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Uncovering relationship legacies to strengthen marriages

How has your relationship legacy affected your thinking?
How has your relationship legacy affected your thinking?
Salvatore Vuono/

A reader read the previous relationship legacy article and wanted to know more. She asked what should she do to overcome a bad legacy, so it doesn't negatively affect her relationship when she gets married. I'm glad she is being proactive by looking into this issue before marriage. Hope this helps.

In the first article, I wrote the following paragraph:

"Look into your family’s relationship history. Are your parents married? In general, are there a lot of marriages in your family? If there is divorce, are they amicable, or fall-down-knock-out brawls? Do you know anyone with a healthy marriage (other than the Huxtables)? Do you even know what a healthy marriage is and looks like? Where and from whom did you get this information? They are all questions that begin to shed light on your relationship legacy."

Relationship legacies are the generational patterns of relating we inherit. They are the ways of being and thinking that we unknowingly accept and recreate. These legacies can be helpful, but, all too often, they aren't. Let's look at a fictitious example to better understand the concept.

Meet Carla, a 22-year-old pre-med student. She is dating Mark, a 24-year-old student she met in school. They've been together for 6 months and she loves him, but is unsure about their future. She'd like to get married one day, but doubts it would work. Practically everyone she knows who has ever been married is divorced. Her paternal grandparents, who are no longer alive, were married for 50 years, but they got married in a different time. Things have changed. Marriages just don't last anymore. Plus, it's impossible to find a man that doesn't cheat. "Men cheat. There's no getting over it or around it. Can't do nothing about it," her mother always says. That's why she wasn't surprised when Mark cheated on her 2 months ago. When it first happened, they broke up for a few days, but ended up getting right back together. She wasn't willing to give up someone she loved just because he did something all men do. Every other man she's been with has cheated on her, except one, Chris. Chris was a good guy, but they just didn't have any real chemistry. There was no spark with Chris, and she needed that spark.

In this example, we can see the ways of being and thinking Carla has inherited. The problematic behavior of cheating has been normalized, made acceptable. The one positive example of a good relationship (her grandparents) was written off as something unattainable and out-dated. Because of her legacy, she has attracted what she believes. Because of what she believes, she has developed an attraction for men who cheat. The one guy who didn't cheat, Chris, wasn't attractive enough because he didn't fit her criteria. Had he cheated, he probably would have become a lot more attractive.

For those that want to escape a negative relationship legacy, you must first make yourself aware of it. Ask yourself the following questions to increase your awareness.

• What are my general beliefs about relationships? (i.e. "They're hard work, but worth it." "They're full of drama." "They're always messy." "They always lead to hurt.")
• How do these beliefs direct the courses of my relationships?
• What have I learned from my parents, family and close friends about relationships?
• Do these things I've learned seem to help or hurt my relationships?
• What are the common threads in my current and past relationships?
• Do I date the same type of person over and over?
• How do I behave in relationships? What do I contribute to their success and their failure?
• What are my major "hang-ups" and where do they come from? How do they influence my relationships?
• What can I do to improve these "hang-ups"?

These questions help to shed light on the patterns you likely didn't know were there. Once you have truly examined your thinking and behavior and the driving forces behind them, you'll be able to pick out the parts that are negatively contributing to your relationships. Now comes the hard part: changing it. Knowing there is a problem is one thing, but making significant changes in your life to solve that problem is a completely different ball game.

You may not like where you are, but you're comfortable there. Changing it will be uncomfortable. Set reasonable goals for yourself to help you reprogram your thinking. If you (like our example, Carla) have a problem with dating cheaters, set your goals around that. If you are a cheater, set your goals around that. If you have an explosive temper that pushes people away, work on that. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it. Get an accountability partner (someone you trust) to make sure you actually do what you plan to do. If you need help answering these questions or making reasonable goals, just email me.

Sending beautiful energy your way,

~Nadirah Angail

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Got a marriage question? Looking for some advice? That's what I'm here for. Feel free to email me at or leave a comment here. (Don't worry. It can be anonymous.)

All Kansas City Marriage Advice Examiner content ©2010 by Nadirah Angail Habeebullah; reposts permitted with copyright notice and link back to original article. All other rights reserved.



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