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Daughter's Violent Marriage

Question:

This is about my youngest daughter. She is 19. She has been married for a year and a half. She is very much in love with her husband, as he claims and cries over her. The problem is that he does little snide remarks to her, and she to him, I am sure. They both have thrown things, and now, he has resorted to the physical side with threats of bodily harm. I will note that she has a big mouth and knows it. Everytime a breakup is in the news, they both cry. He wants her back, then doesn’t, but can’t stay away from her. He is 21. He always says he is sorry. The whole family loves both of them very much. I fear at times that she might be in real danger, but then again, I don’t know how much is an exaggeration. She is a very emotional person and high achiever, and so is he. Although, he can cry like a baby over her. At this point, I would want her to start over again with her life and forget him if she were in true danger, but then, I would hate for them to lose the deep love they have for each other. It just doesn’t make any sence to me. On the other hand, I have never been hit by anyone. He just didn’t seem like the kind of person that could do that, and he denies it except for one slap. He wants a divorce, and then the next minute, he can’t live without her. She is the same way, and says she can’t imagine anyone else with him or her. She says she is not attracted to anyone else. They constantly do things together and for each other. He builds her up, but then can turn around and break her down when she angers him. They separated once before, and he didn’t care about anyone else. They both are of the jealous nature, but she has more people attracted to her—a lot. Although, she doesn’t seem to want anyone else. They are both very good looking and intellegent. He is a manager, and she works for a doctor. Luckily, there are no children involved. One thing does bother me about him. During the course of this time, which she is thinking about coming home, he will want a divorce and then turn around and cuddle her and ask who is going to take care of him. For peats sake—she is almost a baby! I feel that he feels frustrated that he cannot meet all of her needs. She requires a lot of personal attention on herself. Does the physical side ever get better or does it only get worse? Because if it can’t improve, I would want her to get out before she got hurt! I was just in shock of the whole thing. They are so on again, off again all the time, but seem to be very much attracted to each other.

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Answer:

You are not wrong to be worried about this on again off again marriage. Marital research tells us that snide and sarcastic remarks and body language observed in marital partners’ behavior while they fight are the single best predictor of marital failure and divorce. Your daughter is clearly in a conflicted relationship where communication is failing and violence (verbal and otherwise) is ascendant. No one can say for sure, but typically the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If violence is on the rise now, it is probably safe to say that it will get worse in the future if intervention does not occur. These two strongly need the aid of marital therapy if they are to keep from self-destructing. As a parent you cannot order your daughter into marital therapy. However, you can strongly suggest to both your daughter and her husband that they are out of control, and that marital therapy is in order. You might even go so far as to help them identify a therapist. At MHN we like therapists who work in the cognitive behavioral framework for marital and relationship therapy. Therapists who work off of the ideas put forth by John Gottman or Neil Jacobsen are a safe bet. Books written by Dr. Gottman are also a safe bet if you want to provide your daughter with reading therapeutic reading material. It is not a good idea for you to make an appointment for these two for therapy; they are best off doing this for themselves.

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