Studio 5 Family & Relationships Contributor and Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Liz Hale shines a healthy perspective on the matter.
This particular topic is especially addressed to parents of adult married children. It is rather tempting to continue to parent, protect, coddle and rescue. But when we do this, we often cause even more harm to the couple. Finances are a frequent problem among many couples. When parents come in and rescue their adult children with money, the underlying message is “you can’t manage your own life; you will always need me to do it for you; you’ll never really figure this out for yourselves.”
Financial Difficulties Disclosed
One of my colleagues tells a story of his married daughter calling home in a panic because their new car was about to be repossessed and said, “Mom, you’ve got to get over here and bring $300.00 so that we can keep our car.” Her mom calmly replied, “That is not an option.” Her daughter was horrified, saying “Well, how is Bob going to get to work? How are we going to get our groceries?” Her mom said, “Well, I assume you might take the bus.” The daughter added, “You mean you would want your granddaughter to be out in the cold on some city bus?” Mom answered, “Absolutely not! I assume you’ll dress in a warm coat, boots, hat and gloves.” Through necessity, this frantic daughter ended up becoming very resourceful by negotiating with the car dealer some way that allowed them to make good on their car payments. There is no better feeling than that of knowing you can manage your own life.
So, how should a friend reply to a request for money? The only wrong answer would be to loan the money…never a good idea. It would be better to gift the money away then to loan it. Loans seldom get repaid and the longer they go unpaid, the greater the resentment builds. Suggest that one day she pay it forward to someone else in need, and keep the giving cycle in motion. Or, if that’s not an option, say, “What a tough situation. How I wish I could do this for you…I am so sorry.” Or, “While I don’t have $300.00, I could offer $25.00? Would that help?”
Marital Affair Disclosed
The reason it is so tempting to meddle in another’s ‘affairs,’ is that infidelity is sadly rampant! For parents whose adult children have been betrayed, this is a tough issue! A woman recently called me in tears because her daughter’s husband has been having an affair at work for the past year. She was heartbroken because she and her husband loved this young man like their own son. But now, they were absolutely disgusted with him….it killed them to see their daughter in such pain. The dilemma was that this man has not yet left his mistress behind. Yet, their daughter wants to do everything in her power to save her marriage and she requests that the family all be together for Christmas dinner. She said “I don’t want him near our home until he decides to stop the affair and makes things right with my daughter, again. Do I have a right to set my own limits?”
What side do you think this mother should take?
Of course, she has the right to do anything she wants to do. However, there may be a price to pay; losing your daughter. We no longer get to make our children’s decisions for them. The best question one can ask in this situation is, “What can I do to help?” Take your child’s lead on this one. If your daughter says, “Mom and Dad, I need you to open your arms and love him in spite of his affair. I want to save my marriage and I need your support in doing so,” then that is the direction you take. No one wants to see their loved one in pain. But this is your daughter’s marriage…….and it is her decision as to what to do with that marriage that matters. Infidelity is not just a personal downfall, it is a societal downfall. Trust your daughter and son-in-law to work with a professional to best direct their recovery process and to develop an understanding as to why this happened and how they can better safeguard their marriage about the issues that push and pull us into affairs.
And when friends disclose their spouse’s affair, just listen and validate! Do not offer advice, say what you would do if you were in their shoes (because you’re not!), and do not criticize the partner who cheated. These are complicated matters…gently direct them to a professional who specialized in infidelity recovery.
Domestic Violence Suspected
If you suspect anyone is involved within a domestic abuse situation, educate yourself with excellent materials and resources. The most deadly time for a women within a domestic violence situation is as she’s getting out. One of my favorite website is UVDC.org. It is imperative that you let her know what you see. Say, “I am concerned about the bruises that I see. I just want you to know that I am here for you. If you are being hurt I want you to know that nothing you could ever do warrants abuse. It is not your fault. When you are ready, I’ll help you go and talk to someone who specializes in domestic violence.” Stay close to your friend; continue getting together and offering your support. Every year more than 1 ½ million women are victims of domestic violence. They are in our families, in our circle of friends, and they are our neighbors. Be willing to meddle in the face of domestic violence.
Emotional Abuse Suspected
You should address suspicions of emotional abuse very carefully, mainly because it’s a bit of a pop-psychology term that certainly many of my clients like to suggest their partners are guilty of. In most cases, however, there is a more accurate term: “neglect!” I am not suggesting that cruel things are never said or that threats are never made. However, when listening to a family member describe their situation, focus on validating their experience. Memorize some helpful but sincere one-liner’s, such as, “That must have been painful.” Or, “How did you feel after that?” Or, “I feel like crying, too.”
If it is your friend who is complaining about her husband, listen and love without offering advice, calling her partner names, or labeling the interaction. Everyone gets frustrated; we do not know the full situation only the one-sided version with the one-sided perspective. We do not know what exchanged were made; trust me, many of us can sound like we are the only victims that showed up that day. Through validation, help your friend brainstorm new options, and ask “What do you think would help you both?”
Validation is certainly not a cure-all. It is a way, however, to encourage people close to you to manage their own responsibilities while helping them feel loved by you to a far greater degree.
Marital Unhappiness Suspected
There could certainly be a variety of reason for unhappiness. Some days I’m not so very happy either. In a new marriage, there are many changes. Marriage is one of the most stressful changes we go through – as joyous as it is! Let’s not assume that marriage and apparent unhappiness are associated. Some young women, especially, are on hormones for the first time, i.e., the birth control pill, and are therefore unprepared for the rise and drop in emotions that some women experience from the pill.
If this is your daughter who seems sad after marriage, chat with her about the understandable letdown following such a big and important event. Reality sets in fairly quickly that marriage is not easy; it is seldom what we think it’s going to be; and yet the potential for self-understanding and growth is amazing!
Don’t get caught up in your friend’s adjustment difficulty. Don’t rush ahead and say, “Oh, no…their marriage is already on the rocks. This is terrible; the sky is falling, the sky is falling.” Offer your support, “This adjustment isn’t easy, is it? I don’t think it is for anybody. I believe in you…I know the two of you will figure this out.” Sometime, all we need to hear is that what we’re going through is normal and that some else believes in us. Allow the therapists to do the therapy.
In marriage, we need the support of our family and friends. So many things relentlessly push and pull us apart; we all need to have supportive family and friends who are helping us to hold it all together….and, in return, they need us to do the same for them!
Favorite Resource: “I Don’t Have to Make Everything All Better,” by Gary & Joy Lundberg
Dr. Liz Hale is a licensed clinical psychologist and a regular Studio 5 Contributor. Your comments and questions are welcomed! Please visit www.drlizhale.com to add your thoughts to today’s discussion or learn more about her private practice.