Thanks, Mom and Dad.
I am a few days away from my seventeen-year wedding anniversary.
Which is crazy. Before I met my wife, the longest romantic relationship I’d ever been in had been a few months long. Going from casually dating in college to spending most of two decades married to one person seems like an enormous leap, an evolutionary leap forward in retrospect.
And yet it works. We work. Whenever I’m around my wife, I take a deep breath in and it just feels like HOME.
My wife inspires a lot of emotions in me. Admiration, affection, arousal… so many a-words. But the one feeling that she inspires, which I never give her enough credit for, is that she makes me feel safe.
When I’m with her, I’m secure. I’m anchored. I’m on solid ground.
It’s the relationship equivalent of a trust fall. In life, if I go lunging out in any direction, I know that my wife will be there to support me. She’ll have my back, in the most figurative and literal meanings of the phrase.
The funny thing is — I was reading a recent research study and it suggests exactly WHY I gravitated towards someone like my wife. Why I instinctively sought out someone who would support me, no matter what.
The credit goes to my parents.
According to a study released in Psychological Science, it claims that men who were raised in caring, supportive homes in their childhood tended to have more secure marriages later in life. (They also showed signs of being able to manage stress and anxiety more effectively.”
The study followed individuals over SIX DECADES (wow) in order to capture how their adolescent experiences affected their relationships as they age.
Discussing the research, Robert Waldinger from Harvard Medical School, said "Our study shows that the influences of childhood experiences can be demonstrated even when people reach their 80s, predicting how happy and secure they are in their marriages as octogenarians.”
“We found that this link occurs in part because warmer childhoods promote better emotion management and interpersonal skills at midlife, and these skills predict more secure marriages in late life."
So… yeah. The fact that my parents were pretty cool might explain why I’ve been married so long.
That’s kind of great.
Don’t get me wrong. My parents were parents, i.e. they were ridiculously embarrassing.
And I didn’t exactly have a Pollyanna upbringing. We were poor. There were some extremely hard times. And my father ended up passing away when I was ten.
But I don’t think the research is saying “people with utopian childhoods have utopian marriages.”
What it’s saying is — if you were raised in a supportive environment as a child, you are more inclined to seek out similarly supportive relationships when you get married.
To quote an article from Medical Xpress, the researchers “found that participants who had a nurturing family environment early in life were more likely to have secure attachments to their romantic partners late in life. Further analyses indicated that this association could be explained, in part, by better emotion regulation skills in midlife.”
Now, my parents weren't perfect at all, but they were ridiculously supportive.
Almost too supportive. Like there were times where they should’ve sat me down and said “Maybe you shouldn’t try out for choir” or “We can’t all be famous artists.”
But my parents weren’t big on constructive criticism. They were all about “Try everything! You’re great! We love you!”
Which, again, can be embarrassing when you’re sixteen, but when you’re pushing forty and looking back on your life, I’m mostly just grateful for the unconditional support.
I feel that same support when I look into my wife’s eyes. Maybe that’s why she feels so much like home.
So, I like this new study. It makes sense to me. It feels true.
Because my childhood gave me high expectations when it came to how I expected to be supported by my family and those heightened standards helped me find the most meaningful relationship of my life.
And, after seventeen years, we’re still going strong. How’s that for support?