Did You Marry Your Spouse or Their Family?

Genesis 2:24 (KJV) – Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

Some years ago, we needed some woodwork done at our home and hired a craftsman for the job. He was a very nice, social extrovert with a big smile. As he was working, we began chatting. He had no idea who I was, but once he heard we had five children who were Christians walking with the Lord, the dad of three little ones wanted to discuss fatherhood. He explained that he got married in his early twenties to a nice girl he met at church. Her parents ended up being the greatest threat to their marriage. 

Apparently, they were very religious people, high on control with lots of rules, demands, and criticisms. In front of his new wife, they berated him because they did not approve of the church he attended, criticized him for not making more money even though he had a good income, and demanded he spend every holiday and vacation with them on their terms. He loved his wife, but he hated his life. 

A few years into the marriage, he and his wife had a beautiful baby girl. So, he met with his in-laws and asked them to not berate, critique, or attack him in front of his daughter. He did not want her to grow up in a critical and anxious environment but gave them permission to talk with him privately about any issues they had with him or the way he was leading his family.

The in-laws refused to behave better and, when the little girl was a few years old, it was common for her grandparents to be yelling, criticizing, and causing her to cry because there was an anxious environment whenever they were around. Finally, the husband told his wife that he loved her, but he could not allow her parents’ domineering and unhealthy ways to dictate his family life. Rather than supporting her husband, she sided with her parents. 

Meeting with her parents without her husband’s knowledge, she told them he wanted new boundaries. The grandparents were furious, hired their daughter an attorney, started divorce proceedings, and made plans to move her and her daughter into their home immediately. The husband came home from work to find his wife and daughter had packed and left. He called her and then went to pick her up at her parents’ house. His wife was literally stuck between her husband and parents, and she told her husband she could not “abandon her family”. They were divorced, and he was devastated. He told me, “They say you marry the family, and I never knew how true that was.” 

Thankfully, he healed up, kept walking with God, and met a sweet single mom at church. Her husband had committed adultery on her, running off with another woman and leaving her with two young children. He fell in love with her, they married, and he explained how his new in-laws were such a blessing. He explained that his father-in-law was probably his best friend and like a father to him, how they prayed together, and how he was now working for his father-in-law’s company, preparing to take it over when he retired. He said he enjoyed holidays together, had fun on vacations together, and they worshipped together at church. The new in-laws were loving, joyful, kind, generous, and respectful of healthy boundaries. As he was verbal processing with me, he said, “The greatest burden in my first marriage was my wife’s parents. They broke our family. The greatest blessing in my second marriage is my wife’s parents. Her family makes our family better.” 

This man did all the things with the extended family of his second wife that he would not do with the extended family of his first wife. Why? Because the first extended family had an unhealthy family system that broke their marriage, and the second extended family had a healthy family system that built their marriage. 

Would you say your family system of origin was healthy or unhealthy?

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