My husband and I got married at the tender ages of twenty-three and nineteen. While in hindsight this seems somewhat idiotic considering our maturity levels, it nevertheless seemed like a grand idea at the time. We both came from homes with divorced parents, and entered our new covenantal relationship with a fierce dedication to stick it out no matter what. I remember my young husband saying on a number of occasions, “Divorce is not in my vocabulary.” Meanwhile, the word nerd inside of me was snickering, because if it wasn’t in his vocabulary, he wouldn’t be saying it. Right? Right? But I digress.
So, we launched ourselves into this great unknown called marriage, full of idealism, an almost militant dedication to success, and pretty much nothing else. Well, I take that back. We had something else, and though we were unaware of it at the time, it was essentially the master puppeteer driving our fledgling new marriage into the ground . . . and fast.
My husband’s parents divorced when he was ten years old. Prior to that, he observed his parents’ relationship as highly volatile: frequent arguing, yelling, name calling and threats. It seemed both clear and logical to him that arguing, yelling, name calling and threats lead to divorce.
My own parents divorced in my late teens. I observed my parents’ relationship as quiet and distant; no heated arguments or yelling, certainly no name calling or disrespect, but also no life, no laughter, no affection. It seemed both clear and logical to me that without confronting and discussing issues, the marriage dies, and leads to divorce.
What do you imagine happened when a young man, who was convinced that confrontation leads to divorce, married a young woman, who was convinced that avoiding confrontation leads to divorce? A vicious cycle was born; me attempting to corner and confront a man who was committed to staying quiet and not being confronted. Six months in, I desperately wanted a divorce, and what I did not know at the time was that if I had asked for one, he would have given it to me. We were both utterly miserable.
By the grace of our loving God, and through godly counsel, humility, and time, we were able to break free of that terrible cycle, and learn new and healthy ways to communicate, negotiate, and speak our minds. I am deeply thankful for that process of truth and healing, especially as I sit here just having celebrated my 18th anniversary with a man who is my life partner in every way. But that journey of healing is actually not the point of this article. I share this particular part of our story as an example of how treacherous it can be when we operate out of our past, rather than our present.
Tony and I were full of what we considered to be zeal and righteous passion to beat the odds and ’til death do us part. What we now realize is, we had taken our observations, judgments, conclusions and pain from watching our parents’ marriages fall apart, and somewhere deep inside made a vow that we would never do it THAT WAY. We were desperately trying to right the wrongs of our parents’ relationships, rather than building something new and unique between us, which would present its own blessings and challenges.
Fear can be an incredibly motivating thing. My fear of divorce led me to behave as if I were actually in my parents marriage. It did the same for Tony. We unknowingly chose to do battle with ghosts, and nearly missed each other completely.
Think of it this way . . . my mom had an undiagnosed hyperactive thyroid issue for many years. As a girl I saw the symptoms of that imbalance; fatigue, lethargy, and feeling vaguely unwell. So imagine that when I became an adult, I knew I did NOT want hyperactive thyroid, and I started taking the treatment drugs. Not only had I never been diagnosed with a thyroid issue, but I was somehow believing that this medication would treat whatever WAS ailing me, not to mention risking the dangerous effects of taking an unneeded drug!
Since parenting is my passion and specialty, I’ve become fairly adept at recognizing this phenomenon in families. As an outsider, it is far easier to recognize when a parent is trying to remedy a painful situation from their past by allowing it into the driver’s seat in their present dealings with their kids. But the truth is we have to parent out of our present REALITY. Our children are unique individuals who are likely having a very different life experience than we had as kids. We must approach them ready to address and lovingly respond to their needs. It is remarkable how many unnecessary problems we can create by operating out of our past, and in our attempt to fix it, overcorrect and overreact.
The long and the short of it is this: we cannot fix the brokenness of our family of origin in the family we are presently raising. It is ineffective at best, and destructive at worst. We can only receive healing from our past as the Lord gently replaces the pain and the lies with his mercy and truth. Our children will experience their own challenges in life, receive their own wounds, for it cannot be escaped on this planet. But let’s not pass ours on to them as well.
There is a scripture that has become increasingly meaningful to me over time, and its application grows more and more personal. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth, but only such as is good for building up, AS FITS THE OCCASION, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29 ESV