- Thursday, May 22, 2003
We all learn by example. "Monkey see, monkey do," as the saying goes. There's really no way around it. We learn how to feel, how to think, and how to act by observing others--especially in our home. And we learn the relationship skills that will either help or hinder the relationships we have as adults. Consider the following.
Ron's mother had a stroke when he was 12. Her energy was nearly depleted and she was even unable to dress herself. Ron watched his father support her emotionally and in countless physical ways.
Bethany, 15, and Bret, 10, live in a family where both parents find it very difficult to express their emotions. There is virtually no touching between parents and children apart from a brief goodnight kiss.
Anthony was raised in a demonstrative family where everyone had the right to be angry, shout, and point a finger. No one really listened or tried to make sense of the outbursts, it was just his family's way of "letting off steam."
Do you think Ron, Bethany, Bret, and Anthony will adopt their family's patterns of behavior? You can almost count on it. Every one of us grew up in a home where ways of relating were modeled. We absorbed ways of expressing affection and anger, of talking and listening, of burring conflict or resolving it. In short, we absorbed ways of interacting.
I (Les) was blessed to grow up in a loving home with lots of care and affirmation. I got along well with my two older brothers and we always knew mom and dad loved each other; that was for sure. But in all my growing-up years, I rarely saw mom and dad express much affection in public. At home, they might kiss, hug or hold hands from time to time, but not all that often and certainly not in public.
I never thought about this much until one day, when Leslie and I were in college and dating. We were standing in line for dinner at the campus dining hall and she kissed me. Not a quick peck on the cheek. She planted a big smack right on my lips-with people all around! I couldn't believe it. I felt my face turn red and I was mortified. I didn't say anything at the time. I just laughed nervously and suddenly became concerned about why the food line wasn't moving faster.
Well, you can probably guess what our conversation that night over dinner was about. Kissing in public didn't fit my repertoire of modeled behavior. It wasn't in my family's lesson plans. And as a result, it's taken Leslie and me a while to negotiate the issue.
Believe it or not, after more than a dozen years of marriage, I'm still not that crazy about kissing in public. All because mom and dad didn't model this when I was growing up? Probably.
"We are, in truth," wrote English statesman Lord Chesterfield, "more than half what we are by imitation."
What did you learn about relationships from the models you had at home? What did you learn about expressing affection or resolving conflict?
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