My birthday is like a holiday to me. It was two weeks ago, but normally I’m still celebrating. I usually take over the whole month of November. The fact that I’m an only child contributes to my infatuation with my special day, as my mom would give me a few gifts for a whole week, and my birthday cards were left standing up until Christmas cards started to arrive in the mail.
Here I am in my mid-30s, and I still get excited when my birthday rolls around. However, my husband of four years doesn’t share in my excitement. While I’m only slightly disappointed that his elation isn’t on the same level as mine, I have always been more bewildered by the idea that he doesn’t share the same interest in birthdays.
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After a few years of my silly assumptions and after much observation, I finally realized that his attitude and lack of action isn’t his own doing. His family doesn’t acknowledge birthdays the way my family does. The way they observe birthdays isn’t wrong of course, but rather, it’s just different.
During premarital counseling, our therapist had us discuss our formative years, our relationship with our parents during that time, and our feelings toward various life- altering events. She asked us to list our favorite memories and our painful ones too, as well as explain how close our respective family units were.
Those sessions didn’t fully resonate with me until our marriage began. As it continues, I am able to connect the dots to both my husband’s and my own behavior, and how such behaviors line up with that of our families. What I’ve realized is that it’s hard to deviate from what you’re familiar with or what a person believes based on their upbringing. In fact, what a person brings into their marriage is heavily influenced by their familial experiences.
In psychologist Susan Heitler’s article, “Look Back on Your Childhood: The Better Marriage Project Par,” she writes, “Some people repeat mainly their interactions with one of their parents in their adult-to-adult marriage relationship. Others repeat elements of their patterns with both.”
Our difference in opinion on trivial things like the necessity of thank-you notes, parking in or out of the garage, and even how to cook grits are all based on how we were raised. But what happens when a person’s childhood includes a strained relationship with their parents or negative experiences that they’ve held on to for so long?
Relationship coach Jordan Gray lists specific childhood issues that can pop up in a relationship, including fear of loss or rejection, fear of being unlovable, the habit of people-pleasing, being overly reliant on others, and inflexible and unrealistic expectations. In order to help combat any baggage from your youth that is ultimately brought into a relationship, Gray suggests you “Understand that everything your parents did for you they did from one of two places: their love for you, or their unconscious patterns that their parents put into them.”
Of course, seeking a third party like a licensed psychologist can help you dig deeper into your past and figure out how and why things are manifesting themselves in your marriage and family life.
Learning more about why I act the way I do in my marriage or why I have particular expectations and standards has greatly helped the communication in our relationship. The Maya Angelou quote,“You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been” likely wasn’t about marriage, but I find myself greatly relating to it these days.
My husband and I haven’t been married that long, but we already know how dissecting our past has and will continue to be a benefit to the future of our relationship. Communication is already one of the hardest things for a couple to master, but being open and honest about your familial relationships and encounters can positively affect your marriage and even strengthen it.