To put it plainly, “Family of Origin” refers to the environment in which you grew up. It’s not a new concept by any means, but it’s one Selena and I hadn’t explored at length. Until recently.
I love thinking about family of origin in tree terms (hence the image for this post). How a tree grows doesn’t only depend on its species; it’s the net result of the environment, the soil, its root structure, the surrounding flora, wildlife, and so much more. Every factor contributes to its shape, strength, height, and likeness. In the same way, how and where you spend your early years determines (to a significant extent) the type of person into which you will grow.
In a recent podcast episode (iTunes link), we set out to discuss family of origin, first by defining it generally, then by looking at our own family histories. We had our neat and tidy plan but the show took a different course. For the full effect, you’ll want to listen to Selena’s Family of Origin story. (I’m genuinely sorry for the cliffhanger, but any attempt at brevity in describing our conversation felt like I was dismissing or minimizing what happened.)
For the rest of this post, I’d like to share a few thoughts about Family of Origin in hopes that it gets you thinking constructively about where you came from and how it affects your marriage.
What is ‘Family of Origin’ and should it matter?
As mentioned above, your ‘Family of Origin’ is basically the family you grew up in. More importantly, it’s how that family and childhood environment contributed to who you’ve become and how you behave (in general and within marriage). It’s the idea that the healthy and unhealthy behaviors you now exhibit can be traced back to your family roots in meaningful ways.
One seeking to understand their family of origin would explore things like their parents’ faith and how it was practiced. They’d reflect on how conflict was handled, how love was portrayed, and what communication habits were displayed and developed during their childhood. As you can imagine, it’s a deep dive into one’s past, so it would take some time and thoughtfulness to do it justice.
Should it matter? The simple answer is yes. Where you come from is incredibly important from a psychological standpoint. As believers in Christ and those who hold God’s Word authoritative in our lives, we can also make a case for the importance of family through scripture: geneologies were very important in telling the story of God’s people, familial ties were very important to establishing one’s identity, and God’s various covenants in the Old Testament were consistently centered on familial relationships. There are many more robust explanations of the importance of family in Scripture, and I’d encourage you to read up if you’re unconvinced. Otherwise, let’s look at how understanding your family of origin is important for your marriage.
5 reasons why understanding your Family of Origin is important for your marriage
Before we go further, I want to make one thing clear: God is sovereign. Wherever you came from, God is in control, and He is good. He redeems pasts of all types and your future is secure when you trust in Him. With that said, we’ll cover a few tangible ways your Family of Origin is important below, but only briefly. I encourage you to read a book or two on this topic if it’s of further interest. Here’s one by Henry Cloud (though I’ve not read it).
1: Recognizing dysfunctional behaviors
Sometimes we don’t know the water we’re swimming in. What’s normal to you may be completely abnormal—and unhealthy—to others. Looking back at your family of origin with a thoughtful (i.e. critical) eye may help you identify dysfunctional areas that may have seemed normal prior. Then you can take action to counter your nurtured tendencies.
2: Perpetuating healthy behaviors
In the same way, it’s helpful to identify healthy habits and behaviors so you can keep those going in your new family. I’d put positive traditions in this category as well.
3: Communication tendencies
How you communicate is one area I’d encourage you to focus specifically on. Did your family encourage one another, or did you have a sarcastic upbringing? Were your conversations faith-filled and around topics of faith, or were they otherwise? Were you critical with one another? Was your father quick to build up, was your mother naggy? Or was the opposite true?
4: Recognizing reasons for your perspectives on intimacy
I’m referring to intimacy on all levels, not just sexually (though that’s part of it). As mentioned in our podcast episode, Selena’s family wasn’t very affectionate (physically or emotionally) but mine was. This means that I’m much more comfortable being touched by her and speaking about my feelings, whereas it takes more intentionality from her for her to do the same. This isn’t to say one of our upbringings was better or worse, just different. Knowing how and why they’re different is crucial for our health as a couple.
5: Understanding how to deal with conflict
Conflicting in healthy ways is a big part of marriage. If you came from a family with default conflict volumes set to maximum, it would be good to recognize that as less than ideal. From there, you can learn better methods for working through disagreement.
Just a start
Indeed, there are many more ways that understanding your family of origin can help you in your marriage. I hope this article (and the podcast episodes above) have piqued your curiosity; certainly go further in your own exploration as you feel led.
Overall, I’m thankful and I’m hopeful. God’s goodness is more and more obvious as I reflect back on where Selena and I came from, how He orchestrated everything before we were even conceived, and how secure our future is because of all He is (not us). I sincerely hope you feel the same.
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