You’ve heard it said that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” So what kind of tree did you fall out of?
For better or worse, all of us are largely products of the families we grew up in. We are shaped and molded in thousands of ways by our parents, siblings, and extended family members.
It’s important for singles to understand who they are and how they got to be that way. Recognizing your family’s influence on you is not only helpful for self-awareness, but it also provides advantages in dating. You can better understand traits in yourself, patterns of family behavior (or misbehavior), and strengths and weaknesses that your relatives had in common.
If you are in a relationship that has moved from casual to committed, spend some time talking through how your families contributed to the individuals you are today. Start by exploring these topics:
How was conflict handled? Every family has a distinct way of addressing problems and disagreements—or not addressing them, as the case may be. Perhaps you grew up in a home where disputes were aired out swiftly and loudly, like a tornado that blows in and blows out just as quickly. Or maybe you dwelled among a houseful of “silent sulkers,” people who let their emotions fester below the surface and revealed them only through sarcastic remarks, cold shoulders, and passive-aggressive ploys. How would you describe your family’s typical method of handling conflict? Do you see evidence of this approach in yourself today?
What was the style of communication? Some families love nothing more than to sit around the table and discuss every issue under the sun. They talk openly and honestly and continuously. Other families are quiet and reserved, parsimoniously doling out words like pennies during the Depression. Are you verbal and expressive, or reticent and restrained? Whichever you are, your family had a huge influence on your willingness or unwillingness to share your thoughts, feelings, and opinions.
How were male-female roles carried out? Lots of people grew up in homes where traditional gender roles prevailed: Dad was the breadwinner, Mom managed the household and children; he mowed the lawn, she cooked the meals. Other parents preferred a more equal division of labor and responsibility, where both spouses were involved in parenting, careers, and domestic chores. And of course, over the past few decades it’s become more common for the woman to pursue a full-time career while the man tends the home front. Even if you grew up in single-parent home, you probably picked up cues and messages about the roles men and women are expected to perform. What were they?
Since all of us carry beliefs and behaviors from childhood into adulthood, it’s extremely helpful to explore what these are and how they will affect your future relationship.