Every couple, every person has a story. Something they have carried their entire life. I call this the tone of your life, the tone of your marriage.
Often we have no idea this exists. This story is one that plays through every interaction of your life. It is the identity you take with you, the identity you play off of, often without even knowing.
Here are some examples:
- Money was tight in your family, so you saved and saved. Money was your security. The tone of life is hectic, stressful, always watching every penny. The tone of your relationships very easily becomes one of desperation.
- One parent is an alcoholic. The tone is one of walking around quietly, silently, not wanting to do anything to set that parent off. Excuses are made by the other parent. You eventually make excuses to others for that parent.
- Perfection is the name of the game. Everything must be perfect. If you aren’t perfect, at least appear perfect. Always look perfect, act perfect. If a relationship isn’t perfect, pretend it is. Eventually you have no idea what is real and what isn’t, but perfection matters.
- Grades. Grades are the key to getting ahead. If you excel in school, you win, you get attention and a good job. This carries into your career. The way to win and get attention is to be good at what you do. Weakness is for the people who lose. A fear of failure overwhelms you. If you feel, it shows you are inadequate.
- Never good enough. The tone of this family is that we can never win, we can never get ahead. The only people who make it are everyone else. This is almost like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh in human form. Nothing good happens to this person or in this family.
How do you figure out your story and how it affects your marriage?
Here are a few questions I got from a counselor on this that I think are incredibly helpful:
- What was the emotional atmosphere of your home growing up?
- Were your mom and dad emotionally close or distant?
- Did either of your parents rely on you for emotional support?
- Were either of your parents detached or uninvolved in your family?
- Were you ever mistreated by verbal, physical, sexual or emotional abuse?
- Were either of your parents alcoholics?
- In your family, what were you allowed to do or not do? What were you allowed to be or not be?
- Lastly, what is the deepest wound you suffered in your family of origin?
This story often goes unnoticed.
It is all we know.
We only know the family that scrapes things together. We only know the family where the picture of perfection matters. We only know the father sleeping it off on the couch in hopes he doesn’t explode and hit us. We only know the family that says, “Nothing ever goes our way.”
Then when we move into our marriage, we take this story, this tone. This becomes the lens we look through as we look at our spouse, at our kids and the world around us.
We expect our spouse to fail us, lie to us, leave us, hit us, ignore us. We expect our spouse to be perfect, meet our needs, do what we want, take advantage of us. Whatever we saw.
All of this pain can be traced back to Genesis 3:15 – 16, where God tells our first parents the consequence for their sin. Ray Ortlund, in his book Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, says, “These sad words declare and predict our cycle of dysfunction whenever a wife steps in to fill the void created by her husband’s failure to care and provide, with the husband resenting his wife for the implied criticism of his own passivity and silently or aggressively punishing her for it. Each one aggravates the weakness of the other, as they spiral down into mutual incomprehension, bitterness, and alienation. Both defiant feminism and arrogant chauvinism fall short of the glory of God’s plan. We will never get there by pointing an accusing finger at the other. According to the Bible, all restoration begins with merciful redemption coming down from God above.”