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So I Married a Fundamentalist Family

Four years ago, a trail of beaded lace swept along the plush burgundy carpet as Margaret walked down the aisle to meet the man of her dreams. She'd always remarked upon the significance of that journey past old familiar pews, bedecked with luscious bows of fluffy tulle, fresh roses, and smiling faces. "It's like the slate was being wiped clean," she says. "The past and future connected when we joined hands, but everything became new." She grows quiet; hazel eyes flicker with shadows. "Life started over."

In the bliss of a newly-wedded life, Margaret and John were unprepared for the dormant roots biding time within her heart. When two years later they sprouted green with life, husband and wife were rocked in ways they'd never anticipated. "Poor John—he didn't realize he was marrying my mom and dad, too," Margaret told me. "And even though there are some good things from my life, somehow it's the hard stuff, the struggles and issues, that carry over." She laughs with rue. "Why is that? Why do we have to be so human? It's taken a long time to get back on track—God's helped a lot, but there are still many things we're going through, that if I'd only known about before I got married, would eliminate some of the struggles we have. You see, I left home, but my mind, my emotions, ideas, everything else about me—they stayed behind."

My parents always said, "You marry a man, you marry his family." In many ways, this is very true. And sometimes, he marries yours. What Margaret shares is experienced by many young wives adjusting to the realities of a new home environment. It doesn't mean marriage loses its luster, but that unexpected dynamics may arise and create unique trials largely unaddressed within traditional counseling and lay resources.

My husband, one of two, still laughs remembering the first time he met mine. "I'd never even heard of someone having that many kids," he admits. I took this psychology major to a family picnic for his inauguration to conservatism. The older ones surged to meet him with grins and hugs and jokes about the Name Test coming later. The younger ones stared. "Hillary's boyfriend," they whispered, mouths gaped and eyes wide. But it didn't take long for reticence to flee and soon they were sneaking up, poking and prodding like he was from outer space, then running off in a cloud of giggles.

It was new for them, too.

"John is so patient with me," says Margaret. "But he couldn't understand how I'd read the Bible and hear my dad's voice in my head. My father was a pastor and all I could hear was the Word thundering down from the pulpit or at the dinner table. Thou shalt not . . . thou shalt not . . . it followed me everywhere, over every little thing I did. And sometimes it was hard to hear what John was saying, because my family was so ingrained in the core of my being. Even though I tried to listen to my husband, sometimes my dad would drown him out in my own head. But I didn't mean for it to be that way."

Margaret illustrates one of the practical problems of codependency, or enmeshment, within an unhealthy or dysfunctional family.

How do you leave home emotionally?

Names and identifying details have been changed to preserve anonymity.
Image credit: stock.xchng


  1. Wow! So true! Leaving physically is definitely easier than leaving emotionally. :-P Someone put it to me this way, "Why, when I know for sure what God wants of me, do I still care what they think? Why do I long for their approval so much that I still try to convince them that I'm right? Why does it hurt so much when my reasoning seems to get through a little bit, only to discover that it really fell on deaf ears?"

    So much good. Why is it that the bad is what follows us? Or is it just that we notice the bad more?

  2. Marrying into a fundamentalist family is hard! My husband still hears his mom in his head, so I know what you mean Hillary.

    Thanks for writing your book. I know it is a lot of work, but it is important to the world that you share your story.

  3. I hear the voice of the pastor/brother-in-law that we worked with for 20 years, speaking as if HE were the Holy Spirit. I have to make an assertive effort to replace that voice with the REAL Holy Spirit to this very day,and it has been over 9 years! It is a MUCH quieter voice, though. I look forward to the day when it disappears completely.


  4. I am thankful that I didn't get married until 9 years after I left home. I still struggle occasionally with my fathers "rules" even though I have not seen him for eight years. I am blessed to have a husband who allows me to be who I am and loves me for who I am, instead of dominating and controlling every aspect of my life.

  5. It is hard to leave home emotionally, especially if your family is fundamentalist and pretty much all you had growing up. But then when they get mad at you for not choosing their lifestyle, emotionally separating pretty much just happens, like it or not!

  6. Sharon, I think its because pain usually indicates that something needs healing. But I also think that this bittersweet paradox is why He says in everything give thanks.

    Shadowspring ~ thank you. {{hugs}}

    Fosterfammom, thank you for your comment. I'm sorry that this still is a struggle; its so sad how that which is good can be so easily corrupted. I will pray that the Lord makes His voice clear to you and silences all others.

    {{Kateri}} Thank the Lord for good husbands! :-)

    Laura ~ Thanks for your comment! Yeah, I guess its something akin to being pushed out of the nest versus stepping out on your own (or God calling you out).

  7. It has taken me 4 1/2 years of marriage and some difficult circumstances to finally realize that I had not emotionally left my dysfunctional home. It's so hard to let go, even when you finally understand the why. I don't like to admit my home was abusive, but time, distance, and a husband who loves me unconditionally have proven it to me. These are hard truths, but necessary to face...

  8. Anon ~ take comfort knowing that when we do face truth, even when it hurts, we can start to heal. So often denying what was real prolongs healing because we continue to think and operate under false pretense ~ believing lies. If you are comfortable sharing, what was the scope of difficult circumstances that finally helped you understand? Regardless ~ praise God for loving husbands!!!

  9. The phrase, "My husband, one of two" through me for a minute. I thought, "Wow! She has two husbands?" Sorry, all this talk of family dysfunction warps my brain...

  10. Oops -- I meant "threw me" -- not "through me." You can see my brain is really not working well this morning.

  11. LOL Virginia! Good catch there! Thanks for the giggle! Correction: One husband who is one of two children in his family.

  12. That is so funny...I read it the same way about your husband. I thought maybe you this was your second marriage.

    Yes...we do tend to marry families...even if only in the sense that our spouses carry their upbringings with them...just as we do ours. That can make life interesting...or it can make life really difficult. Nothing is unworkable, though, if BOTH people are open and willing!

  13. I have started a blog primarily to make available essays on Vision Forum. The first one is on Tenets 22 & 23 of Biblical Patriarchy.

    Karen Campbell at thatmom.com has linked to my blog.



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