Understanding Your Spouse's Past
- Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Sally was the oldest of seven children and, even as a high school sophomore, was responsible for the evening household duties. Thus, she would oversee her siblings' homework, prepare dinner, do laundry, direct kitchen cleanup and supervise bath time. Only then was she free to do her own homework.
Often Sally longed to take part in after-school activities, but her mother expected her help with the younger children, especially since the third grader had been labeled a "slow learner" and needed extra attention with homework
The pattern continued even after high school graduation as Sally hurried home from her job at a greeting card company. When Dane, a coworker, asked her to a movie, she agreed, but added that the 9:30 P.M. movie would fit her schedule better. Accepting a dinner invitation from Dane created a crisis between Sally and her mother, who continued to demand she fulfill her "obligations."
It's no surprise that when Dane asked Sally to marry him, she quickly accepted, "just to get some rest," as she later confessed. They hadn't talked before marriage about when to have a baby, but when Dane wanted to start a family right away, Sally refused. After several months of intense discussion, the truth came out: Sally felt as though she had lost her own youth and needed time for herself. Once Dane understood, he stopped pressuring her.
Understanding a spouse's childhood goes a long way toward realizing what creates today's motivation. For example, did the spouse's parents provide money for every whim? That was the struggle Wayne and Penny had to work through.
When Wayne left for college, his father handed him a checkbook and said, "Study hard, have fun, and call whenever the balance gets below one hundred dollars."
Obviously, Wayne never had to postpone any purchase. He carried that same attitude over into his marriage to Penny, even though his parents were no longer paying expenses and his entry-level position into the family business, "to learn the ropes" did not provide enough to satisfy every want.
Penny and Wayne had long talks at the kitchen table with the checkbook open between them. Instead of wanting to become financially responsible, Wayne expressed his fury at what he saw as Penny's attempt to "control" him.
She came from an entirely different background. While money meant power and freedom to Wayne, it meant security to Penny. Her name, in fact, resulted from having been born when her father said they "didn't have a penny." Her childhood was filled with memories of her mother stretching a pot of beans flavored with ham hocks for several meals or of her father walking to his factory job with a cloth sack in his pocket in case he found discarded cans he could turn in for a few cents.
Penny learned to sew early, which provided her with a nice wardrobe and a way to earn college money as she discovered wealthy coeds who were willing to pay dearly to have a favorite outfit repaired immediately. Upon graduation, Penny took comfort not only in her degree but also in entering marriage debt free. She hadn't thought Wayne's background of letting money run through his fingers would overshadow her dream of buying their own home within two years. Until they each understood what money meant to the other, they continued to have heated arguments.
Len and Della had a more complex challenge. Because Della had been sexually abused as a child, she was disinterested in sex and was angry most of the time. Of course, that anger spilled toward Len, causing him to feel he couldn't please her in any way. When he began to ponder a divorce and blame her for not getting over her long-ago trauma, he sought the help of a professional counselor. When he persuaded Della to join him, they realized her anger and her disinterest in a sexual relationship was neither his fault nor hers. Even though it was difficult to work though, they now see the difference understanding childhood baggage has made. No longer do they feel imprisoned by old circumstances.
Adapted from Men Read Newspapers, Not Minds -- and other things I wish I'd known when I first married by Sandra P. Aldrich. (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Used by permission.) Author or co-author of 17 books, Sandra is an international speaker who handles serious issues with insight and humor. For information about her speaking availability or to order this book, contact her at BoldWords@aol.com.
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