful. Allow the cumulative lessons that you learned to strengthen your marriage. Don’t waste the opportunity to learn from any example you had before you. Without unpacking such vital information, you risk repeating patterns or intensifying conflict.

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