What did you learn from your family about marriage? You may have been given some thoughtful bits of wisdom from your grandma or uncle on your wedding day, and you probably picked up some subtle observations as a kid. Whether you realized it or not, you’ve been learning from relationship role models throughout your entire life.

Chances are some of the lessons are worth carrying into your relationship, and others you can politely decline to carry forward. Your family isn’t trying to set a bad example of relationships for you, but most of them aren’t aware that they’re even acting as a relationship role model. Other times they might give advice, such as to newlyweds or younger couples. However it’s received, they usually mean well. But the reality is your relationship is not the same as your parents’, your grandparents’, or your aunt and uncle’s, etc. and we as individuals require advice and relationship education specific to where we are in our journey with our partner.

Family of origin, or the family we each grew up in, shapes us from a young age. And remember, family can stretch beyond the traditional definition of parents and siblings. This includes whoever you consider to be members of your close family – or what is called fictive kin. Regardless, this family molded us as children and eventually as young adults. We saw communication and conflict resolution daily, observed how roles and responsibilities were determined, as well as how affection and closeness between members were displayed, among many other relationship aspects and dynamics. Often as kids, what we see at home is what we learn to do – unless we knowingly make an effort to reject that model and change our own behavior.

So, in addition to the lessons we were directly told as adults, we can add in and acknowledge the observed patterns and demonstrations of relationships we witnessed throughout our upbringing. Now how do you sort through an entire childhood and years of adulthood to determine what you intentionally bring into your relationship? Even if you’re years into your relationship, it’s never too late to assess why you believe or behave in a certain way. Maybe it’s based on a lesson you knowingly or unknowingly learned. You and your partner are in control of how you act in your relationship, and you always have the ability to change things you don’t like – it just takes intention, effort, and willingness.

A great place to start is to have a discussion with your partner. Find a comfy spot on the couch, put away your phones and other distractions, and focus on learning about each other and your relationship. This may snowball into a long conversation or tangent, and that’s okay. This should be a conversation that happens throughout your relationship as you continue to discover new things about who you both are as people, so don’t feel like you need to accomplish it in one night.

  1. Talk about your childhood and home life with your partner.
    Ask questions, tell stories, listen, and be vulnerable. Really dive into the behaviors you saw or beliefs you were taught when it comes to relationships. This may come back to things your dad always said, or something you noticed your mom always doing. Discuss what your family valued as a kid when it came to relationships. This may not have been something that was openly discussed, but cues like if you always at meals together, had a weekly family game night, or was given lots of independent time to be on your own. How affectionate were your parents with you, and with each other? Were you taught to hug everyone goodbye or tell your siblings “I love you”? Did your family have traditional roles when it came to chores and household tasks, were things more spontaneous, or did they change depending on the season of life?

  2. Talk about lessons you were specifically taught about relationships.
    This could have been from parents, grandparents, or other adults in your life. It could have come from role models at church or in your neighborhood, or even at school if you were lucky enough to have a class focused on relationships. Were you told the classic advice – don’t go to bed angry or don’t argue in front of others? What nuggets of insight did people willingly share with you in an effort to help set your relationship off on the right start or to improve it? Were there lessons you were taught before you were in a relationship that you think about now that you’re in one? What were you taught about how to communicate with your (future) partner? And what lessons were you inadvertently taught through examples of relationships that were unhealthy? How did you know or figure out they were unhealthy?

  3. Discuss what lessons you want to apply to your relationship.
    Maybe there are some you have already implemented and enjoy, but maybe there are some you’d rather say goodbye to and others you’d like to adopt. Have the discussion. Maybe your parents always shared a goodbye kiss when your dad left for work in the morning – and you decide you’d like to start doing that – go for it! Or maybe your mom always thanked your dad for making a delicious meal for the family, verbally showing her appreciation and gratitude. And maybe there are more significant efforts you want to make in your relationship like dedicating a yearly trip on your anniversary to celebrate your marriage, or maybe you adopt a new way of determining responsibilities when it comes to things like finances or maintaining the household based on a lesson you learned. Either way, the point here is to be intentional about deciding what you and your partner want to ‘learn’ from others and manifest in your own relationship.

Share below the best lesson you learned from your family about marriage!

5 Comments

  • Melissa Koldenhoven says:

    This is great information.
    We (my husband and I), lead a marriage ministry at our church. Each calendar year we start off with our life maps and marriage maps. This allows us (husband and wife) to be aware of our differences and where our quirks come from.
    Thank you for this information. I will be forwarding to the other couples in our group

  • Harmony Lewis says:

    One thing I learned more indirectly was to never argue in front of the kids. By watching my mom de-escalate an argument, or divert into another task, or give stern faces like “not now”, I learned and grasped the concept that moments of arguing, disagreements, or debates should not be done in front of the children. Something, in which I do bring into my own relationship. However, I have learned the importance, being a counselor, of a child learning conflict resolution skills within a relationship and that modeling healthy skills to manage conflict is more beneficial than pretending none ever exists.

    • Anne says:

      I firmly agree with the later part of your comment. My siblings and I grew up never seeing our parents disagree about anything. As a result, we thought that a good marriage is one where both spouses agree on everything. What a shock it was to find out that a good marriage in fact does include disagreements. Thankfully, learning good conflict resolution skills is possible. It just takes willingness by both spouses to learn and intentionally apply the new information. I have only been married for six years. My husband and I are both intentional about improving our relationship. At the same time, my expectation is that this will be a lifelong journey of learning and improving.

  • Bryan Wilson says:

    One of the best lessons I learned from my family is to always speak the truth and be honest no matter how hard it is or even if it will hurt your partner. Sometimes this truth will hurt your partner but if delivered from a place of love, respect, curiosity, and understanding, people will always respect you more for that. Delivery is key to success when being truthful. I’ve seen many deleterious relationships in my family and conflict that all stemmed from parties being afraid to be honest. We owe it to ourselves and our partners to be authentic. It sets the stage for mutual understanding and gets to the heart of the matter.

  • MARIE-LUCIANN MORGAN says:

    One fundamental principle I learned from my parents is how to make a family budget. When my parents were given their salary, they both sat down and worked out the family expenses. I can still see them, heads together, creating their budget. I learned that a joint approach works for many marriages. The hold up is that I cannot transfer that to my current family because my husband is from a single-parent home, and he does not believe in a joint budget.

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