Marriage See, Marriage Do

Marriage See, Marriage DoResearch shows parents may have more to do with marriages than first thought.

Two ways parents influence marriages
Presently: How they behave as in-laws (or outlaws).
Growing Up: What they taught us about marriage by either active teaching or modeling (the more powerful contributor).
“Kids learn more from example than from anything you say; I’m convinced they learn very early not to hear anything you say, but to watch what you do,” said Jane Pauley
Whether marriage is a struggle or deeply fulfilling often traces back to the habits and behaviors of our family of origin.

“Oh No! I’ve become my mother”
Ever thought this? You wouldn’t be the first. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your mom, but sometimes parents have habits that we are better off avoiding. Sandra Reishus, author of a book by the same name, wants women to know that some moms exhibit unhealthy behavior patterns which she coined as, “bad Mom Genes.” Her goal is to help women identify troublesome behavior patterns so they can learn how to reprogram in favor of good patterns.
In her book’s promo video she identifies five bad Mom Genes:
1. Intrusive/Center-Stage Mom – lives her live vicariously through her daughter.
2. No-Show Mom – absent physically or emotionally
3. Critic-At-Large Mom – overtly critical, never afraid to call her daughter too fat, tall, skinny or short
4. Helpless Puppet Mom – can’t do for herself
5. Drama Queen Mom – life is “major drama trauma”
Recognize your mom? It doesn’t mean that she’s a bad person. She probably learned from her mom.

Bad “Dad Genes”?
If mothers can have bad Mom Genes, I suppose men can have “bad Dad Genes.” In fact, with some minor revisions, here’s the bad Dad Genes list:
1. Narcissistic Dad – thinks it’s all about him
2. No-Show Dad – absent physically or emotionally
3. Critic-At-Large Dad – only criticizes or never encourages
4. Milk-Toast Dad – passive and refuses to take control
5. Top-of-the-Lungs Dad – yells to subvert the family

How do these patterns affect marriage?
In The Marriage Makeover, clinical psychologist, Dr. Joshua Coleman, cites many examples of how these behavior patterns show up in marriage. For example, if a boy sees his dad disrespecting his mom, he may either do the same with his wife, or he may become overly passive as his mother was. In his book, Dr. Coleman illustrates the outcomes in children’s marriages based on the parents’ behaviors or personalities, such as:
• Having depressed parents can lead to attention-seeking, being drawn to affairs, being vulnerable to giving too much (leading to resentment) or an inability to rely on your spouse.
• Having a chaotic or threatening environment can lead to feelings of betrayal or vulnerability. It may be hard to establish loyalty based on fear of being left or harmed. It may lead to anxiety or being controlling as a mechanism for self-preservation.
• Having overly restrictive parents may cause rebellion against being nurtured because it feels like worry, intrusion and dominance. Compliant children may become overly docile or dependent.
Perhaps your parents were good marriage models. Unfortunately, your spouse’s parents weren’t. You expect your spouse to behave like Mom and Dad, but he/she doesn’t know how because they have never seen it and don’t know what it looks like. You get frustrated.
What about family traditions or house rules from your family of origin. Is eating dinner on paper plates allowed? Not in some households. What about the direction you pass salt at the dinner table. Does everyone know it’s counterclockwise? (I had to Google it.) If you do it wrong, you’re going to your room without dinner.

The difference between healthy and unhealthy patterns
Healthy marriages are based in respect and adapt to changes and differences. Our parents are not perfect and we all make mistakes at this parenting thing. How did your family of origin do?
Did you parents demonstrate their love toward one another?
How did they fight? Did they talk it through, attack, flee or did they just keep stuff bottled up and let their love die?
Did your parents always show respect for each other, both in public and private?
Did they treat their kids as idols, placing marriage second, or did they have a healthy balance?
Did your parents use kind words or were they sarcastic or abusive? Did their words heal or wound?
Did they exemplify thankfulness to God for each other and the gifts God had given them?
How about you?

What can you do?
Check your marriage for unhealthy patterns.
Make a decision to reprogram.
Attend marriage seminars and conferences at least annually to take inventories and find ways to improve.
Decide whom you want to model.
The Apostle Paul said, “Christian brothers, keep your minds thinking about whatever is true, whatever is respected, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever can be loved, and whatever is well thought of. If there is anything good and worth giving thanks for, think about these things. Keep on doing all the things you learned and received and heard from me. Do the things you saw me do. Then the God who gives peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).

Patricia Hartman is a CPA/partner at Kofsky, Hartman & Weinger, PA. (, a speaker and author of “The Christian Prenuptial Agreement” available at She is also president of South Florida Word Weavers and a board member Living Water Christian Counseling.

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