Our families of origin
have an immense impact on who we become as adults, and on our relationships.
Whether friendships or romantic relationships, family imprints onto our
personalities and our behavior patterns. If we aren’t able to recognize those
influences and set boundaries, then our relationships could suffer.
While it’s a good idea
to set boundaries regarding what behaviors you will and won’t accept from
family members, you also need boundaries to protect yourself from the unspoken
behavior patterns you picked up from childhood. Let’s look at a few ways your
family can influence you, and what to do about it.
1. UNSPOKEN RULES
All families have
their own unspoken rules and expectations for your interactions with one
another. While some things are said outright, many are implied or picked up
through patterns of behavior. For example, you may have learned as a child that
you shouldn’t ask for what you want, because your parents modeled behavior that
demonstrated otherwise. Or, you may have picked up that it’s best to keep your
thoughts and feelings to yourself because your family always praised people who
were quiet and reserved.
When you bring these
unspoken rules into your relationships, this can create difficulties in your
communication and problem solving. It’s essential to weed out the quiet rules
you both live by so you can build a healthier relationship with full awareness
of your instincts.
In order to protect your relationships
from your own unspoken rules, the first thing you have to do is identify what
those are. You can do this through brainstorming, journaling, conversations, or
counseling. Once you’ve identified your unspoken rules, it’s time to communicate.
When appropriate, discuss those rules with your dating partner, your fiancé, or
your spouse, and encourage them to explore the same silent narratives in their
own background. Understanding what drives our behavior is the first step to
creating healthier relationship dynamics for ourselves.
2. FAMILY ROLES
Did you have an
unspoken or spoken role you played in your family? Do you still fill that role?
Every family has its own manifestation of these roles, though that looks
different from one family to the next. Some families are very rigid when it
comes to who plays what role. Others fall into a quiet pattern in which they
play their roles, but don’t necessarily voice them. The roles become most
apparent during conflict, or when one person steps on another’s toes–and
consequently, into a role that doesn’t “belong” to them.
Roles can create speed
bumps in good relationships. They create unspoken (and unmet) expectations, as
well as conflict that’s difficult to overcome if you don’t recognize the role
you grew up playing. It’s likely you continually try to play that role, over
and over, and it could be contributing to painful interactions between you and
It’s time to get to the bottom of the
roles you each play. What are some recognizable patterns you’ve acted out
throughout your life? Are there specific situations you were thrust into within
your family where you were forced to play the peacekeeper, the referee, the
critic, the secret-keeper? Identify your roles and discuss how this might be
affecting your relationship now.
3. FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS
relationship dynamics in our families inform how we behave in our adult
relationships. Depending on the environment you were raised in or the behaviors
you observed, you internalized a set pattern of behavior that you may now
uphold as “right”. Because each individual has a different set of internalized
beliefs and patterns of behavior, two people who marry could potentially bring
a major clash of dynamics and beliefs into a marriage relationship.
Talk through how your families
interacted with each other. Were your parents openly affectionate or reserved?
Did you hash out problems with shouting matches or suppress your feelings? Were
you allowed to question one another or expected to keep silent? When you’ve
explored all the possibilities, you’ll have more information to help you move
forward in a more positive way.
RELATIONSHIPS CAN BE CHALLENGING…
…but with a little
help, you can take your relationship from bad to better, or good to great. It’s
absolutely possible, and we’ve created a guidebook that can help you get
started on your journey. is a practical guide you can use to
improve any important relationship in your life, whether it’s a friendship or