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How does your family of origin influence your married life?


Shutterstock | p_ponomareva

Cecilia Zinicola - published on 11/06/21

Understanding these differences and similarities helps couples grow closer and get along better.

How affectionate were your parents with you and with each other? Did they teach you to say goodbye with a hug? At home, were there traditional roles in household chores, or were they more spontaneous and changing according to the evolving needs of the family?

The style of communication, conflict resolution, how roles are determined in the home, how affection is displayed, and the responsibilities of each family member (among other things) are all aspects that are deeply rooted in the family where we grew up.

Our family of origin, the family in which we were raised, has an influence on each of us throughout life. Family researchers have identified certain “family factors” that shape us as individual members within the family, and which affect our personality or preferences going forwards.

Knowing these family factors can help us identify both the style of our own family of origin and the personal expectations we bring to our own married life to create the family we want to build together. 

Through the process of learning more about our differences and understanding the varying dynamics in each of our families of origin, we have the opportunity to equip ourselves with effective ways to communicate about important aspects of our lives. This will make it easier to express ourselves to our spouse in good times and bad and will improve the home environment.

Integrating two lives by getting married

An engaged couple planning to marry is faced with the task of combining and integrating two lives to start a “new” one. Even couples who have been together for years may end up facing these questions.

It’s never too late to evaluate why we think or behave a certain way. Love is a force that moves us to know ourselves, to make changes, and to improve with effort and will.

In this sense, all couples should have the opportunity to learn about this part of their lives. Depending on the type of experiences they’ve had in their family of origin, the process may be a bit uncomfortable at times. But in the end, it will build the opportunity for more empathy and a stronger connection with each other.

The expectations that are ingrained in us through our family of origin are perhaps the ones that influence us the most for better or worse. From a young age we observed how our parents made decisions at home and what the dynamics of relationships with other friends and family members were like. All of these have shaped our lives, expectations and behavior.

A map of our relationship

As adults, we need to consider our own unique hopes and expectations for our family by creating a map of our relationship, with our ways of doing things and the ideals that we bring with us. Although they may seem natural to us, they may not be so for our spouse.

Developing a better understanding of these differences or similarities is helpful in growing closer as a couple and knowing more about ourselves and the person we love, as well as knowing what we expect and what we can bring to our marriage. It allows us to navigate better through our differences, increase our empathy, and connect better as a couple.

10 family factors to evaluate as a couple

A good start is to seek to have a conversation with your partner about this topic, or reopen the dialogue if it has been lost. Find a comfortable place away from distractions. Take an hour for a date, make a nice cup of tea or coffee, and focus on setting aside a few minutes to learn about each other and your relationship.

Ask each other questions, tell each other stories, and listen to what the other has to say. Evaluate behaviors you’ve seen in the past or beliefs that have been passed down to you regarding relationships. This can be elucidated by things your parents said or did.

Discuss what your families valued when you were children. These things may not have been openly communicated, but you may find clues, such as whether they always ate meals together, had one game night a week, or had a lot of independent time alone.

Each person can make a personal assessment of their own family and that of their fiancé or spouse by evaluating each family factor and determining whether its importance in your past is low, medium, or high, and then comparing your responses with that of your spouse and pooling them together.

It’s not about finding the best or worst way to do things. In the end, families do the best they can according to their circumstances, and different things work for different people. It’s about discussing any of the factors where there are differences to draw out, and thinking about whether any of them will be a challenging aspect of your current or future marriage or family plan.

Issues to address

  1. Emotional closeness: the extent to which family members express closeness to each other, and help and support each other.
  1. Expressiveness: the extent to which family members are encouraged to express their choices and feelings openly.
  1. Conflict: the extent to which conflict is dealt with directly and family members can openly express their anger.
  1. Independence: the extent to which family members are encouraged to make their own decisions and solve their own problems.
  1. Achievement: the way the family encourages others to be achievement-oriented and/or competitive with respect to school, sports, and careers.
  1. Culture: the way the family is concerned with or participates in social, educational, intellectual, and cultural matters.
  1. Recreation: the amount of emphasis the family places on various types of sports and recreational activities or leisure time.
  1. Morals and religion: the extent to which the family gives priority to religious practices and training in moral values.
  1. Organization: the importance given to such things as planning activities, family meetings, finances, boundaries, and responsibilities within the family.
  1. Control: the way in which power and authority are exercised in the family. For example, if parents were clearly in charge, did they exercise authority in a firm, loving, rigid, or sometimes authoritarian manner?

And then …

After this evaluation you should ask each other: Do you think any of the various answers above will be or are a challenge to your marriage? Which of the 10 factors do you think your own family of origin managed to handle successfully? And of those, which represent your own family of origin’s greatest strengths?

Many newlywed couples decide to do some things differently than they did in their own families of origin. Of the 10 factors, which ones would you do differently? Why? What do you admire most about your future spouse’s family of origin? Is there anything you admire about your family that is not included in these 10 factors?

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