Archive for January 6th, 2008

In a room filled with 30- to 40-something adults, if a facilitator said, “Who here comes from a dysfunctional family?” how many hands would shoot up?

All of them.

It’s no joke. While I’m sure “Dr. Phil” might spout off some dumb-ass Texas cliche about dysfunctional families, the bottom line is, all of us hail from dysfunction. It is who we are.

One fine and personal example comes from my Dad. He was the product of a divorced family. He spent summers with his real Dad, who was verbally and – sometimes – physically abusive. He spent the school year with his Mom and Stepdad in a loving household as the only son. The result: My Dad avoided conflict like the plague. His way of telling my Mom, sister and me that our arguing about whose turn it was to dry the dishes was getting annoying was by turning the volume up on the TV until it flooded the entire house. His plan definitely got our attention and forced us to quiet ourselves.

But while Dad avoided conflict, he also had his breaking point. And man, when he engaged, he did so in a variety of hurtful ways. It’s all he knew and he did the best he knew to do after growing up witnessing two ends of the relationship continuum.

In the past 10 days, I’ve had several conversations with a friend about life and love and the dysfunction that makes us who we are. As adults, we either embrace it or we sleep in terror taking years off of our lives wishing we were something or someone else. In the darkest moments we may seek out our own “Dr. Phil” to get our mental selves back, re-open the curtains and see the light of day for what it is again.

Couples must learn to appreciate each others’ dysfunctions or they won’t be coupled for long. In new relationships, it’s often these dysfunctional family stories that not only enable us to feel exposed, but provide humor for a lasting relationship as well. By sharing our familial history, we’re saying to that special someone, “I’m this way today because…” and you’ll either take me for who I am, or you won’t. We choose to wrap our arms around each others’ dysfunctions. In many cases it becomes a deliriously fun contest to see who can trump whom with the better story of family problems experienced in childhood. God knows there are many stories to tell.

My Mom and Dad were, no doubt, not open about their personal family dysfunctions when they met, fell in love and decided to marry. Such things were kept under the rug back in those days. Just imagine if, in their courtship, my Mom had asked my Dad, “So what happens when you feel tension or conflict? How do you cope with that?” And my Dad would have said, “I turn the TV up real loud and make it all go away.” My Mom would have run for the hills…without question.

So if nothing else, the past 50 years of psycho-babble has taught us, or most of us, to accept the fact that our family dysfunction isn’t taboo. In fact, it’s more of a badge of honor we can wear and talk about as needed. It is, after all, what made us into the adults we are today.

It is who we are.


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