Saturday, August 19, 2006

Family Feuds

Once again all of you came through in amazing fashion, providing numerous responses to last week's Ask the Faithful Readers question. I asked you to tell me what differences between your families of origin have created issues within your relationship. Your submissions highlighted several types of inter-family disconnects, including the following:
  • Class / lifestyle differences - "In my family, funerals were always dressy black-tie affairs. In his family, it's okay to show up in jeans and flip-flops and even a housecoat will do."
  • Close versus distant relationships - "He didn't speak to his dad for about seven years; I am extremely close to mine."
  • Loving & supportive versus dysfunctional - "Being a child of divorce, he had very little boundaries and adult supervision. I came from a touchy/feely group ... very affectionate."
  • Liberal versus conservatives - "My husband comes from a family of conservative merchants, who had no college education for many generations. My family were highly educated, pie in the sky liberals."
  • Different cultures - "His family are Jordanian upper crust villagers; I'm just Scottish/German descent, average, middle-class American."
  • Welcoming versus standoffish - "The biggest difference is that my family views in-laws as new family members. His family views them as outsiders."
There was also considerable discussion of difficulties in getting along with in-laws, including mother-in-laws who retain extremely close relationships with their sons, to the detriment of the marriage - "A huge turning point for my husband was when our counselor had it with him and told him, 'You need to divorce your mother and marry your wife!!' "

The most common topic, though, separated the highly talkative families from those who tend not to communicate as much, especially about emotions. Not surprisingly, this leads to considerable difficulties when the couple needs to resolve conflicts. One partner expresses all sorts of emotion, which the other finds difficult to take because they were trained as part of their upbringing to suppress that sort of thing.

Perhaps fittingly, my personal favorite was submitted by Joy Renee, whose entry the previous week about late versus on time was the inspiration for this topic. Joy maintains a blog called Joystory.

Joy's story stands out to me because of the immense changes she and her husband have had to make to move past the differences imposed by their respective upbringings. She writes:

My family were quiet, staid, serious people. In conversation we took turns talking and did not interrupt. All strong emotion was suspect from exuberance to anger. I always heard 'Calm down.' or 'Watch your tone.' Anger was equated with hate which was equated with murder. There was a Biblical reference that supported that view as there was for the view that laughter was questionable since the only reference to God laughing was at the calamity of evil-doers. Games without a spiritual, religious or educational theme were taboo.

My husband's family are just the opposite in all of those areas. They laugh and talk loud. They express strong passionate views. They cuss and tell raunchy stories and tattle on each other. They talk over the top of each other. They play cut-throat cards and scream with laughter throughout the game.

The biggest impact all this had on our relationship was my unwillingness in the first decade to stick up for myself, to allow him to browbeat me with his passionate, argumentative style. It wasn't mean-spirited, just full of that strong emotion that I was taught to abhor. Add to that the teaching of my childhood that a wife must defer in all things to her husband ... well it drove him crazy. There was nothing he loved more than animated debate. It took nearly a decade for me to get over the propensity to cry in response to all strong emotion either felt within or suspected in another. But once I was past that, I think maybe he began wishing for the good ole days. :) I credit those long debates we had with teaching me to think for myself and then to express those thoughts forcefully and with passion.

Here we have a married couple who took an incredible difference that resulted from their families of origin, worked on it together, and made tremendous strides while finding a way that works for them. To me, that is a wonderful story. What can I say; I'm a sucker for a happy ending.

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