Learning the Language of Your New Family

My family is comfortable with silence. A dinner with small talk is perfect and an evening watching television together is quality time. Growing up, I felt uncomfortable spending time over friends’ houses whose families chattered on about their personal lives. I had no understanding of how much or how little of myself to sacrifice in conversation. Learning to connect with people on a deeply personal level was like learning a new language.

Much like many Americans are fascinated by a British accent; I craved strong, personal relationships. I learned the new language of intimacy by diving into its culture, testing the waters with each new friend and on every date. I learned that I love and preferred being open and honest, rather than distant and guarded. It inspired me to dive head first into friendships, finding “chosen family” wherever I went. For me, forming deep connections was magical and exotic, but not impossible.

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When it came time to meet my husband’s family, it was like moving to a new country. I may have been practicing the language, but it’s nothing like fully immersing yourself in it. I took too long to find the words where as they danced through conversation swiftly. I was enamored by their candor, but struggled to keep up. In my head, I felt warm and welcomed and excited to join his family the only words I could muster out freely, sure of pronunciation were, “How’s it going?” and “See you soon!”

Once married, I gained all sorts of family members I never had. I gained two sisters, I became an Aunt to two Nephews and a Niece. All these titles added to my new vocabulary, right after wife and Mrs. Like learning French or Italian, it all takes practice. All families have their own language and style. A year into marriage, sisterhood, and aunthood, I’m still learning the nuances of this language.

We hear bride’s talk about family issues as much as they talk about their dress or their cake. Inter-familial relationships are all a tangled mess, and as a newly appointed spouse, it can be extra hard to decipher how to deal with your own feelings and those of each family member.

On the other side of the coin, I felt uncomfortable when when my husband didn’t filter himself around my family. While I’ve come to love that he feels connected to my side easily, he did have to become receptively bilingual. One of his language lessons was understanding where my parents are coming from when they make small talk, even when he speaks freely with them. By having an understanding that we all have different ways of communicating, we’ve been able to join families with few misunderstandings.

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Joining families was an effort of education, and I’m still learning how to be comfortable sharing my life with others. There are still some hurdles to be conquered on both sides. Sometimes, that means taking time for myself in silence, so that I can go to so-and-so’s birthday party and chat up a storm. It can also mean accepting that I’ll feel outside of my comfort zone while trying to understand how their language works.

Learning new ways of communicating is uncomfortable. It doesn’t always feel safe. If you’re like me, and you’re in love with a person who loves their family: Take comfort in the fact that It will be rewarding. Once you know the root of their words, you’ll start feeling safer sharing more of yourself. When you’re confident to speak freely, new memories will be entirely in this new language. With much time and effort, I am learning what it feels like to be an aunt and a sister. While I grew up with few family photos on our home’s walls, I want my walls to be covered.

Since I want this closeness, I pledge to work my way to getting it. I will be mindful. I will show up. I will reach out. It has been all new to me, but I will learn to sound like every other native of my new family.