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Family Boundaries

Question:

My parents were married at 18 & are now 59 yrs old. My father has had several DWI’s and my mother gave him the ultimatum that he should go to seek professional help or she was gone. My father went and has been doing well. Recently, however, my father confided to my sister that part of his problem is that he was not satisfied with his marriage. He has asked my mother to go for marriage counseling. Her reply was no!, That he should go solve his own problems first. My questions are this…. should we children get involved?, if so how? and do you think my mother’s stance has any validity?

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  • ‘Anne’ is the pseudonym for the individual who writes this relationship advice column.
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Answer:

According to psychologists who study such things, families have (or are supposed to have) things called boundaries (or privacy lines) so as to set off important sub-groups within them. There is supposed to be a boundary between parents and children that exists to separate the parents and the children. In a good functioning marriage, parental problems stay within the marriage and don’t leak out over the kids. This being said, you are an adult child, and you are involved already. I can understand why you would want to assist. My guess is that your mother is quite angry with your father over his drinking, and that even though he is currently doing “well” as you say, her anger has not been addressed. No wonder their marriage is not doing too well. Your father’s impulse to get them both into marital therapy would seem to be a good one. Marriage therapy would be a good environment for both parties to air out their grievances safely. Your mother’s stance has validity! It is her stance and reflects how she feels! What I wonder, however, is if she fully understands that therapy would be equally a place for her to express herself as much as for her husband to express himself. She may think that therapy would just be a place where she would be on the defensive. You might talk with her (if you are so inclined) and help her to understand that therapy would be a place where she could discuss her own dissatisfaction with the marriage. She might not be so refusing to try out therapy if she knew that the therapist would treat her own complains and pain equally with those of her husband. When you talk with your mother, you might mention these things to her and see if it opens her mind any. Plant your seed and then get out of the way. After all, it is their marriage and not your own.

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