Building Better Marriages

By Rob Furlong

The danger of mismatched expectations


'Despicable Me' explores what it would be like if the world's most intelligent and evil super genius was suddenly responsible for raising three young girls in a family environment. Gru's world is turned upside down when, in the midst of a plot to shrink the moon and sell it to the highest bidder, he is forced to foster three sisters who have been passed about from foster home to foster home. But as the story unfolds Gru is transformed from a lonely and selfish person into a loving and caring dad who becomes captivated with his adopted daughters!

A central theme that is explored in the film is the relationship between Gru and his own mother. Demanding, critical and negative, Gru's mother passes on a legacy to her son which causes him to grow up a loner, never quite feeling that he ever measures up. As the relationship between Gru and the girls develops however, he is able to throw off his baggage and learn what it means to love others, really love them!

Many people feel trapped by the legacy of their past and the way it has negatively impacted their relationships as adults. Author Peter Scazzero identifies what he calls The Ten Commandments of Your Family which he says have "become 'hardwired' into our brains and DNA" through our families of origin. Some of these "commandments" were spoken about but for the most part they were never really discussed – however they were still passed on to us!

The "commandments" are passed on these areas: money, conflict, sex, grief and loss, expressing anger, family relationships, attitudes towards different cultures, success, feelings and emotions.

Scazzero argues that these commandments are so much a part of us that "we bring [our] expectations [about them] into our closest relationships as adults." Over the years that I have been speaking with people about their marriages I have seen firsthand the ways in which differing expectations in these areas can have a significant impact, for better or worse, on a couple.

The key word here is expectation. Take money for example. A husband may view money as the source of all security – the more you have then the more secure you will be in life. But his wife may view money completely differently. She may believe that money is to be spent – "let's enjoy life now" is her philosophy! Both have different expectations and when those expectations are not realised it inevitably leads to tension - the husband begins to view his wife as a reckless spender who does not look beyond the next pay day while the wife concludes that she has married a tightwad! The longer the issues underlying each other's behaviour go unchecked, the more entrenched the problem becomes.

There is really a very simple solution to a mess like this and that is for the couple to sit down and have an open and frank discussion about the issue before them. It is an opportunity for them to express to each other their frustration, out of deep love for each other for and with a willingness to listen to the other person's perspective.

And the discussion should also centre on what their families of origin believed about the subject, what was said about it and what was/was not passed on. And in seeking a solution, the couple should work toward one that best suits them by asking "How do we want to reflect this through our family? What is the best and wisest approach that we can take and that will contribute the most to our harmony as a couple?"

We all bring our baggage with us into our relationships but the good news is that it need not weigh us down for the rest of our lives. If you are prepared to take a close look at it and discuss it then you are well on the way to making changes that will lead to an enriching relationship with your spouse and with your children – you do not have to stay trapped by the negative patterns and messages of your past!

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