Friday, January 29, 2010
When Marriage Becomes a Lonely Ride—Joanne’s response
When we marry a partner, we marry their entire family. We also marry a person who, like everyone,will spend the rest of their lives outgrowing that family... the process we call"leaving," in theological parlance, or, "differentiating from," in family therapy-speak. Celia has more toxic baggage to outgrow than Rob does; for her the very fact of her marriage seems to have activated fear and anxiety in her family system. Celia has two related tasks here: one, to manage her family situation and offer legitimate care without enabling where it is needed, and two, to make sure she takes care of herself as she offers this care, in part so that the baggage does not overrun her new marriage. The work of leaving and cleaving never ceases.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
When marriage becomes a lonely ride - Harold’s response
Most of us marry to feel a constant sense of companionship--the comfort of knowing that someone is there for us. We often think of this from the perspective of a physical presence, which is certainly important. However, emotional presence is at least as important. When emotional attunement is missing, loneliness sets in. In the most challenging cases, this loneliness leads to despair. Sometimes, marriage can feel like a lonely ride.
Don't get me wrong. Marriages go through cycles. It is probably quite normal for every marriage to experience those acute periods in which the relationship feels lonely. It might be due to the demands of a job, birth of a baby, or a myriad of other stressors that cause emotional separation. I don't want to pathologize this phenomena when it is acute. However, in too many marriages it is a chronic condition that has weakened the foundation of the relationship.
Celia is on a lonely ride in many ways. She has allowed her worry about her mom and her feeling that Rob has ignored this worry to control her.
When you experience this lonely episodes it is important to "remember the good" in your spouse. Deliberately think about the times when you felt close. Concentrate on the sacrifice that your spouse has made for you. Then, look within. Have you done anything to contribute to the current state of loneliness? In many instances, overcoming this loneliness is a matter of approaching your spouse with genuine request to reconnect. In cases where emotional wounds are deeper this will be a longer process of forgiveness, grace, and healing. Your marriage does not have to be a lonely ride.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
When marriage becomes a lonely ride
The weather was frigid and Celia
turned up the heat in the car; however, more heat was insufficient to thaw the
icy mood between them. “You do not understand the position this puts me in,”
Celia had said at the party, to which Rob exhaled his impatience and said
bidding farewell to Grandma and the family, Rob and Celia had gone out with his
cousins to a chain theme restaurant. Rob spent the evening with
one intent, or so it seemed: to
communicate to Celia that her problem with her mother was just that: her problem, both to deal with and get
over as quickly as possible, because he had done enough. One of the ways he communicated this to
Celia was to drink more than usual, although Celia could not discern if this
was more about partying with his cousins or about irritating her. In any case, he had made a grand, jolly
time of it at her expense.
upside to Rob’s drinking is that it literally put Celia in the driver’s
seat. Drinking made Celia maudlin
on the best of days – probably the Irish roots -- so she refrained so as to
avoid being an embarrassment to Rob and an irritation to herself and others.
glanced away from the dark, isolated road to look at Rob, who was dozing in the
passenger seat. Rob did not know
that when he woke up, it would not be at his parents’ home in Columbus, but at
Celia’s mother’s house in Canton.
They would have to return to Cleveland to pick up their luggage before
heading home to Columbus tomorrow, but that was the price they would both pay
for failing to manage this situation differently.
had been hurt by Rob’s marginalization at first, but then she had simply become
angry. As the crisis with her
mother morphed into a crisis in her marriage, Celia even regretted having
married Rob, but she fought this. Alone in the corner of the booth as hot wings
and margaritas swirled around her, anger had spawned a plan, and now the plan
was unfolding. It had not been her
intention to kidnap Rob to Canton without his assent, but he must have had more
to drink than she realized. The
moment they got into the car, he was asleep – or maybe passed out. He may not have been avoiding her
intentionally, but since Rob had been unavailable to discuss her plan, Celia
had no choice but to enact it unilaterally. Two birds would be killed with this stone: Celia would find out what was going on
with Mom, and Rob would get the message that he could not treat her like
almost laughed as she imagined Rob’s reaction when he woke up, but not
quite. They would have the fight
of a lifetime sometime in the next several hours, she knew. But that was OK with her. To allow Rob’s dismissal of her and her
angst to carry the evening would have been to participate in a pattern she
loathed, and which – now that she had a moment to think about it – reminded her
of her parents before they were divorced.
Dad would get passive-aggressive and Mom would not fight back, instead
curling up in a depressive ball that, a decade later, she was still trying to
did not know what would happen on any front in Canton, but she did know
this: she was taking charge of the
situation, because no one else around her would.
do Celia and Rob discover in Canton?
