When I was dating my husband, I had one real vision of what love looked like: my parents’ marriage. I happen to be a lot like my mom. We have a similar sense of humor, love the same books, and share the struggle to keep up with planners. What’s more, I had found a man who shares some of my dad’s (pretty awesome) qualities. He works hard, has an insatiable appetite for learning, and has that natural balance of fun but can also be serious. Awkwardly, he was even mistaken for my dad’s younger brother at a wedding once. It wouldn’t seem too off the mark to expect my experience of marriage would be a lot like my mom’s.
Research tells us what many of us know from experience: our parents’ marriage makes a huge impact on our own marriage. Our parents teach us what relationships are and give us scripts for the way we understand love. What’s more, we are drawn to the familiar. This is why people who resemble our parents feel like home and, in effect, why many of us marry someone like our opposite-sex parent. While this seems like great news for those of us who grew up with positive experiences of love, it might be a little disheartening for those who didn’t. But the truth is, nurture and nature only play a small part in the making of our romantic destiny.
We have control over the character of this most important relationship. Ultimately, our marriage is what we make it—both intentionally and unintentionally. At least that’s what my husband, Kyle, and I have discovered. Despite our similarities, to my surprise, confusion, and delight, my marriage has turned out to be very different from my parents’. It is something totally new, something beyond comparison.
We’ve developed an entirely different way of dealing with conflict.
Early on, we created our own distinct style of communicating—both intentionally and unintentionally. Over time, I noticed that we were naturally falling into patterns, in the way we joked, expressed love, and disagreed or showed patience (or impatience) when stress bombed our day.
But it wasn’t until Kyle and I had our first real married fight that I knew that my marriage would have a different dynamic from my parents’. I grew up listening to some animated disagreements. My parents are both very passionate people—they love hard and they fight for real.
But Kyle is very diplomatic and careful in his conversation. That first time I showed my feisty fighting side, he asked very seriously if we could just talk calmly. So we did. And that is still what we do. According to the research of marriage and love expert Dr. John Gottman, both ways of arguing are legitimate for healthy couples. We are not as spicy as my mom and dad, but I like our way better for us.
Sure, while many of us might find ourselves mimicking our parents’ style by default, ultimately, with some intentionality, we need to find what works best for our individual marriage.
We created our own one-of-a-kind home.
Getting to know my husband’s world has been one of the coolest, eye-opening experiences in my life. Kyle loves law, politics, and the art of argumentation. I’m not naturally drawn to these topics on my own, but I am drawn to his interest in them, to his reading me excerpts from famous Supreme Court opinions, telling me his thoughts and asking for mine. These ideas that have formed from our conversations have become part of our identity as a couple—even though they weren’t a part of my individual identity, and certainly not my parents’. This unique combination of our personalities informs our ongoing conversations and decisions we make together.
Dr. Gottman talks of building love maps—which is a way of making ourselves familiar with each other’s world. Here, I discovered my husband’s worries, his work, his dreams, his inner life. This deep knowledge has led to greater intimacy, something special for the two of us. What’s more, it helps guard against disunity when stressors arrive.
We are facing our own set of life’s challenges (and wins) together.
Both my parents grew up with divorced parents. They clung to each other as they navigated the world of lifelong love and dreamed of creating something new and beautiful in their family. And they really did. But Kyle and I have different battles.
Life throws something different at every couple. I’ve noticed that even just with the small things, we have a choice on how we will face the good times and bad, plus everything in between. Sometimes these experiences leave lasting marks that help us hone certain skills that wouldn’t naturally appear in a vacuum. Along the way, you will develop the rituals, traditions, habits, and values that make your marriage unique.
My mom gave me a great gift in being an example of a loving wife, but ultimately, I have my own path to follow. Kyle and I have our own dreams. We have our own podcasts to share, finances to manage, faith to find, life to build, and a different generation to raise. I’m lucky to have parents who were such a wonderful example, but I’m grateful that my husband and I have the freedom to figure it out on our own.