Most couples on their wedding day hear those familiar proverbs about not losing a daughter and gaining a son-in-law, and not losing a son but gaining a daughter-in-law. This sounds good and feels wonderful within the euphoria of that special day but it also hints of wider family involvement in the future. Couples invariably welcome the helpful and constructive support structures offered by their families but it can become a nightmare if that support structure becomes intrusive and unwelcome.
Extended families can be vitally important sources of economic,emotional and psychological support to couples preparing for marriage. Within marriage, particularly around areas such as pregnancy, childbirth and rearing of children, your extended families can become that vital cog in the family wheel. In challenging times their continuous love, goodwill and support can sustain and uplift you. The wisdom of their accumulated experiences in life can enrich you both as you prepare for marriage.
Family of origin roots and identities are very important pillars of security relating to who you are in life but sometimes these roots are so strong that perhaps you will remain irretrievably connected long after you have commenced your new life in marriage. And while you inherit the benefits of your extended family, you also inherit the negatives, the tensions, the feuds and problems they are encountering. They reach into your living room and into your shared life in marriage. The pinch comes when you perhaps feel torn in allegiance between your newly formed commitment in marriage and your family of origin. In some cases you feel that you want that family existence lived before marriage to follow you into marriage. You may want your partner to become an extension of your family of origin rather than a partner of equals in your newly formed union in marriage. This eventuality could potentially cause lack of understanding, tension and conflict for both of you.
“I didn’t marry your family, I married you.”
“Why do you bring your family into everything?”
“Why do you always seem to put your family before me?”
“What is it about my family that you can’t accept?”
“Why can you not try to see how much my family are doing for us?”
Couples preparing for marriage need awareness and joint discussion of their respective family of origin experiences. They need understanding that marriage is a solemn contract, a new departure requiring a clear understanding that they have become a new unbreakable family unit that supersedes any existing family unit. But this does not mean for you that the loving, caring and supportive role played by your extended families will not be welcome within your marriage.
Couples preparing for marriage need clarity of feeling and expressionabout other’s needs relating to wider family involvement. Perhaps you need to reflect on what constitutes the boundaries of your relationship; what it is you feel would be welcome involvement from your extended family and what you feel would represent unwelcome involvement? Most essentially you may need to be mindful, tolerant and respectful of each other’s deeply held attachment to your family of origin legacy!
Discuss with your partner what part of your family of origin you would like to bring into your new union in marriage! Discuss with your partner what you feel should be the agreed boundaries between you in relation to wider family involvement. Discuss the areas you feel would represent unwelcome intrusion into your marriage!
The Accord marriage preparation course, “Marriage – A Journey Not a
Destination” offers an extensive series of activities around family of origin issues relating to the preparation for marriage. For further information visit: