Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 8, 2013
Marley, fifty-three year old, mother of three adult children, is in constant battle with her husband, Kirk, over how to help her children launch into adulthood. In particular, Marley is struggling with how to help her oldest, Nan, thirty-two, become more independent. Marley’s instincts tell her that Nan needs the School of Hard Knocks,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_of_Hard_Knocks, whereas Kirk believes that he and Marley should pay for her health insurance, help her out with her rent, and pay for her car insurance. Marley and Kirk cannot seem to come together on this issue, so by Marley’s report their marriage is in deep trouble. “I just don’t know what to do,” Marley says. “I really trust my instincts about what will help Nan. I know the kind of kid she is, and I know that if we help her out, we will take away her incentive to become independent. Kirk thinks I am being too hard on her, but I think she needs the tough approach, since when we supported her, it seemed like her development was stunted. I am not being mean, although Kirk says I am and that is hard on me.” Marley explains how she does not want to compromise and further, she is hurt that what she sees as good intention,s is perceived by her husband of thirty-five years, as “mean”. “Does Kirk think you are a mean person, in general, or only now, with respect to Nan?” I ask, wondering if Kirk is using this conflict as a way to express deeper feelings towards Marley. “No, that’s not it,” Marley says emphatically. “It is just that he does not like conflict, so he wants everyone to get along, and I think that conflict is necessary to grow, especially now that we really need to help Nan grow. Sure, we could give Nan money, and sure, there would be less tension, but I can’t stand the fact that Kirk cannot see the bigger picture. This tension is hard, but it is necessary. I feel that in my bones.” Marley explains how she is so clear, in her mind, about how to proceed. Now, Marley sees two problems. One, is how to help Nan grow up, and two, how to cope with Kirk, who from her point of view, is conflict-avoidant. “It must be hard when you are so sure of yourself, and yet, you are living with someone who approaches life so differently,” I say, stating how this conflict is bringing up the larger conflict in their long-standing marriage. “You and Kirk are very different kinds of people.” I repeat. “Yes, and when we are not fighting about our kids, that difference is OK, but when it comes to hard decisions, that difference rises to the surface and creates a lot of tension. Maybe Nan will grow up and our marriage will survive, but maybe not.” Marley says, hinting that divorce is on her mind. “Will marital therapy help?” I ask, wondering if they need professional assistance. “Yep, I think so.” Marley says with a bit of hope in her voice.