Each and every person has some preconceived notion
about the opposite sex and his own sex
that comes directly out of childhood conditioning.
These preconceived, unconscious notions
can be tremendously damaging to the marriage relationship.
Furthermore, they can also be disruptive
to our relations with our parents.
The mother-in-law and father-in-law problem
is one of the most serious that many couples face in marriage.
Why is this?
The most important factor is our guilt
over the way we feel toward them.
We have never quite settled the issues of the problem.
Many examples from marriage counseling
show that time and time again married people
allow mothers and/or fathers practically to take over their marriage
simply because they have too much guilt to resist.
The reason guilt goes so deep
is that we have been so strongly conditioned
that we must love mom and dad,
and the best way to show this love
is not to resist or offend them.
Certainly, we should love our parents
because God gave them to us as parents,
and because they are human beings made in the image of God.
However, in our culture,
love usually has been associated with "good feelings."
If we are to be realistic,
we discover immediately that this "good feeling"
is something many persons are not going to be able to have
with one or the other of his or her parents.
Marriage counselors have seen many persons destroying themselves
by constantly going back to mom and/or dad
trying to find and establish a love relationship
based on a "good feeling" that they missed out on in childhood.
As a result of trying to live in the past,
the present is denied, and the future is affected adversely.
A final example of an actual counseling case
should help to clarify the concepts of conditioning and guilt.
One day a woman comes into the office of the counselor
feeling completely evil -- was her statement.
She told the counselor that for years
whenever she had gone to visit her mother, she felt uncomfortable.
She constantly expected to be criticized,
and she experienced a deepening desire to mend this relationship
because she felt so guilty about it.
She felt that everyone else loved their mother,
but she did not.
One day she decided to bake her mother a birthday cake.
She correctly and beautifully frosted and decorated it
with a big "I love you" across the top.
Rather hastily, she wrapped it in a package,
and quickly went to visit her mother.
She was very excited and hoped that today
would be the day that they could finally get this difference settle.
She walked into the house and brought the cake into the kitchen
and placed it on the table.
Her mother looked at it
and her face turned noticeably sour.
The woman said: "Mother, I brought you a birthday cake."
She said this in anticipation and in happy expectation.
Mother replied: "It's very beautiful,
but can't you ever learn to wrap things right?"
One could almost predict the impact.
The daughter boiled over
and called her mother a "so and so" -- without thinking.
So, when she arrived at the office of the counselor,
she had this tremendous guilt.
"What kind of person am I to say a thing like that to my mother?"
"What kind of person am I to actually feel hatred for my mother?"
Was she really any different from any of us
when we have conflict with someone close?
What kind of persons are we?
What is our responsibility?
Where should we stand?
One of the best places to find the answers to these questions
is in the Bible -- the Word of God.
Never, in any verse of Scripture,
is there a reference to the fact
that one must get that "real good feeling,"
when he or she walks into the presence of mom and dad.
The emotional thing is a heritage of our Western culture,
and really has nothing to do with the position
we should or need to take toward our parents.
What would be a good position?
We can begin by recognizing that mom and dad are persons like us,
who probably did the best they could
with what they had to work with.
And for this we owe them honor and respect.
(Genesis 2:21-25; Luke 2:40-52; Ephesians 6: 1-4)
We owe them honor and respect
because they are our parents.
This relationship is ordained by God.
We owe them honor and respect
because they are human creatures of Almighty God.
We need to ask -- at this point -- a most valid question
which focuses our attention on the crucial issue.
Which is the better kind of love?
Is it the kind of love that we give to a little baby we just love to cuddle?
Everyone can love in this way.
Or, is it the kind of love, Christian love,
which is difficult to give?
This love, Christian love, continues
even when our emotional inclination is to fight.
This is real love because we are doing it consciously and deliberately.
We clearly have to learn to love each other.
We must go back to the Biblical admonition
that we have to "cleave to" each other
after we have "left" our parents.
This does not mean that we only move physically away from our parents,
but we also have to move out of the home emotionally.
If our feelings aren't good toward our parents, this we cannot help.
We can, however, help what we do about these feelings.
So far we have defined and demonstrated through illustration the fact
that self understanding begins with a recognition
that we are what we are because of a long period of learning and conditioning.
All of us have had many experiences,
both related and unrelated, which have conditioned us
and trained the nonthinking part of us --
the part that acts almost automatically.
In other words, the habits of behavior and response
and thinking trained by the home, the school, the church,
and the community are a real part of us.
It would be good if each of us could look back
and see the many facets of our conditioning
and be able to say honestly and seriously
that this is going to be a problem we must try to overcome.
We must face up to the facts of what was good
and what was bad and do what we can
to build on the good and correct the bad.
This is a difficult thing to do because of all the myths
surrounding the home in America today.
But it is important and even imperative that we stop worrying
about what a bad person we are.
We must put more emphasis on some of the qualities
that we think and know are bad for us in our marriage
and make them positive and good
by putting them to constructive work.
Back To Marriage
Prepared by Dr. Harold L. White
Copyright (c) 1996-2002 Dr. Harold L. White All rights reserved.