After the Vows

You, Me, and Mom and Dad

I am surprised these days as I talk to married couples, engaged couples and even college age singles who are trying to figure out how to launch well, how challenging it can be to really “leave” the home well, especially when you are “cleaving” to a partner in marriage. It has become apparent to me that how you leave or left your childhood home is going to have a significant impact on how you are able to healthily relate to your spouse in marriage. 

Some of us may have left as rebels with anger and resentment.  Unreconciled bitterness toward our parents is both a violation of God’s 5th commandment, to “honor your father and mother” and a toxin that will poison your attitude toward your spouse and how you will relate to them.

Chronic, below the surface anger, unconfessed rebellion, and resentment toward parents over failures they have committed against us (real or perceived) are going to manifest themselves in all kinds of relational challenges in marriage:

  • Sudden or frequent eruptions of pent up anger
  • Inability to extend trust to others, even your spouse
  • Self-protective isolation and emotional distance
  • Chemical dependencies
  • Behavioral addictions/escapism (workaholism, pornography, social media, video games)
  • Inability to be truly intimate with God or your spouse

Others of us may have left relationships where our bond with our parents was strong, but perhaps unhealthy. In some ways, it is like we haven’t really left because our parents continue to hold a lot of sway over the choices we make today as adults and as a married couple. This might look like:

  • Living with guilt and stress due to extended family demands
  • Tolerance of uninvited intrusion by parents and an inability to establish boundaries
  • An inability to say “no”, especially to mom or dad
  • Frequently calling mom and dad for “advice” or sharing with them personal details about your marriage without your spouse’s consent
  • A manipulative approach to seeking validation and affection from our spouses or children
  • A commitment to controlling circumstances or others
  • A performance-based acceptance mentality toward others, towards yourself and even toward God

The impact of these patterns is often so significant that to address them will require openness to others, transparency, accountability, and the seeking of input from godly people around you. Programs like Re:generation can help you work through some of the destructive behaviors you recognize and help address some of the unhealthy underlying issues that you may not yet recognize.

Here are three thoughts for today:

1. Face your resentments toward your parents with honesty and pursue reconciliation. 

Because this is commanded in Scripture, an unwillingness to grant forgiveness (turning over to God unpaid debts owed to us by others), to seek forgiveness (for ungodly attitudes and vindictive behaviors), or to seek reconciliation (as much as it depends on you, will ultimately prevent you from experiencing the intimacy with God that He desires with you.

If we harbor sin in our lives, we cannot know intimacy. And so, our resentments toward others, even over legitimate hurts, ultimately just hurt us more by keeping us from our highest good…a deep and abundant intimacy with Jesus. 

2. Proactively discuss ways in which you feel like your parents may be intentionally or unintentionally intruding into your marriage. 

Consult one another before agreeing to activities with your extended family. Discuss your issues with one another before unilaterally engaging parents for advice. In fact, a best practice may be to agree together when to engage mom or dad for advice about matters pertaining to your family or relationship.

It isn’t wrong for you to ask your parents for advice without asking your spouse first. But this should probably be the exception rather than the rule in order to honor the identity of your own family unit.  

3. As adults, you still have a responsibility TO your parents to show them honor and even to care for them when they are unable to do so, but you are not responsible FOR your parents' happiness or decisions. 

You need to decide as a couple, before the Lord, what He wants you to do as a family to support and engage your extended family. But your responsibility to your parents is ultimately a matter of responsibility to God. It is He that you need to satisfy, not your parents. They will have the choice to respond to your decisions in whatever way they want, and they will ultimately have full responsibility for how they choose to respond.

You are not responsible to make them happy. You are responsible to have a posture of honor and faithful reverence toward God. 

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