Tuesday, December 28, 2010

We Marry Our Parents

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
- Hezekiah 1:1

Linda and I are loving Gary Chapman's premarital book Things I Wish I'd Known Before We Got Married. Buy this little book. Cover it with super- glue. Place it in the hands of your sons and daughters.

Chapman writes:

"I am not suggesting that the girl you marry will turn out to be exactly like her mother, nor that the man will be exactly like his father. I am saying that you are both greatly influenced by your parents. If he has a father who is controlling and verbally abusive, don't be surprised if in ten years he has similar traits. To some degree, we are all products of our environment. Research indicates that abusive men were almost always abused as children."

In my premarital counseling I have for years given the FOCCUS Pre-Marriage Inventory. One of the sections is about "Family of Origin." We're all more like our families than we might like to admit. To understand this increases behavorial predictability. Sometimes I have thought that I not only have inherited behaviors from my father but that I even walk like my father, and sit in a chair in just the way my dad did. (Is that possible? How many variations of chair-sitting can there be?)

For every one of us, some of our paternal inheritance is good, some of it is not so good. Regarding the "not so good," are we doomed to repeat the past sins of our fathers? Chapman writes:

"You may be asking, 'But can't we learn from their poor example and change our own behavior?' The answer is yes, and the important word is "learn." If the sn of an abuser does not take specific steps to understand abuse - why his father became an abuser, and what he needs to do to break the pattern - then he is likely to repeat it." (K 296-308)

And, "if a girl's mother is alcoholic, we know that statistically she is more likely to become an alcoholic. However, she is not destined to alcoholism. If she takes positive actions to understand alcoholism and learns more constructive ways to respond to stress and disappointment, she can break the alcoholic chain. Therefore, if in a dating relationship either of you has a parent with a destructive lifestyle, the responsible action is to enroll in a class, read books, talk with counselors, and discuss with each other what you are learning. Don't sweep these issues under the rug." (Ib.)

I'll add a few more thoughts to this wisdom.

1) I've collected 30 years of empirical evidence that shows personal transformation (meta-morphe) and change as a result of a consistent lifestyle of abiding in Christ (dwelling in the presence of God, and defining this in a certain way).

2) Gerald May, in his beautiful book Addiction and Grace, gives clinical examples of sudden, quantum-leap transformations in addicted clients. Psychiatrically inexplicable, May attributes these rare yet real events to the grace of God.