Q: I grew up in a home with an alcoholic father. I've abstained from alcohol because of it, but are there other issues I should be concerned about? I don't want this part of my past affecting my own family.
Jim: As someone who's also been influenced by painful and dysfunctional family experiences, I admire your courage in wanting to confront your own challenges. In the case of children of alcoholics, many grow up to have difficulty expressing their feelings. To survive, they learn to insulate themselves against the pain of their environment by "stuffing" emotions like anger and sadness. They may also have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility derived from the necessity of caring for a drunken parent and emotionally supporting other family members during their most formative years. These character traits may be useful in their original setting, but can often become liabilities later in life, especially in a marriage relationship.
Relating to authority figures can also be a problem. Interestingly, this can lead to widely contrasting outcomes, with some victims adopting a rebellious attitude while others become "people pleasers," unable to assert themselves even when they're clearly being taken advantage of. They may also be terribly afraid of abandonment, and will do whatever it takes to hold on to a relationship, even when they're being abused.
For these and other reasons, adult children of alcoholics may end up marrying alcoholics or become alcoholics themselves. Even if they don't drink, they may have extreme "Type A" personalities and display workaholic tendencies.
This description doesn't fit every person who grows up in an alcoholic home. Each person and situation is unique. The good news is that there is effective help available, and our counselors would be pleased to get you pointed in the right direction. Please call them at 855-771-4357.
Q: My fiance and I are going to be married next month. His family is extremely close -- relationally and geographically. And though I'm sure that their presence and influence will be positive for our marriage, I'm concerned we may struggle to establish ourselves as a distinct family unit. Am I worrying needlessly?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: I commend you for recognizing that your husband's family situation can be a wonderful blessing, as well as a challenge that needs to be approached wisely. In fact, I wish I'd had the benefit of your insight when I was a newlywed.
My wife, Erin, and I had been married only a few weeks when we took a three-week trip to England with my family. What might have been a dream vacation in another circumstance turned out to be an absolute disaster. The problem: Once in Europe, I reverted to behaving like a son instead of a husband. It was an awkward situation that we weren't equipped to deal with. Looking back, we realized that we needed more time to become comfortable with our new roles and to form our identity as a couple.
Since then, we've recommended that newlyweds take a "leave of absence" from other areas of life for a time and give priority to each other. This not only includes time-consuming hobbies, but your families of origin and friendships as well.
To avoid misunderstanding, explain to your loved ones your reasons for temporarily pulling away. You're simply giving yourselves a chance to establish strong roots at one of the most crucial points in your relationship. When you emerge from this time, you'll be better able to interact with others as a husband or wife, instead of settling into the familiar roles of your past. By doing so, you'll give your marriage its best chance to flourish for years to come.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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