The Coupledom Contract: Who Gets Thrown Under The Bus?

The Costs Of Accommodation: There are many unspoken and even unconscious clauses in most Coupledoms. They may include never confronting your partner with the reality of their tone-deaf singing or limited grace on the dance floor. Perhaps the overcooked spaghetti goes unmentioned, or the gardening attempts that are less than stellar. None of these accommodations speak to significant dysfunction. However, could this be a pattern that runs deeper and more ruinous, both for the Coupledom and the people who depend on them? Worth exploring.

 Message Delivered: A bullying spouse may get his or her way at the expense of the children because their partner, who is also a mom or a dad, has signed an unwritten agreement to cave to their spouse’s wishes, no matter the consequence for the family. An example is when the fear of spending money so incapacitates one partner that when his/her spouse suggests taking the family to visit a relative, an onslaught of accusatory verbiage ensues and all are made to feel greedy, unworthy and spoiled. If the spouse backs off the issue to “maintain the peace,” simultaneously silencing the children and skirting their inquiries, what gets messaged to the children is that their desire to see their cousins is secondary to pacifying the parent.

Are We Poor? Am I Greedy? Perhaps the spouse, who has irrational fears related to being “drained” of finances, relies on another device to manipulate outcome. “You know how hard I am working. I guess I will just have to work more overtime so that you and the kids can get away. I won’t come though.” Their partner, despite knowing that there are sufficient funds, is afraid to bring out the check book and point to the balance, “Hey look, we have the funds. And we all need a break.” Instead they succumb to the manipulation and in so doing throw the family under the bus. What are the children left to think? “Are we poor?” “Are we greedy?” “Do we need to be compliant too, no matter what?”

Rationalization, The Enemy: The same parent who hushes the children, may have convinced themselves that they are applying protective parenting skills to child rearing. After all, seeing parents disagree or lose their temper is so scarring. Really? There are worse scars. Fear comes in many guises that deceive one into thinking that it is just common sense to avoid conflict. The oft used phrases are “it is just easier” or “it really isn’t that important” or “no big deal” or “the children shouldn’t see us disagreeing” or the equally self-deluding guise of inferiority “He/she is much smarter than me, better informed, more intelligent. It is better to do what he/she says.” which translated means “Don’t go out on a limb here and present your reality. Better just take the dive and live another day.” Really? And what do the kids get out of that message? Intimidation works. Big Time!

The Old Soft Shoe: Sometimes I get an image of the agile dancer who is nimble on their toes, swift on their heels, and shuffles fluidly from one smooth step of denial to another. The successful owner of a family business begs her son-in-law to return to the company after her spouse has ridiculed and insulted him over and over again. When the son-in-law stands his ground, refusing to return, the family tries to seduce him back for more abuse. Even the daughter, his wife, under pressure from her parents, thinks her husband should come back, herself in denial that this would doom her marriage. Everyone is willing to throw him and the young couples’ marriage under the bus for the sake of the business, and more importantly to enable the denial of the dad’s horrendous behavior. He doesn’t have to change. Nope, the world has to change around him. Pressed to explain this behavior, one can hear the scraps of seductive lying girding the operation: “He doesn’t mean what he says.” or “He wasn’t feeling well.” or “He feels so badly for what he did.” But you can be sure he will do it again. Always has. Under the bus go the children, the children’s children, their spouses and anyone else who jeopardizes this Coupledom contract. Anything to protect the survival of a delusion, a Coupledom Contract that never should have been written.

Fusion In Defense: Fusion is an interesting psychological mechanism subconsciously employed by individuals who have signed on to a marital contract whose survival depends on accommodation. I have seen it often, sometimes with men merging their identity with their wives and vice versa. Mirroring their partner’s beliefs and perceptions, echoing their opinions and supporting their decisions, no matter the cost to others, eliminates the possibility of becoming the target of painful accusations that they are sadistic, cruel or uncaring to their spouse. If they think like their spouse, then all is safe. But if they are drawn from that posture toward a different view, in support of a child or friend or sister-in-law who has a differing point of view from their spouse, watch out! They will be crucified for disloyalty or dismissed as stupid and incompetent or classified as sadistic. Fusion prevents all that. We are one and everyone else is at risk. Thrown under the bus.

Intimidation and Hard Choices: It is not unusual to feel torn between the needs of spouses and children, children and job, child and other child. Many of us fall short at times, leaving a child or a job or a spouse feeling cheated or betrayed. Taking a look at these moments with a critical and honest eye can offer options. When The Coupledom contract, written when young and undeveloped, or older and fearful of time running out, requires self-delusion in the name of avoiding loneliness, abandonment or rejection, is at the expense of other family members, self-respect or decency, then this contract needs to be reviewed, with courage and truth. If emotions of intimidation and lack of self worth dominated the tone and terms of the unspoken original contract, acknowledge that and take the steps to review and rewrite the terms of the agreement by outing the hidden agenda. Take The Coupledom to an expert to oversee the writing of the new and better Coupledom contract, where no one is thrown under the bus.

©Jill Edelman, M.S.W, L.C.S.W. 2011

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