Handling family background differences

  • Posted: Sunday, August 19, 2012 12:22 p.m.

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” – Maria Robinson

“Through patience, a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” – Bible

George and Anne were very different. First of all they were male and female. God in all His wisdom designed marriage to be between a man and a woman – and then He made them very different! Makes married life interesting!

Anyhow, not only were George and Anne different in gender, they were different in personality, in leisure activities, etc., but the difference that was overwhelming them was the difference in the families they came from.

Anne’s family was very close. Mother and father together raising the family, lots of siblings, frequent get-togethers and reunions with the in-laws, lots of communication – all the time!

George’s family was almost the opposite of Anne’s. George’s mother died when he was very young, and his father raised him and his brothers – reluctantly. George’s father didn’t pay much attention to him and his brothers, and, when he did, it was usually with harsh words.

George wasn’t a bad guy himself, and he really loved Anne. He just didn’t know how to express that love or, for that matter, how to behave civilly in a family – he didn’t know how to be a husband and a father.

So George and Anne wound up in a marriage counselor’s office.

In their initial meeting, the counselor quickly concluded that both of them wanted their marriage to succeed, but they had such different ideas of what married life looked like. Anne obviously came from a tightly bonded family, maybe too tight. Her family background provided a lot of positive attributes, however.

George admitted that the behavior of his father and brothers left something to be desired, but he also believed his background caused him to be highly motivated toward success in life. He found it difficult to just hang around with the extended family on a lazy afternoon. Relating to others and being vulnerable wasn’t easy for him.

Dr. Harold L. Arnold Jr., in an article in Focus on the Family, suggests some steps George and Anne could take to reconcile their differences and make changes as necessary. He utilizes the acronym GRACE, expressing the opinion that a great deal of grace between husband and wife is necessary in dealing with any differences in marriage.

G stands for giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt. Remember, both husband and wife are on the same side, and, in most cases, both have the best interests of the marriage at heart. What we mean for good may be perceived by the other as bad. Don’t look for the worst; look for and believe the best.

R is for risk; risk being honest. Trust is important in any relationship. Be vulnerable by trusting your spouse, and giving them reason to trust you. Don’t keep secrets. Openness may be difficult at first, but it builds confidence in one another.

A is for accepting your spouse’s feelings at face value. Accept their feelings, needs and wants without challenge. Their feelings are real, whether or not you agree or understand. Start from that reality and listen to what they are saying, both externally and internally.

C: Complain without criticizing. When you are hurt by the other’s actions, tell the truth – in love. Trust grows only as each spouse voices their own personal frustrations (“I get frustrated when you …”) in an effort to emotionally connect with one another. Don’t use belittling words and don’t judge your spouse’s actions. Tell them what’s bothering you without attacking them.

E: Embrace your differences. There is always more than one way to do something. Your way is not the only way.

Anne brought a lot more positive family experience than George had to their marriage, but they each had to learn to listen to the other and not expect change to occur immediately. Their choices would make their future together.

The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken Inc. (FAMCO) provides resources for you to succeed in your marriage and families. Roger Rollins, executive director of FAMCO, 640-4689, rogerrollins@aikenfamco.com, www.aikenfamco.com.

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