we were both fifteen years old and after eight or nine months of teenage flirting, i mustered up the courage to put my arm around her at the san diego county fair. the rest is, as they say, history.
it’s easy to look back over 42 years of hanging out together and see things that were invisible at the time. i don’t believe that love is necessarily blind, especially for a couple of teenagers. i think dumb would explain it better.
little did we realize how different we were…and how much our personal family dynamics and personalities would play on our life together. wanda’s family? let’s just say there were layers of unhealthiness. whether it was the lack of conflict resolution or problems with substance abuse or financial issues or bizarre extended family behavior, it was always a struggle. we’ve joked through the years that national lampoon’s christmas vacation was actually a true story.
my family? idyllic. problem-free. an only child born into the lap of blue-collar, middle-class luxury. my dad worked to provide. my mom lived to make my life happy. she made june cleaver look like a witch.
our worlds clashed on just about every level. i became the knight in shining armor, riding in on a white horse to rescue my beautiful damsel in distress…as only a chivalrous adolescent can do. but nobody warned me of what was really happening…and what 35 years of helping other young couples prepare for marriage has taught me.
you don’t marry a person. you marry a family.
you don’t simply marry the man or woman of your dreams. you marry baggage.
you marry how the other family makes decisions. you marry how the other family communicates. you marry another set of priorities and problem solving skills and parenting styles and expectations and values.
you marry a different set of recipes.
i am a product of my upbringing. my parents are long gone, but i still bear the marks of their influence in my life. both good and bad. i am still an only child that fights everyday not to be the center of my world. wanda is not my mother. she does not exist to fill my drink when the ice cubes become audible at the bottom of the glass (yes, my mom would jump at that sound!).
wanda is a product of her upbringing. her parents are long gone, but she still wrestles with a childhood that stripped her of self-esteem and confidence and taught her to expect the worst in every situation.
and we had to deal with it.
as a young couple, we had the privilege of sharing our lives with other couples who challenged us, taught us, and modeled for us a life that we could have…if we would work at overcoming the limitations and shortcomings that our family lives had given us. and we have. for nearly four decades.
don’t get me wrong. we both had amazing childhoods. we were loved. we were taught. we have memories and stories that we have passed on to our kids. but we had to face reality.
when you get married, you cannot ignore the effect of your partner’s family on how they think and act…and how it will influence every day of your lives together.
embrace it. learn it. challenge it. change it. and build your own family dynamic.
and then your kid will inflict it on some unsuspecting partner someday!