Wednesday, January 30, 2008

family stress fractures

Earlier this year, we heard that this couple we know--let's call them family friends--has been having a rough spot. It's been building up the last few years, but this last year has seen some open dissent. We only got one side of the story, but we were not in a position (or lacking enough tact) to go interviewing other impacted parties to get a bigger picture. And it's not as if we haven't already observed (as it turns out) critically important aspects for years. "Oh, that explains a lot..."

M and I are both a little concerned. No, a LOT concerned. We don't want to think that their marriage wouldn't survive, but this recent upheaval is pointing out all the stress fractures in the family. Mostly that some stresses have reached a critical point so that the different sides are acting out in their individual feelings of frustration and anger. It's one of the usual sticking points--job and time and money and identity and how one or the other is being controlling or over-managing every major decision or thought. I guess one can "manage" these issues for only so long before one has to really deal with them.

It's easy for me to say this or that person is dragging their heels, resisting like hell, trying to blow or keep the lid on. Maybe you never want to think of yourself as ever getting a divorce, but there's still stuff to deal with... better to deal with it than having it blow up in your face. Defusing a b0mb is a delicate and dedicated task no doubt, no less than defusing the pressure in a marriage. *duck*!!

Mostly, though, I can see the impact on the kids. Angry, anxious, afraid. I really worry about them. This last time on the phone, it was ... interesting, the older kids were holding themselves at a distance emotionally and younger kids especially were bickering and nattering anxiously (in contrast with their usual delight when we call or visit). And certain adults didn't even come to the phone to say hi. Aaargh. The whole scrim of polite social interaction was pretty thin. It was a little disconcerting, but I was reminded again --they are ALL stressed.

So I worry about all of them. I worry about the couple.... I can see the fault lines, but even if I see some things they are doing that make it harder on their relationship, I am not in a position to tell them so. Thank goodness for counseling. Hope it's doing some good, but I'm not sure. If the kids are the canaries in a coal mine, things are still pretty tense.

So I worry about the kids too. How hard to be so young at these various ages and have the security of your parents be so uncertain. I've never seen them so... disaffected is the word that comes to mind, but how can that even make sense if they are actually so *highly* affected?

We try to be good relations in their lives. We talk and play with them, snuggle when we are there in person.... We try to be another set of adults who take a positive interest in them, who have known them since they were babies, who cheer them on. These days I see them having some disappointments with their parents that are threatening to be life-long. It pains me that I was not more sympathetic the last time the one kiddo brought it up (trying to explain it away rather than saying "that must have been very disappointing"). It was awkward... as if the one thing that may or may not have been his Dad's fault was standing in for all the other ways he's feeling let down.


I know, I know. every couple has their sticking points, their "rough patch." The kids are just so vulnerable at that age, at any age. So, I worry.

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