Time to Speak —
Why family of origin matters

Deacon Derrick and Mistianna Barnes

Deacon Derrick: The old saying that opposites attract is spot on when it comes to Mistianna and myself. We are complete opposites, diametrically opposed on every level; and yet we still managed to fall in love and build a life together.

To say that our upbringings were different is an understatement. When I thought of getting married to Mistianna, I envisioned a wonderful “normal” life with the woman of my dreams.

However, since Mistianna and I were complete opposites in personality and upbringing, what was  “normal” for me was not “normal” for Mistianna. We each came into our marriage expecting our normal, our way of living and communicating as a couple to be the “normal” we each grew up experiencing. We were both surprised when that wasn’t the case.

The first time I heard Mistianna’s sister question a decision her mom had made, I braced for impact; I was expecting war to be waged against my sister-in-law for being disrespectful. But it wasn’t; instead my mother-in-law asked her why she felt the way she did, and they talked about it. I was shocked by the entire situation.

You see, in my family of origin you did what you were told. Asking why, when my mom or dad had told us to do something, was NOT an option. So, when I heard Mistianna’s sister openly question her mother I thought Armageddon was about to happen.

 

Mistianna: Our families have a lasting impact on the people and spouses we become. That’s why “family of origin” plays a huge part in marriage. It determines how we communicate with our spouses, handle money, navigate our emotions, deal with conflict and maneuver trials and tribulations within our marriages.

Family of origin has impacted my and Derrick’s marriage on so many levels. Growing up, my family openly expressed our emotions and feelings. Both my parents were in counseling and as kids my sister, brother and I were encouraged to talk, understand and work through our feelings. Even when differences of opinion or conflicts occurred, they were openly discussed, sometimes even at the dinner table.

On the flip side, Derrick’s family didn’t talk openly about how or what they were feeling. Emotions, feelings and especially problems were all handled quietly, behind closed doors.

When we got married, Derrick and I had a lot to learn about how we each discussed feelings and dealt with conflict. When we disagreed, Derrick had to learn it wasn’t okay for him to shut down and give me the silent treatment and I had to learn it wasn’t okay to act like a chihuahua and follow him all over the house, constantly trying to get him to talk to me and asking why he was mad.

 

Deacon Derrick: Our “normal” life growing up was vastly different. And that could, and did, cause issues in our marriage. Many times, especially early in our marriage, we would argue about things that the other was doing “wrong” because it wasn’t our “normal.” It took us both a lot of years, lots of disagreements and a great deal of open and honest communication to learn that we had to take the best parts of the “normal” we each grew up with and make our own normal as a new couple.

By examining the way our family shaped our lives, Mistianna and I were able to create a strong, healthy, and open marriage from the beginning. Learning to pull from the strengths of both our families of origin, meant deciding which positive aspects and traditions we wanted to emulate and bring into our new life together.

We also talked about the patterns and behaviors that we didn’t like and how to break them, so they didn’t rear their ugly heads later in our marriage. Being aware of how relationships and emotions were handled in each of our families has helped both Mistianna and me be better spouses, parents and people; creating the strong, healthy and honest marriage we both wanted.

 

Mistianna: While our “family of origin” did bring many challenges into our marriage, it also brought some amazing gifts. Both of our parents were in lifelong marriages and had each been married more than 35 years when our mothers passed away. Derrick and I learned from our parents that wedding vows are sacred, marriage takes work and marriage is messy. We both grew up with the understanding that marriage meant putting your spouse’s needs above your own.

We saw our parents treat each other with respect, encouragement, appreciation, compassion and of course, love. This understanding and example of a lifelong marriage was the best wedding present our families gave us.

Add to that Derrick’s family’s commitment to putting family first and my family’s dedication to living and practicing our faith — these are the building blocks we used to create our own family. Derrick and I can’t change where we come from or how we were raised, but we can find a way to celebrate our similarities and appreciate our differences as we live out our everyday “I do.”

Deacon Derrick and Mistianna Barnes serve at St. Margaret Mary Church and blog about marriage at sacredmessymarriage.com/.

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