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Beliefs about marriage

Posted on October 28, 2013 at 5:40 PM Comments comments (457)
October 28, 2013
What are your beliefs about marriage?  It’s a big question – and one that many people fail to ask themselves before taking the plunge.  But our beliefs about what marriage is, what it’s for, and our part in it, form the basis of our expectations of what a successful marriage should be, and how ours measures up.
Our beliefs about marriage come from several sources.  The first is our family of origin.  What family structure did you grow up with?  Was there an intact nuclear family– mom, dad and kids all living together – or was there some other arrangement?  Were you raised by close relatives, adoptive parents, or a foster family?  Did your parents divorce while you were growing up?  Was infidelity or substance abuse a factor?  How was the household labor divided?  Was there enough money?
The situation in which we are raised has a huge impact on the assumptions we make about what married life will look like.  Some researchers say that we are drawn to relationships that are similar to ones we had with our family of origin – and not always a parent.  I believe there’s some truth to this, for the simple reason that whatever situation a child grows up in, they learn to think of as normal.  And once we’ve established “normal,” we tend to go looking for it.  But since our relationships – like ourselves – are imperfect, we keep trying to resolve the same old conflicts over and over again.
If you grew up with caregivers who were abusive, addicted, adulterous, bad with money, critical, depressed, helpless, incarcerated (etc., I think you get my drift), you had better believe that it left an impression on you that will impact your relationships.
That’s why your relationship with yourself is so important.  If you don’t know who you are, how can you share yourself intimately with your partner or spouse?  But more about the sharing later; we’re still figuring out where we get our ideas about marriage.
We also get our beliefs about marriage from our culture, which is often a mix of social influences (advertising, entertainment, social trends, etc.), and family influences, such as ethnicity, spiritual or religious values, language, and traditions.  This mix of social and family influences is unique for each of us, but there are also elements we share in common.  The larger history of marriage has had its influence, too.
We didn’t always marry for love.  In fact, until the last two hundred years or so, marriage was considered far too important a decision to be influenced by an emotion as fragile and transient as love. For many thousands of years, marriages were arranged.  No dating.  No falling in love.  When you got to the proper age, your parents (or other family members) picked out an “appropriate” person, someone of the same ethnicity, religion, and social status, and you got married.  Marriages were for protecting or expanding bloodlines, property, and other assets; cementing alliances or preventing war; and providing a stable environment for the next generation.
Although we can all agree that providing a stable environment for our children is an important function of marriage, we generally don’t marry for reasons of property or dynasty anymore…or do we?
To be continued…

Be a good partner -- AND a whole person!

Posted on October 21, 2013 at 3:09 PM Comments comments (637)
This blog is dedicated to the topic of how to be a good partner, while remaining a whole person. 
I think about relationships a lot.  I think about how they work, and about how they fall apart.  I think about the expectations and assumptions that society places on men and women, and how those expectations and assumptions can undermine our best efforts at forming and maintaining relationships that actually work
Who we are in relationship with our partner becomes, in a way, an aspect of our identity.  To some extent, the same could be said of all our important relationships.  Before we become partners or spouses, we are siblings,friends, employees, etc., and each of those relationships is unique; each of them intersects our core identity – who we are in relationship to ourselves – in a particular way, and reflects a particular combination of our interests, talents, and other aspects of our identity.  Simply put: we relate to different people, and to different categories of people, in different ways, and the relationships we have with important others have an impact on how our core identity  -- and our ability to have relationships -- develops. 
Pair-bonds – whether by marriage, civil union, or some other form of partnership – are complicated.  By definition, when we are building a life with someone, we each bring with us a lifetime’s worth of who we are: our quirks of personality, our preferences, friendships and family experiences, as well as our values and hopes and dreams for the future.  We are taking two whole lives that were previously separate, and merging them into a coherent whole.  This is where self-knowledge (understanding our core identity) becomes crucial.  If we don’t stay in touch with who we are at our core, we run the risk of collapsing ourselves into the role we play in relationship to our partner.  The core identity becomes overshadowed, and we lose touch with who we are as people
Think I’m over-dramatizing? How many women have you heard say something like, “Once I got married, and especially after we had kids, I just fell into the “mommy” thing, and sort of lost myself.  I don’t really know who I am anymore.”  Such a loss of contact with our identity can be reflected in something as simple and straightforward as how we dress and present ourselves, or something as subtle as the life goals we think are attainable.  And men are not immune! 
Having a relationship with yourself isn’t as straightforward as you might think.  Of course, you know the easy stuff, like your favorite color, the kinds of foods you like or dislike, or the leisure activities you enjoy; but what about the tough stuff, like values, beliefs, fears, insecurities, and secret dreams?  How compassionate are you?  Are you resilient?  How do you communicate about sensitive or difficult topics?  How do you respond when you’re in emotional pain?  What are your basic beliefs about sex, love, children, money, and how good relationships work? 
In short, how has your core identity been shaped by the relationship experiences you’ve had with friends, family, and romantic partners?  How will you incorporate who you are, and who you most want to become, into a relationship with someone else?  (Someone, by the way, who's trying to do the same thing!)
Next week, I’ll start talking about the social legacy of marriage, and how it has undermined the kind of marriages most of us say we actually want.