How Both Rejection and Reenforcement of the Past Affects the Present

It is remarkable how great of an impact a person's childhood has on their adulthood.

More than we realize, our expectations and reactions are shaped not on what is reasonable and right, but on how we grew up and how we have chosen, either consciously or subconsciously, to allow that growing up to form and inform our adulthood.  Wow, that's a mouthful.  Let me explain.

I grew up in a house on a pretty tight budget; for most of my life I lived in a single income home.  My dad worked hard driving a semi while my mom worked hard taking of my three siblings and I.  Because of this, I ate lots of leftovers, reused things most people throw away, and didn't take many trips or family vacations.  That wasn't bad, it was just my normal.  But now as an adult I have to chose what my new normal will be.  I have to decide if I will continue to eat leftovers, reuse as much as possible, or go on vacations.  

In thinking about this there are two ways I have found myself responding to these choices.  

One way to respond is to reject the past.  I can throw out all those behaviors and attitudes that I grew up with.  My thinking is like this.  I can leave all the lights on in the house all day if I want, and if I want to heat the whole neighborhood by leaving the doors open, well by golly I am an adult and I can!    

A second way to respond is to reenforce the past.  I can grab hold tightly to everything and work hard to push the past into the future.  When I do this my behavior looks like this.  I tell my kids to put away their clothes baskets every Saturday because when I was a kid I put my clothes basket away every Saturday (I doubt I did this exact thing, but you get the point)!

Rejecting and reenforcing the past creates all kinds of difficulty in a marriage.  

Two people, from completely different backgrounds, and with completely different experiences and baggage and expectations, are now force to chose what to reject and reenforce, in the context of their relationship.  This is really tough!  My spouse my not like what I choose to reenforce.  I may agree with what my spouse wants to reject.  Neither spouse, at least at firsts, understands or empathizes with the reasons for the other person's behavior.

The first step to resolving this difficulty is to recognize that my behavior is probably not as "right" as I think it is.  It takes humility to honestly assess attitudes and actions in determining if they are as appropriate and necessary as they initially seem to be.  Many people die on the alter of rejection and reinforcement instead of doing the hard work of understanding another person and being selfless enough to set aside personal preferences for the sake of the relationship.