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A messed-up family and marriage

I’m ashamed and embarrassed about my family situation — and my fiancé’s family isn’t great either. Should we even be getting married?
It’s not at all hopeless, says our elder, but take the time to get stronger as a couple before the wedding.

Dear EWC

So I have a very messed up and complicated situation. I come from a low income broken home. My parents were never married when they had my brother and me. My mom physically abused me and has not been in my life much, my brother is in and out of jail, and my dad doesn’t support me in any aspect. I halfway screwed up my life by getting with the wrong guy when I was 18. Had two kids with him, and he is not involved anymore. Fast forward a few years later and I’m engaged to a great guy; however, there are problems. His family is messed up too. His parents don’t get along at all — they do nothing together but at least they don’t fight. His mom stays at home, and his brother who is a year older than him lives at home. He has no job and has a bit of a drinking problem but is a very kind person. His dad is the sole provider of the family. He runs his own small engine repair shop and my fiancé helps run it with him but my fiancé is constantly involved in his parents’ marital problems and it’s rubbing off onto our relationship.

I’m worried both our family backgrounds are going to screw things up. My parents will never attend our wedding or a reception because my dad hates my mom and I have nothing to do with my mom or my brother and I don’t have a support system in the way of family or friends. I don’t feel like having a reception because it’ll just be my fiancé’s friends and family. I’m ashamed, embarrassed by my family situation and don’t know what to do, let alone how to explain my screwed-up family to his family. They will most likely ask why my family isn’t there and that’s why I don’t want a reception but it seems like my fiancé is upset with me for not wanting a reception. I don’t know what to do. Is it even worth marrying then?

Ms.JuliaJ replies

Thank you for writing to us. The first thing I want to say is that most families have complicated problems and if we didn’t marry because of our backgrounds, the marriage rate would be even lower than it is now. Your situation is not at all hopeless but I do think you are right to have some concerns.

If we focus just upon the wedding and reception itself and the dynamics that might occur, there are plenty of ways to get married without involving the parents. A wedding should be focused upon you and your fiancé so the actual act of getting married could just involve the two of you and the witnesses; you would not need to invite any family at all. I’ve been to a wedding where the bride’s mother hated the groom and his family (even though she hadn’t met his family) and it would have been far more joyous for the wedding couple to have just had a private ceremony without the families being involved.
You do to some extent marry into each other’s families when you marry someone and the influence they have upon our ways of relating to a spouse is undeniable. Our backgrounds greatly influence how we raise our children too. We often repeat the mistakes of our parents even when we swear that we won’t. These potential problems are not insurmountable and can be overcome with your desire to make your marriage different from your parents and dedication to communicating in a different way. It will take work, and practice and patience with each other. And, you cannot learn new behavior patterns on your own without support.

I strongly suggest that you are not ready to be married yet because you have so many worries and fears about your backgrounds and how your families will affect you and your fiancé. I think the two of you should go to couples counseling and spend the time it will take to learn to be a couple apart from your families, to learn to communicate and to learn how to avoid falling into the dysfunctional behavior patterns you were both raised with. I don’t think you will have a strong marriage without counseling so I hope that you will consider talking to a professional so that you can learn how to be a strong couple. It will be worth the time and effort it takes.
Thank you again for writing to us and please write back if we can be of more help. I wish you a happy future as you move forward with your fiancé!

Letter #: 445521
Category: Family

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