relational defaults

last week i posted the first of the series of emails i am sending to some young friends of mine for whom i am officiating their wedding ceremony. they are getting premarital counseling from a great guy who is geographically closer than i am but i still felt like i would be remiss if i didn’t make sure a few things were covered. i’m actually 99% sure that the counselor will cover this stuff but i would rather send a useless email than not have some things covered.

anyhow, here’s the second email.

Last week I wrote you concerning what I believe to be the ultimate purpose of marriage (and life for that matter). Now I will begin to write to you concerning some of the things that I believe are important for living out your marriage. Basically I’ll just write on the subjects that I would normally cover if we were meeting together for premarital counseling. The subjects we would cover together are

• Relational defaults
• Fighting
• Money
• Sex

So let’s talk a little about “relational defaults.”

What I mean by this has a lot to do with your experience of your parents’ marriages. I know a good bit about your family life (name removed to protect the innocent) and a little about your family life (name removed because of the witness protection act & his testimony against the mob) and from what I know I would assume that you both feel as though there are parts that you would like to emulate and there are parts that you would like to completely avoid. That’s why I would like to talk about “defaults.” You will not automatically become your parents (for good or bad) but the experiences you have had in watching their marriages will help to form you for good and bad. In my opinion those experiences can form “defaults” that you naturally go towards.

What this means is that how your parents fought, treated each other, communicated, parented, etc. are all a part of who you are and you will have a natural tendency to coast toward those behaviors. If your mother had a tendency to horde money, or your father had a tendency to love his yard more than his children, or your parents had a tendency to fight with the goal of slashing each other’s throats, or one spouse had a tendency to humiliate the other spouse in public, etc. then you need to watch out for those behaviors within yourself. You are not doomed to become your parents (or for that matter blessed to naturally become your parents) but if you do not watch out for some of the behaviors that you don’t like in their relationships then you will find them slowly creeping into your lives. After all your parent’s relationship with their spouse is the closest you will ever be to studying someone else’s relationship. You have learned a great deal for good and bad from watching those relationships so carefully. If you don’t watch out for it you will probably find yourself doing the very things that you had always hated when your parents did them to each other.

I don’t mean for this to be a cut on your parents because we all have our faults and the goal is for our kids to get better at things than we are. I know that one day Adam and Noah will look over at me and think “Dad should be treating Mom this way” and hopefully their marriage will be even more successful that ours because of it. Should you have children the same will be true with them.

Overcoming our negative defaults takes work. We have to constantly be on the look out for them and also be willing to do what is necessary to overcome them. Obviously we head towards these defaults because they are easy for us. That means overcoming them will probably not be easy. I am a firm believer that successful marriages are such because of work (and I don’t merely define successful as staying together). The couple that purposely works at loving each other is usually the one that stays loving each other. Working at overcoming our relational defaults is one item that a couple needs to work on so that they will continue loving each other as well as they possibly can.

If we were meeting together I would assign you both some “homework” for us to talk about together the next week. We’re not meeting together so we can’t really talk about this together but I think I’ll still assign the homework. The first week’s normal homework would be to go out to eat somewhere and write out answers to the following questions and discuss it:

1. What is it about your parents’ relationships with their spouse that you dislike the most and wish to avoid in your marriage?
2. What is it about your in-laws’ relationships with their spouses that you most dislike and wish to avoid in your marriage?
3. How can you help each other avoid these behaviors?

I try to encourage each couple I talk with to give each other permission to lovingly (and that is most important) call each other on behavior when they begin to act out on the behaviors they have discussed. How to do that comes under “fighting fair” and typically we would talk about that the next week. In our present case I will simply email you next week.

Until next week.

3 Replies to “relational defaults”

  1. So I guess my drinking to excess and beating your mom has helped your marriage. I knew I was raising you right, and setting a good example.

    As I read this blog entry, I see again how proud I am of you.

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