”Look Rachel, I married you, not your family. Stop acting like your mom.”
Scott and Rachel were having a fight. Scott was angry. Down deep, Scott knew better than to say what he did. When he married Rachel, he knew there were specific family influences that would affect their marriage. Both he and Rachel had family baggage. However, they never talked about their families prior to getting married.
You may be thinking, “Who cares about my extended family? I’m married now. They don’t have influence over me now that I live away from them with somebody else?” But your extended family did and does exert tremendous influence upon the person you have become. Your ability to be intimate is, in part, determined by early family influences. Problems arise when you deny those influences.
In truth, you do marry the family. And it is important to be aware of generational patterns each partner brings to the relationship.
The good news is that your original family doesn’t determine your future relationships. You can learn to be different. First, you have to be aware of the baggage you bring to a new relationship. Generational patterns are learned and rehearsed in families over the years. Most people unconsciously repeat those patterns whether they are healthy or not. But you have the power to make change. You are not a victim of your family patterns.
Once you recognize a family pattern, then decide–based on those influences–do you want to make changes. For example, Scott knew that whenever he was angry with Rachel, he escaped through drinking, a pattern he saw his dad do often with his mom. But Scott didn’t see this pattern as a healthy way to deal with his anger. He didn’t want to be like his dad in this way because he saw the problems drinking created. Yet, he found himself grabbing a beer whenever Rachel upset him.
Once you identify an unhealthy pattern (e.g., drinking a beer when angry), work on changing the pattern (e.g., When angry, Scott will take a time-out, calm down by taking a few deep breaths. This wasn’t how Scott’s dad dealt with his anger, but Scott can be different.) This type of awareness and intentional behavior change will eventually help you develop a new pattern in your own marriage.
So yes, you marry the family, but change is possible.
For more help, check out Dr. Linda’s book, I Married You Not Your Family: And Nine Other Relationship Myths That Will Ruin Your Marriage.