It was a relationship that easily could have been made into a Disney movie. Anytime Tara, my wife, and I were together while dating, bluebirds would float around us, a Louis Armstrong soundtrack would play in the background, and we would stare deeply into each other’s eyes, forgetting about the rest of the world. We were in love and it was bliss. Well, at least until the night she was preparing to fly out to Africa for a two week mission trip. That night, our relationship was rocky and full of mistrust. The tension was so thick, it was hard to communicate. The phone conversation did not end on a good note. And, honestly, it was my fault.
It was my fault because I did not know how to trust Tara. We had been dating for five months and I constantly worried about losing her. She had done nothing to support the idea that she would ever leave me, disrespect me, or cheat on me. But, I still had a hard time trusting her. And because I did not trust her, I would cling on to her so tightly that she almost broke up with me at one point in order to get emotional space. Why did I have a difficult time trusting her and why was I so afraid of losing her? My trust muscle had never developed. In other words, I had a hard time trusting others, including Tara, because I had never developed the ability to trust.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article titled, “Taking Your Family to Work.” The main point of the article was that we can unconsciously carry our family’s unhealthy expectations to work with us, which can result in an effort to be who they want us to be and not who God uniquely created us to be. Just like we can unconsciously take our family's unhealthy expectations to work, we can also take the unhealthy relationship traits of our families on dates and actually carry our families with us into our marriages. When that occurs, we struggle to be the significant other or spouse that our mate needs and that can cause serious conflict in the relationship.
When it came to dating, courting, and marrying Tara, I had a difficult time trusting her because I grew up in a family that had a difficult time trusting others. I did not know how to trust because I had never truly been taught how to trust; trust others, trust my parents, trust my future spouse, and ultimately, trust God. I carried my family’s trait of not trusting into every dating relationship I had. And, as a result, that inability to trust eventually train wrecked all of my dating relationships until Tara. Thankfully, she loved me and had the intestinal fortitude to show me grace as I developed a trust muscle.
(Again, a disclaimer. I could easily at this point blame my family for my lack of trust. Not going to happen. The more I parent, the more I appreciate the challenge any family has to properly raise children. All families have weaknesses. Those weaknesses affect how a child develops. It is scary to admit that I, as a parent, have weaknesses. But, I trust God to fill the holes with his grace and other wise adults when it comes to my children’s development. But, that’s another post.)
In the book Song of Songs, Solomon wrote in 2.15, “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.” A unhealthy family history is a “relationship fox” that can ruin the “vineyard” of a relationship. (Our families can also help us become the significant other or spouse that we are supposed to be. That will be addressed in another blog post.) For me, it was trust. For some, it was growing up in the home of a dominant parent that would never allow anyone else to have an opinion. That person from that type of family dates and never feels safe enough or empowered to share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. For others, they grew up in home that was missing a parent of the opposite sex. As a result, the person from that type of family might never learn how to bond with someone of the opposite sex. There are also people who grew up in a home where they had to play “peacemaker” because their family was always in conflict. That type of person has a difficult time entering into conflict because their default mechanism is to keep the peace, even if that means their desires are never heard.
What does a person do if they realize they are unconsciously taking the negative relationship traits of their families on dates or into their marital relationships? First, you ask God to give you the wisdom and courage necessary to heal. Part of healing is doing the hard work of forgiveness. Secondly, you find a community consisting of a church and good counselor or small group that will help and support you as you try to heal. Thirdly, you do the hard and necessary work to go back to your own families in order to address the issues where they started. This is not easy work, but powerful and deeply redemptive.
Back to my relationship with Tara…Thankfully, I learned how to metaphorically leave my family at home by developing a trust muscle. But, ironically, I have also learned how to engage my family of origin in more healthy and trusting ways. As a result, I actually want our families around as much as possible. Especially my mother-in-law…She is a great cook!
(Need help? Feel free to contact Paul at email@example.com or call the church at 270-756-5230.)
Paul is the husband to Tara, father to Natalie and Isaac, has an average jump shot, and enjoys running. His secret wish is to one day become a Jedi Knight. Paul holds a doctorate in marriage and family counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently serves as senior pastor of Harrodsburg Baptist Church. Paul desires to help young couples navigate the early crucibles of marriage, especially when one or both of the spouses are engaged in vocational ministry.