Ed’s mother was a piece of work. She was visiting from across the country and staying an extended period of time. She had a history of conflict with Ed’s wife Denise. Denise was now a stay-at-home mom with two preschoolers. She was completely dedicated to her role as a mother, but Ed’s mother had a different perspective.
Occasionally Ed’s mother Eileen would erupt. One afternoon during the visit, Eileen ripped into Denise, insisting their marital conflict was damaging the kids, saying her son should get a divorce, and that Denise needed drugs. Eileen finished with, “I don’t need you in my life.” Ed happened to overhear this interaction, and asked his mother to cut her visit short.
When I first saw Ed and Denise in couples counseling, they did struggle. Their interactions could be heated, but they were typically conscious of the kids not overhearing. They had progressed nicely in couples counseling and were now ready to address the remaining issue in their relationship—Ed’s mother.
Ed wrote an articulate letter to his mother expressing how far they have come as a couple. He gave examples of the kids’ progress despite any former marital tension. Ed expressed his love and commitment to Denise, and Ed raved about what a wonderful mother he felt Denise was.
In the past, Ed talked on the phone with his mother behind closed doors, trying to manage his mother’s disdain for Denise. Now the couple had a strong, unified voice, with Ed’s letter ending with the following paragraph: “What you need to understand is we are a family. They are my future—for better of for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, in good times and bad. We stand together as one team. No outside force or family member can drive a wedge between us, try as they might.”
The primary relationship for successful couples is with each other, and no longer their families-of-origin. Ed’s commitment was now clear—it was to his immediate family, no longer his family-of-origin.