Family of Origin: When two become one

There is a very fun topic that is covered in marriage preparation classes called Family of Origin.  The premise is the same: men and women don’t just learn to be married when they are engaged, they have been learning their whole lives while living in their families. 

Family of Origin is one of those things that many newlyweds reported wasn’t important when they were dating, but became very important once they were married. Things such as holiday traditions, communication skills, conflict resolution habits, parenting styles, etc., all are strongly influenced by the family a person grows up in.

In fact, Scripture even marks this transition very early on with the passage from Genesis 2:24, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.” Scripture draws the distinction from being raised in a home to creating a home and a marriage together. There can be many fruitful discussions when exploring this topic, but I will address the three following aspects: self-reflection, boundaries and marriage as a mission.

When it comes to Family of Origin, a couple should remind themselves of the famous saying by Edmund Burke, which states essentially that those who do not learn from the past are bound to repeat it. This is such a good insight because it invites the married couple to take a look at the life and the circumstances in which they were raised.

Ideally, it would be fantastic if every marriage was healthy and every household was thriving, but unfortunately that is not the world most couples come from. We have the ability to look at our past, cherish and hold dear those things that were good and beautiful about our childhood and change those things which may not lead to the best outcomes.

When a couple gets married they bring together the lives and history of two families and the couple has the power to start fresh. Self-reflection is such a powerful tool because the husband or wife can see patterns of behavior within themselves that may be linked to the past, and they can make steps to improve it and be different. There is a lot of help out there for couples in this area by way of counseling, group support and even the sacrament of confession.

Another important tool when considering Family of Origin is the topic of boundaries. Sometimes it is the case that even though a man might leave his mother and father and cling to his wife, the two are not able to become one because of a lack of boundaries. This might come in the form of a parent who is in the habit of constantly inserting themselves into the lives of the couple, or a spouse who has not fully left the parents’ home and may turn to Mom and Dad to fix their problems instead of addressing them as a couple.

The old quote from poet Robert Frost holds true here: “Good fences make good neighbors.” A healthy marriage consists of a husband and wife standing side-by-side facing a situation together and any third party that continually gets in the way will eventually lead to a breakdown of the marriage. Setting boundaries, having open communication, supporting one another in upholding those boundaries and enlisting outside help when needed will contribute towards success in this area.

Finally, a married couple has been given the tremendous opportunity to see their marriage can be their mission to the world. A couple can change the world, literally, by how they love their family in their home. There are countless examples of saints and others who have been able to attribute a lot of their success to the love and guidance they received growing up.

There is a saying that a beautiful and healthy marriage is one of the best gifts you can give your children. Even if there are ups and downs in life, and paths that we didn’t expect, the examples of patience, hard work, virtue and, most importantly, the love that we show to our children truly do have a lasting effect. The call to build disciples and foster relationships, especially with Jesus, is rooted within the family.

Although Family of Origin is a fun topic to reflect and build upon, for some, it can be a source of pain. This is where the healing power of the sacraments and the ministries within the church and community can help guide someone from the hurts of the past towards a new and bright future. If there are issues from the past that need to be dealt with, please seek the guidance of your local parish priest or deacon, or contact Catholic Charities here at the Diocese of Green Bay.

Jesus wants to be the “third person” within your marriage, and by understanding your past and growing together as husband and wife towards your future with Christ, you can truly have a lasting effect on this world.

Tremblay is director of Marriage and Life Ministries for the Diocese of Green Bay.