We absorb a set of beliefs before we are old enough to think for ourselves, and unless we question them, they become the default lenses through which we enter into every situation we encounter.
Geneen Roth, Lost and Found
“Please tell me about your background,” I asked Amy, a new client who was confused about whether or not she wanted to remain in her marriage. She was well-educated and had a successful career as a high-level executive with a large corporation, but she was really struggling to make decisions in her personal life.
“Well, I’m not religious, but my mom is Catholic and my dad is Baptist. They’ve been married for over 50 years. I have a big, loving family, none of whom are divorced. The thought of being the first in my family to get a divorce just makes me feel like such a disappointment.”
“It’s like I know what I want to do … but then I think about all of them and what they will say. Some of them are very religious and opposed to divorce. I’m just too scared to rock the boat.”
Amy’s situation is not uncommon. In addition to her own thoughts and opinions about marriage and divorce, she was carrying the weight of her entire family’s thoughts and opinions, as well. As is the case for many adults, her own adult values were not always aligned with those of her family of origin. But so many of the beliefs she’d been taught growing up were very powerfully ingrained, making it difficult for Amy to separate those from the beliefs she’d come to adopt after growing up and living on her own.
We all have a “marriage story” we carry into adulthood. It’s an amalgamation of what we caught from simply being around and observing others as a child, and also what we were explicitly taught by the adults in our life.
It’s important to note that from birth to about age seven, our brains are in either delta or theta wave state. Of the five categories of brainwaves (i.e., gamma, alpha, beta, theta, and delta) that range from most activity to least activity, delta and theta brainwaves are of the slowest frequency. As a frame of reference, hypnotherapists put their patients in theta wave state for their work.
This means that as young children, we are highly suggestible and programmable, much like little sponges for all that goes on around us, including what we absorb about marriage from our family of origin. Throw in about 11 more years of intense family and cultural immersion before most of us leave home at around age 18, and by the time we are adults, we likely have accumulated a belief system about most everything, including marriage. And that is your “marriage story.”
It encompasses what you think marriage is, what it isn’t, the respective roles of the individuals involved, and all the “shoulds” and “should nots” that dictate one’s behavior within and outside of the institution. Once you recognize that story, you can better decide whether you agree with it or not.
If you’re unsure what your marriage story is, here are a few questions and prompts that may help you articulate it:
- What did your mother, father, grandparents or other family members say about marriage?
- As a child, when you observed the adults around you, what did you think about marriage?
- This is just “the way it is” when it comes to marriage: __________.
What did you learn about marriage through any religious or spiritual training or curriculum?
- What did your culture convey (implicitly or explicitly) about marriage?
- Were you taught that there were certain feminine or masculine roles in a marriage?
Read back over your answers. Are there any common threads? What is the story that emerges from your answers?
Once you’ve articulated the marriage story you’ve been carrying, you may notice that you agree wholeheartedly with this story. It reflects your current values and opinions. If so, that’s great! Or you may realize that upon taking a closer look at the marriage story overlaid on your life, it feels more like a tight and scratchy piece of clothing – it just doesn’t fit.
During my work with Amy, we identified the marriage story she was raised to believe, as well as identified a new marriage story that better reflected who she was as an independent and empowered adult. This gave her the peace and confidence she needed to make the best decision for her around whether to stay or go.
The goal is to make sure the marriage story we decide to keep is as close to our own truth as possible. And where our marriage story conflicts with the marriage stories of those closest to us, to feel secure in having reached the bedrock of our own integrity so we can confidently own our choices and write our own story.
Like Amy, for many years I myself carried a marriage story that did not reflect my deepest truth. As a result, I was not only dragging around a story that was not mine, but also the confusion and shame of not being able to make that old marriage story work. You, too, may be living a marriage story that is not truly your own.
I invite you to examine your own marriage story and decide whether it fits. If not, you may want to create a new story, one that aligns with the deepest truth of who you are, and one that will allow you to make the right choices for you and your family.
Want to know more about marriage stories and how they might be affecting you? Then hop on over to my online scheduler HERE and let’s talk.
Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash