By Julie Hall, LMFT
I’ll let you in on a secret.  One of the first arguments my husband and I had as a married couple was over…butter…yes, butter.   You see, he had grown up in a home where the butter’s rightful place was resting upon the kitchen counter while my mother had me put the butter in the refrigerator during my weekly chore of helping her unload the groceries.  My husband was concerned that the butter would become too hard while I was worried that it would spoil.  We just couldn’t agree and we both felt that our position made the most sense.  After all, our parents did things this way!  I laugh about this argument now, ten years later, but it raises an important point that we often underestimate, that is, that the family unit we grew up in, or our family of origin, directly impacts our own behaviors, values, and expectations of ourselves and others far into our adulthood.
          In the book, the Family Ties that Bind, the author Ronald Richardson notes, “One of the most difficult things in life is to gain emotional separateness from the powerful early family environment and not continually repeat it or react against it.”   Here, Richardson is highlighting the difficulty we can have emotionally separating from our family of origin in our adult lives whether it be in repeating patterns or quite often in running away from them.  In my earlier example, the attachment that my husband and I had to something as simple as butter placement in our own households created a block for us in understanding one another’s perspective.
           One of my all-time favorite movies is Father of the Bride with Steve Martin.  You may remember one scene where Brian, the groom to be, presents the bride to be, Annie, with a blender as an early wedding gift.  Annie is furious because from her perspective, it implicitly communicates that Brian may have expectations for her role in their marriage that she deemed outdated.   Brian’s simple gesture of giving her a blender in the event that she might want to blend something, immediately threatened the very essence of her feelings of independence and freedom from glass ceilings, feelings that were encouraged and fostered for her by her family members.            When we spend some time reflecting on the things that we carry with us from our family of origin, whether it be through values, expectations or behaviors, we can become more intentional in recognizing the ways that we unknowingly impose those on the people we love and care for.  We can choose whether these are things we want to continue to carry with us and bring into our own adulthood and family lives.
The awareness also leads us to having more empathy and compassion for our partners, in the way that they look at the relationship or parenting, because it is often a byproduct of what was modeled for them, whether it be in repeating or reacting to patterns.  We also gain an empathy and compassion for ourselves, which allows us more space for patience in the change process that is so often be riddled with self-criticism and doubt.
Oh, and as for my husband and I, we decided to substitute butter with olive oil.
  1. What are some of the values and behaviors that you carry with you as a result of your own upbringing?
  2. How do these values and behaviors impact the expectations that you have for your partner and/or loved ones?