Giving and Receiving Love: The Multigenerational Process
The giving and receiving of love in the marital relationship is influenced by the multigenerational family process. The multigenerational family process illustrates how families work as a system of relationships and how family patterns can be replicated for generations.
In this post we will explore the family as a multi-generational system and how it impacts the giving and receiving of love in your marital relationship.
A multigenerational family system perspective
Conceptually, families have two systems: the nuclear family system and the multigenerational family system. The nuclear family system consists of two-generations; the parent and children. The multigenerational system consists of at least three generations. Beginning with the youngest generation you see the grandchildren, followed by the adult children who are marital partners and lastly, each adult child’s respective family of origin with the grandparents making up the third generation. Prior generations can be included within this multigenerational perspective. With divorce and remarriage common today, step-parents and step-families are also a influence within the multigenerational family system.
A marriage of two individuals is a marriage of two family systems where the functional and the dysfunctional of the both family systems can become present in the marriage. For two adults who are married, it is helpful to understand how love was given and received in the respective family of origins of each partner. A multigenerational family system perspective can act as a guide to the themes that may occur in the marital relationship. It can also point to dysfunctional factors that can be healed through the love of marriage.
The Giving and Receiving of Love in the Formation of a New Generation
As two adults fall in love, get married and create their own nuclear family, the stage is set for a new generation and for the multigenerational patterns of giving and receiving are in motion. How these the married in this adult system have experienced the giving and receiving of love in the past and in the present will impact all facets of their lives.
It is the function of the parents/parent in-laws of the respective adults to support the creation of the new ‘nuclear family.’ Furthermore, it is the function of these ‘elder adults’ to carry the responsibility absorb some of the stress through love and support as their adult children get a family started. Children of these ‘adult children’ are to receive the love and guidance of their parents and grandparents and to develop, grow and mature in a loving environment. As pointed out here, one expression of the giving and receiving of love, from a multi-generational perspective, is helping each generation with their appropriate developmental tasks.
If there is pure, unconditional love that is transmuted through the generations, families can create new generations with ease. However, family life, is rarely so simple. Most families have elements of trauma, hardship or mental illness that gets passed down to future generations. Additionally, dysfunctional dynamics can be present that are directly related and distort the giving and receiving of love into dynamics of power and control. Most often, if it is not related to genetics or unfortunate life accidents, these distortions are related to family members having unattended emotional wounding. These wounds become evident in their relationships.
Adult children who choose to get married will bring with them inherited healthy and/or unhealthy ‘emotional leftovers.’ Most adult children and have been impacted in ways that make the experience of giving and receiving love difficult. Some of the dynamics may not become evident until years into marriage. The ’emotional leftovers’ that each partner brings into their marriage from their upbringing and the current family dynamics of their family will impact the marital relationship and their children.
Seeing and Healing the Multigenerational Patterns in the Marital Relationship
Without seeing these multigenerational patterns and healing them individually and as a couple, marital partners pass them on to their children, and it becomes the next generation’s responsibility to heal. For the marital couple, having awareness and acknowledging the multigenerational dynamics with one another allows the possibility for healing. This healing can encourage the exchange of love to be able to move freely in their relationship and for future generations.
Couples who are equipped with a multigenerational perspective can view how love is given and received in their relationship within a wider familial context. It is the honest love for oneself and equally for their partner that allows the healing of dysfunctional multigenerational dynamics. With this perspective, couples can see the challenges that each partner has had with the giving and receiving of love in their families. Through this understanding and love for each partner, couples can experience the healing love that allows them to heal old wounds, to grow as adults and experience mature adult love in their relationship. Children of the generations that follow will benefit from the healing of the multi-generational process within the marital relationship.
- How much do I know about the generations before my parents? What stories have I heard about the generations prior to my parents particularly? What do I know about my spouse’s multigenerational family process? Consider the giving and receiving of love between generations, marital partners and parent and children.
- What do I know about how my parents’ experience of their family of origin?
- How did my parents’ family of origins respond to the news that my parents were getting married? How was that supported or not? How was my marriage and family that we have created supported or not?
- Is a multigenerational perspective part of the communications between my spouse and I? How can the challenges we have experienced be viewed from a multigenerational perspective? What impact might that have about how we work together as a couple through our challenges?
© Joshua Watson
Photo credits in order of appearance: Eko Hernowo, Unknown, Lisa Runnels, Sam Landaverde and Steve Feeney