I grew up in a close-knit family. My childhood was filled with warm holiday gatherings, family vacations, after-dinner devotions, heart-to-heart talks, snowball fights and lots of laughter. And we didn't just love each other; we genuinely liked each other. We really were a family of friends.
As I watched my sisters get married to men who seemed to slip right into my family, I started thinking it was important that I marry someone who would easily fit in. But as it turned out, when Matt asked me to marry him, I was attending college 2,000 miles away from my family. And when I accepted his proposal, my parents hadn't even met him. It didn't occur to me that this might cause a problem later on.
The thing is, Matt didn't fit in naturally with my family. Sure, they liked him and were happy for me, but his personality was different from the rest of the family. Matt was a serious thinker and wasn't prone to spontaneous and zany behavior. He made me laugh, but that came after getting to know him.
After we got married, there was tension whenever we went to visit my side of the family. I wanted Matt to act "just right," and I got embarrassed when he didn't fit in. It got to the point where I was coaching him on what to say and what not to say. And my coaching only produced more tension between us.
When I was growing up, my family supported me even when we didn't agree, but we were never what you would call a close-knit group. We ate dinner together, but there were no devotions or family games afterward. We reported on how our days went, but there were no heart-to-heart talks.
When I met Amy, one of the things that drew me to her was her understanding and complete acceptance of me. I could be myself around her.
After we were married, I noticed how close Amy's family was. When I looked at her sisters and their families, it was easy to see that everyone really blended together.
But the more time we spent with my in-laws, the more uncomfortable I became. I wasn't used to such overt affection and camaraderie. But beyond that, I sometimes felt that Amy was more a part of her family than she was a part of me. I didn't mind that she called her mom all the time, but it was disturbing to hear personal details of our marriage being discussed with an in-law. They were things you would share with your best friend, but that was my role now, not her mother's. More importantly, it was becoming apparent that Amy was disappointed with how I acted when I was with her family. Why couldn't she just accept me like she did before?
What Matt and Amy Did
Genesis talks about spouses leaving the family of their childhood and cleaving to their new mate. In the Donnellys' case, rather than breaking away from her family, Amy was expecting Matt to join it. In Amy's mind, instead of her and Matt becoming one, her family was simply adopting a new member. In Matt's mind, instead of taking a bride, he found himself inheriting a tribe.
For a long time, neither of the Donnellys understood the dynamics behind their tension with Amy's family. They just knew things weren't working out as they had planned, and they both had a keen sense that Matt wasn't "fitting in." It wasn't until they moved to a different state and began to spend more time together as a couple that Amy began to sense a change in her own attitude.
The Donnellys' courtship and engagement period had been a short one, and while they both were sure of their love for each other, they still needed to get to know each other. When Amy started looking at Matt through new eyes, she liked what she saw. She began to prize her husband's traits that she used to think of as "odd," such as his corny jokes and incessant reading of off-beat books.
With Amy's new attitude toward him, Matt became more secure around his in-laws and began to relax, no longer feeling he had to fill any silence with inane conversation or corny jokes. In turn, his in-laws began to open up more to him.
As Matt sensed Amy pulling away from her family and securing herself to his side, he lost the feeling that he was joining a "club." And he no longer felt the need to conform to an image. He knew Amy now accepted him as he was.
by Amy R. Donnelly
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