I had the pleasure of going out to lunch last week with my mother-in-law and aunt-in-law. As we sat on the patio of one of our favorite wineries enjoying our meals, talk turned to families (my aunt’s youngest daughter is getting married in July). We shared some funny stories of growing up, talked about family – including some not-so-fun stuff, and how each family develops its own language per se, its own way of communicating. Even dysfunctional families have their own language. It becomes part of us, who we are. When we become involved in a relationship, we go into that family knowing our own language, but have to learn the language of that family. Sometimes learning that new language is more difficult than others.
I loved the idea as we tossed it around. It makes sense. That learning of your spouse’s family’s language can take years. It could take a lifetime. Even now, almost seventeen years of marriage, we are still trying to figure it out completely. We know each other’s backgrounds, how we were brought up. We’ve been around our families enough to know how things work. But sometimes we just don’t understand each other completely because there’s a glitch in the translation.
My family’s tendency was to shut down, shove emotions – particularly anger and disappointment – aside, keep the peace, don’t engage in argument or conflict. I know that’s my language, my comfort zone. I know it isn’t a great way to go. It can result in resentment, hurt feelings that could be easily resolved if I’d just open my mouth. He’s helped me learn to talk about things, most of the time, to not shove them down. It’s not always easy, and I fail frequently, but we’re pretty good. He has a tendency to laugh when things get emotional, especially when I’m angry. Trust me, after a few horrific arguments when he started laughing and I was sure my head was going to explode, he learned it was probably better to keep a straight face. But if he’s mad at me, he lets me know. He won’t always talk about it to the extent I’d prefer, but then sometimes he knows it’s his hang-up causing the frustration, at which point I have to ride out his silence knowing asking him repeatedly will just delay his return to normal.
We’ve developed our own language for our little family. Our kids will take that with them into the world. It’s the way our family communicates. It goes beyond traditions, family stories, and things we’ve done together. It’s the nature of our family. Some day, they’ll each have to learn a new language. They’ll adapt, and with their spouses, will create new languages for their little families.
What’s the language of your family like?