I wish that there had been a Professional Course entitled “Relationships 101.”  Most of us would have benefitted from that.  We would have learned that to be a grown-up, you have to know and love yourself.  That as an adult, you have the full-time, everyday responsibility of both growing and developing your own assets as well as working to eliminate and control your own baggage.  At least, we would have learned more about ourselves before asking someone else to join us on our journey.  Marriage is just such an awesome commitment.  Many people don’t know themselves that well; don’t know what is in their own backpack; think that adding another person who has some good parts will satisfy that yearning we have for completion and togetherness.  Honestly, it is a shot in the dark if you proceed without more knowledge.  I don’t mean book knowledge; I’m talking about self-knowledge and awareness.  Who am I?  What are my passions? What’s my purpose?  Maybe, we shouldn’t be surprised by the continuing high divorce rate – decisions are made during the chemical high “in-love” phase.  When I share this thought of a “Relationship 101” course, I am told that people would not go to it.  What do you think?  I’d love to know!  Why build it, if people won’t come!  Use my website below to let me know your thoughts.

Let’s return to the education and prevention approach that I have taken in this column for the last several weeks. The “family with young children” phase will have several common challenges during this stage.  Here are three major issues that seem to bring families to family therapist during this early phase of balancing a marriage and integrating children into it.  By pointing these out, it is my hope it will heighten your awareness to these traditionally difficult stages and better prepare you to avoid them or, if you become stuck on this journey, that you will know that you are not the first to tackle this and there is help available.  However, don’t wait too long; you don’t want to carry excess baggage into the next stage of the life cycle.

The Child Focused Family:      This occurs when the parents focus most of their emotional energy and attention on the needs and development of the child rather than a balanced approach which would first make sure that the marital relationship is strong and growing and the needs of the child are addressed mutually by both parents.  This problem frequently occurs when the parents avoid or divert their own personal issues and issues that their marriage presents into an intense focus and energy on the child’s life and development.   This type of couple would present for therapy saying: our child is “acting out….”

Absent Dad and Overinvolved Mom: There has been a lot said about mom’s being over-involved with their children; but a much bigger problem is absent and removed fathers. These relationships occur frequently because they were supported in our past culture but are not healthy for children or parents. The over-involved parent usually becomes frustrated and angry at the distant partner. We would eventually see the wife drag the husband to counseling because “he’s never around, he doesn’t talk or share anything with me…”

Over-involved In-laws/Outlaws:       In-laws can be an enormous help; but they also provide a risk-reward scenario.  In-laws hopefully have their own rich and rewarding lives going on and aren’t waiting to retire as soon as the first grandchild is born to become involved.  If that’s the case, beware.  An over-involved in-law can be an intruder into a marital relationship.  There was a natural bond with the parent for many years before the child met their partner.  “Blood is thicker than water” often plays out and the balance in the marital relationship deteriorates.  It is a very difficult balance to maintain.  When the in-law expresses an opinion, eyes will role.  What is a suggestion to one person, can be interfering to another.  It is the responsibility of each partner to maintain appropriate boundaries with their own parents.

These are not the only presenting problems that people bring to counselors and consultants. Notice: I said, “Presenting Problem.”  It is what looks like the problem; but it is usually only the symptom of a bigger upset in the couple relationship.  Think of a symptom as if you see or smell smoke.  It is a sign that something isn’t right.  But if you chase the smoke or open a window to blow it away, the fire is still simmering.  Unfortunately, people deal with the presenting problem rather than the cause so the pain and upsets persist way longer than necessary.  That’s why I recommend using the 25,000- mile check-up periodically just to realign your purpose and goals.  Next week we will discuss the “family with adolescents” and how to make sure parents get them successfully launched.  If you have any questions about today’s article, let’s continue the discussion below.

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