Have you heard the phrase, “When you get married, you don’t just marry the person but you marry their family?”  In many ways, it really is true. Getting to know each other’s family and their history can go a long way in helping understand your spouse, their values, and family dynamics. It will also guide you in discerning if this is a family you want to marry into! 

Many persons considering marriage believe that because their potential spouse is so wonderful, his or her family must be too.  Often that’s the case. Their background has been instrumental in who they are today. 

But sometimes the wonderful person you know has done their best to shed the negative vestiges of home and chart a new course in their values and behavior. That’s a good thing! However, sometimes one’s in-laws and extended relatives can create stress, conflict, or even pain.  Being aware of these dynamics ahead of time will give you greater understanding along the way. It will also help the two of you stay unified in the future.

Here are three areas to explore:

1. Extended Family History

Your potential spouse’s roots matter. In the years to come, you will have the opportunity to stay connected with their family. Should you have children, they will need to know about that side of the family. 

When you have the opportunity to visit their parent’s home(s), look at the family photo albums. As you go through the pictures, ask about different people pictured in them. Listen to the stories and appreciate the richness of that family’s history. 

2. Basic Family Background

What was their home life like? Share stories with each other about your favorite childhood memories.  Then talk about the most painful things they experienced growing up. What did they especially like about their family? What did they dislike about their family? Did they take family vacations?

If they had siblings, ask them about those relationships then…and now. Was it a blended family? If so, how did they navigate their parent’s divorce? Who are they closest to in their family? Is there anyone with whom they have tension? Why? 

You each bring your family’s traditions into the relationship. Talk about how birthdays and holidays were celebrated. Were there any occasions or traditions that were especially important to them? 

Is there abuse in his or her background or somewhere within their family of origin?  If so, have they received counseling to work through the pain that this has caused?  

3. Your Future Family

But looking at your potential spouse’s family history isn’t the only aspect of family to consider.  We are often surprised to learn that some couples get married without ever discussing important aspects of family.  

For example, in the dailiness of your marriage, what will your roles be?  Who will cook, clean, and do laundry? When we fail to address these issues, we are setting ourselves up for hurt and misunderstanding because each partner can enter the marriage with a different set of expectations.

Have you and your future spouse talked about how many children you would like to have?  What are your non-negotiables in raising a family? When we were raising our children the area of greatest conflict in our marriage was around disciplining our children.  Often we didn’t see eye to eye on this issue and we believed one of us was being too “strict” while the other was being too lenient.  

We think if we had explored these opinions and ideas earlier in our marriage, the two of us could have avoided a lot of conflict.  In the end, we both desired to raise children who were responsible, hard-working, grateful, and godly. But our opinions of HOW to do that were different. And thankfully, by God’s grace, all three kids turned out pretty well! 

Taking time to talk about family, both past and future, will help you discern your future with the person you love. Should you get married, these conversations will lay the foundation for the two of you as you build your marriage.