There is an increasing number of couples who come into therapy with no picture of what marriage is supposed to be. One couple stated, "We have no idea what marriage is all about. Our parents and grandparents have each been married and divorced multiple times and still don't get along with their current mates. With those examples, we don't stand a chance for success." Their family examples showed them that marriage is a throw-away commodity. They want their marriage to last and were desperate for help and a clear picture to pattern their marriage after.

We all paint a picture

Every day we each paint our part of a picture for those around us. Our actions, reactions and interactions are the brush strokes that define who we are and what we believe. To our children this often shapes their lives for many years. For instance, a father teaches his boys what a man is and how to treat women. He teaches them what a husband is and how he is to be in a marriage. He teaches what a father is and how he is to treat his family. He also teaches how a man should interact in the community. The father teaches his girls what she is to expect from men, what she is to look for in a man, how she will be treated by a husband, and what her place is in a home.

The mother teaches her daughters what it means to be a woman, how she is to treat men, what a wife is and how she is to be in a marriage, what a mother is and how she is to treat her family, and how a woman interacts in the community. The mother teaches her sons what they are to expect from a woman, what he is to look for in a a wife, how he will be treated by a wife and what is his place in a home. Notice the similarities of teaching by both the parents. Many do not understand the breadth and depth of what is taught in the home and how automatically these teachings appear in the next generation. It has been an eye-opening experience when we hear some of the exact words we spoke to our children repeated as they deal with theirs.

Not all things done in the home are repeated because actions are colored by the perception of the child and the characteristics of their individual personality. Also, the mates bring in their own unique experiences from their own home, and the new family works to build their own mixture of these experiences. The challenge comes when the picture passed on is one of chaos.

If you were to observe a good artist in the act of painting, you would see the artist periodically step back and look at the canvas from different angles to see if all of the parts of the painting are fitting together to portray what the artist had in mind. The detail of each area must fit for the whole painting. An artist friend shared that after many years of painting he learned a new technique that allowed him to refine what he was portraying. Perhaps, like the artist, there are new techniques we could learn.

Take a look at your painting from different angles

Most of us are swept up in the many pressures and activities of life and doing the best we can at the moment. In so doing, we may forget the need to reevaluate what we are now doing versus our overall plan. We may intend to be portraying one thing, but it may be coming out differently. This was shown in a cartoon we recently saw where a child was trying to get a parent's attention and the parent impatiently said, "Will you quit bothering me, I am trying to read this book about being a better parent."

We would like to suggest three angles that could be looked at to see if your picture fits what you would really like to pass on to your children and grandchildren.

1. Look at yourself

Am I showing the personal attributes I want my children to exhibit? Remember the statement, "How can I hear what you are saying when what you are doing is thundering in my ear." Might I need to be a little kinder, gentler, show a little more patience, and more order in my life to reflect the balance needed?

2. Look at your marriage

How am I doing in my part of this marriage? Am I showing a good example of what it means to be a husband or wife? Do we exhibit the importance of being married and the enjoyment we have? Are we still courting? Do we show how to resolve differences and conflicts so there is love and peace in our marriage?

3. Look at your home

Is your home a safe place to be? Is there an overall feeling of peace coupled with an excitement for life and learning? The very successful Ritz Carlton Hotel chain trains their people with the statement, "We Are Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen." The question is, how are we training our children for building their own homes? Am I honoring the position of being a father or mother so my children can honor their father and mother?

Looking at these three angles can help you to truly see your picture. Think like the artist above and regularly step back, look at, and evaluate the picture you, your home and your marriage is painting for your posterity. It is never too late to refine what you are doing to help pass on something better to build a stronger foundation for your children.

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