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Why Your Good Marriage May Scare You

May 2, 2013

Joni remembers the day her parents talked to her about their separation. She was 10.

Until that point in time, Joni had thought her parents to have had an idyllic marriage. She was totally unaware of what could have prompted them to seek a separation. She was unaware of any particular problem and had never even seen or heard her parents fight or argue. She just couldn’t figure it out.

Typical for kids whose parents are separating, she wanted answers, but her parents actually had good boundaries and appropriately informed her that the issues were a matter for the parents and not her. They also let her know she didn’t do anything wrong, that their separation was not her fault what-so-ever.

You would think that Joni would grow up to be a secure happy, well adjusted adult. But why now, in her second year of marriage to a nice fellow is she starting to question the integrity of her marriage. She and her husband seem to get along well. They don’t argue or fight. They are pretty much on the same page with respect to values and goals. What gives?

Did you know that adult children whose parents didn’t seem to fight yet separated are at greater risk of a separation in their own intimate relationship? Paul R Amato in a chapter entitled, Marital Discord, Divorce, and Children’s Well-Being: Results from a 20-Year Longitudinal Study of Two Generations, discusses the impact of so-called low-conflict parental separations, “These low-conflict divorces are very disturbing for children. The first time they discover something is wrong is when they come home to find Dad has moved out.”

For these adult children when things are going well, that is the time to worry. Paradoxically for them, good means at least be careful, if not bad.

Joni had the rug pulled from beneath her when her parents separated. There was no warning, no clues. As soon as she heard the news, she embarked on a fact-finding mission. She played super-sleuth trying to uncover the mystery of her parents’ separation. Was it a secret affair; drugs; gambling? Despite her detective work, she never did uncover the cause. She was forever left not knowing and not sure what to be afraid of. The only thing she knew for sure was that feeling good was not to be trusted.

So when things are going well in a relationship, persons whose parents separated yet with no overt signs of distress, may be suspicious of their own good relationship. In their suspicion, they may make mountains out of molehills or may cause their partner to feel at fault for things they didn’t do, yet are suspected of. This in turn creates havoc in the relationship, increasing the risk of a separation. But what is a couple to do?
Counseling in these circumstances may help put the suspicious partner to ease, learning that the root of their suspicion originates with their parents’ separation and not their partner. It’s like they need to learn that good really is good and not just a mask for something bad.

This counseling is best done with the couple and not the individual alone. Individual counseling for a couple related issue also increases the risk of a separation because the counselor is only ever privy to half the story and is likely to align with the person in front of him or her. Couple issue, equals couple counseling; expect where dangerous for matters of violence.

Joni, some 15 years after her parents’ separation is still feeling the aftermath. However there are things parents can do to limit the affects as experienced by Joni.

Although children should not be privy to all matters affecting their parents’ relationship, where a child is totally befuddled by the parental separation, it is reasonable to provide a general explanation of where things went awry. Parents can speak generally of different needs or wants and/or they can speak of still caring for each other, but now seek different experiences that are not shared as a couple. All that is sought is just some plausible explanation so the child isn’t left feeling that good equals bad.

Further and in the here and now it would still be instructive to Joni if her parents let her know a bit more of what transpired and that in truth, good is good and she doesn’t need to live anxiously when things are going well now with her intimate partner.

Corrections can be made, even years after the fact.

Joni; You’re OK and so is this husband of yours.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

(905) 628-4847

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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One Comment
  1. Thanks!


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