Friday, January 22, 2010
When In-laws become Out-laws - Harold’s response
I am blessed to have wonderful in-law. In fact, my mother and father in-law are probably most responsible (outside of God) for convincing my wife that I was actually Mr. Right. We won't go into why my wife, Dalia, couldn't figure that out for herself. But, the point is this....My in-laws are awesome. But, too often in some marriages this is not the case. Sometimes, your in-laws are "criminal". They try to steal your joy. They kill your dreams. And, they sabatoge your interests. These in-laws are out-laws. And, often when our spouses try to point out to us that our parents and siblings are not safe for the marriage we get upset with our spouse--in many cases taking sides with our blood family over our spouses.
Let's be clear. There are times when our spouses can be overly sensitive and in some cases paranoid about our blood family. In those cases, you have to listen and discern what to internalize and what to "spit out." But, in other cases your spouse may actually be objective enough that he or she can discern what is really going on that you're oblivious to because you've lived in a dysfunctional system your whole life. In these cases too, you have to listen.
In our current episode, Celia needs to listen. If she does, she will learn something. If she chooses not to listen, she is going to remain slave to her mother's real and imagined crises.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
When In-Laws become Outlaws (Joanne’s response)
Rob is walking a fine line here, trying to be present for Celia, while also trying to fix the situation as quickly as possible so he can spend an unimpeded evening with his cousins. Grandma's birthday has provided Rob's family with a reunion the likes of which they may not see again soon, so it makes perfect sense that Rob wants to take full advantage of it. Celia is walking a similarly fine line -- her anxiety has made it difficult for her to see how important this is to Rob, and if she cannot manage it she will miss out on a wonderful opportunity to get to know Rob and his family (in addition to ruining Rob's evening). Rob's advice is good -- can Celia take charge of herself enough to hear it?
Monday, January 18, 2010
When In-laws become Outlaws
Celia, wondering if it was
possible to blow her nose often enough to actually empty it, found that Rob’s
presence next to her was calming after the panic she felt when her mother
failed to answer the phone. Rob
was talking, and she caught the words “my phone” after one particularly hard
honk. “What did you say?” she
me try. Maybe she’ll pick up if
she sees that it’s me,” Rob said.
Celia realized her tears were slowing. She wasn’t sure if this would accomplish anything, but Rob’s
taking charge did make her feel less out of control. She watched as Rob dialed Mom on his phone, blowing her nose
one final time. She took a deep
breath, through her nose.
Mom,” Rob said. Celia started,
thinking he had been successful in reaching her, but then she realized he was
leaving a message. “It’s Rob. Just wanted to check in. We’re at my grandmother’s party and my
parents are asking about you.”
Celia rolled her eyes at Rob, since this was not true, but he gestured
as if to say What do you want? I’m
making this up as I go. “So call
me back when you can.” He
disconnected. “I didn’t want to
say Celia’s so worried about you she’s cracking up. That’s kind of her whole idea.”
that did not sound like a comment that necessarily put Rob in Celia’s camp
right now. “What does that mean?”
we know everything is fine,” Rob said.
“She’s mad at you for not coming home for Christmas, so now she’s
punishing you by not answering the phone.” He walked over to the door of the parlor and waved to
someone. “We’ll be right out,” he
called. “Just talking to Celia’s
mother.” He turned around and
looked at Celia. He looked like he
was struggling to remain patient.
analysis of her mother’s motives made Mom seem awfully calculated. It wasn’t like that – Mom didn’t mean to be so difficult. Mom had a hard life and she wasn’t particularly equipped to
handle things as – maturely – as Rob and
Celia might like.
was about to speak to this point when Rob’s cousin Carl popped his head in,
high-fiving Rob and waving to Celia.
“Grandma’s leaving the party,” he said. “Then it’s after-party time.”
be there in a sec,” Rob said to Carl.
“Just talking to Celia’s mother.”
Carl looked at Celia, who was plainly not talking to anyone, said,
“Right,” and left.
sat down next to Celia.
“Look. Please don’t make
this out to be bigger than it is.
I think your mother is going to have to work through this. We can either get out of the way to let
her figure it out, or we can get in the middle and make sure that never
happens. I vote for getting out of
the way so we can have some semblance of freedom in our own lives.”
Rob said made sense, but Celia still felt stuck halfway between her mother and
her husband, with neither in her camp.
Rob might say anything to make sure that his evening with his cousins
wasn’t ruined. But at least her
crying had stopped.
does Celia say next?
Friday, January 15, 2010
Family Patients (oops—patience) Joanne’s response
Harold makes good points about what Rob can do to best serve his marriage in this moment. I would like to pull the lens back to look at the bigger picture, because emotionally mature people attempt, when their best selves are present, to connect their behavior in the moment to greater goals. I identify with Rob's frustration -- my worst self has its own unhelpful reactions to Celia right now. A kind and patient response from Rob serves the long term. But the mistake Rob may make -- and many make in this situation -- is to neglect to inject his own valid perspective on Celia's mother. Sometimes the degree of separation a son-in-law has is just what a situation needs. Now is not the time -- Rob will be emotionally present for Celia tonight. But tomorrow, he needs to have a sit down with her and offer his insights into her family dysfunction and share his legitimate fears about what it may do to his marriage. He has a real interest in this outcome and a responsibility to speak up.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Family Patients (oops Patience)—- Harold’s response
Sometimes I must admit that I just don't understand my wife. Even after more than 21 years, there are those episodes where I just can't get why she sees a situation the way she does. By the way, I know she feels the same way about me at times.
Earlier in our marriage, I saw it as my duty to point out what I thought was erroneous or irrational thinking on her part. Somehow I thought that by pointing that out that eventually she would adopt a way of looking at things that was more akin to my own. Uhhhhh... NOT!
What actually happened was that she became annoyed at me and felt that I disrespected her opinions. And, she was right--though I would never have admitted (or honestly recognized) that back then.
In a healthy marriage, we must come to accept that there are some things that our spouse can explain to us that will make sense. And, then there are those other things that just don't. We demonstrate our love and our grace to our spouses as we are able to sit patiently with their opinions (without judging them). We show respect and build trust as we communicate verbally and non-verbally that what our spouse is saying has value (even if we don't agree with it). As we listen empathically, however, we may come to see our own positions as shifting some. This is a good thing in most instances because God placed you and your spouse together to shape one another--not for you to always have the right answers (because you don't).
In this episode, Rob is in another one of those key trust-building moments. He can show patience and sit with Celia's emotional frustration or he can take a more self-centered tact. The former will build trust. The latter will not. The former will bring them closer together. The latter will likely nudge them apart--even if a little. The same goes for your marriage and mine. Always choose closeness or distance. That is God's way.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Family Patients (oops Patience)
Rob had forgotten that his
cousins were a blast to hang out with.
Including Rob, they were four boys born within three years of one
another, and even the last time they had all been together that gap had seemed
significant. Now that they had all
graduated from college, had jobs, were married or had girlfriends, it seemed
they were living slightly different iterations of roughly the same life. Embedded within the generations of his
family, Rob glimpsed that this current season was special – he was newly married,
had no kids yet, with parents still healthy and active – NOW was a gift to
what Rob really wanted was to enjoy it with Celia at his side. As he walked across the lobby toward
her his happiness grew with each stride, until he saw her face, pale and ashen,
like she had just heard news of a death.
When he asked what was wrong Celia burst into tears, which was a very
un-Celia response to anything. He
had not married a bursting-into-tears kind of girl. As he sat down next to her and put his arm around her
shoulders, he scanned Celia’s family in his mind – Mom has cancer? Catherine was in a car accident? Dad, even?
wrong?” he said again, quietly. He
could feel Celia trembling as she sobbed next to him, and despite himself, his
defenses rose as his expectation of an evening of partying with cousins began
to collapse. Afraid the scene
would attract the wrong kind of attention from his family, he saw a small side
parlor nearby and maneuvered her into it, grabbing some tissues from a
countertop along the way.
Mom,” Celia said. Rob stiffened,
his heart sinking as he waited for the worst; he now imagined taking a week off
work to help Celia with funeral plans.
happened?” he said, still keeping his voice quiet since something instinctive
guided him to do so.
not answering the phone,” Celia stammered. Rob waited for the “and.” Celia began to blow her nose with the tissues he provided. “I called twice just now.”
was on the tip of his tongue to say, Is that all? But he refrained, since there must be something more at
play. Rob knew Celia had been
talking to her mother and sister Catherine all week, trying to smooth over the
issues spawned by Rob and Celia not spending Christmas with them. Still, it was hard not to be
impatient. They weren’t drama
queens, exactly, but tempests in teapots were a family specialty. Why had Celia called, anyway? She knew her mother was in a snit. Why play to it?
does Rob say next?
Saturday, January 09, 2010
When Family Doesn’t Answer (Harold’s response)
Let's be honest. Sometimes our family is just not there for us. For whatever reason mom, dad, sister, or brother are too self-absorbed to be there when you need or want them. I like Joanne's points about discerning legitimate concerns or reasons for being self-focused versus those occasions when manipulation are at play. It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference when your emotions are getting tugged.
In Celia's case, I hope that she is able to recognize what I feel is her mother's attempt to control her. And, I hope that Celia resists such manipulation because ultimately this resistance will benefit Celia, the relationship she has with Rob, and even her mom.
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