When children are unhappily married it may be their parents who notice it first. Parents have seen their children pass through every stage and they, more than others, know the subtle frowns, eyebrow raising, and false smiles. They have seen their child defeated in sports and that defeated posture is impossible to hide from parents. When their child is not eating well, or complaining about headaches, stomach aches and other bodily complaints the parent cannot turn off their awareness to the situation at hand. Parents will tell me: they knew from the beginning the marriage wouldn’t work, or that their son or daughter was not ready to marry.
One of the major difficulties for most parents is, “What can I do to make the situation better?” Since there are usually no answers when they ask this question, their only option is to support the decision made by their son or daughter. Every parent is afraid of becoming an obstacle and risking the loss of their child or grandchildren. This accommodating behavior, due to fear of loss or making things worse, is not what their child/couple may need. It would be wonderful if the kids would come to their parents and say, “Hey mom and dad, we are having trouble, can you help us?” I don’t know of one parent that wouldn’t do everything to try and help their son or daughter work things out in the best way possible. For example, something as simple as parents taking the kids for the couple to get counseling would be an incredible help for most couples with marital problems.
If you find yourself in this situation and you know something is wrong with the relationship, but still not sure if you should or shouldn’t offer your support, these suggestions may help:
1. Talk directly to your child, touch their arm or shoulder in a familiar mom or dad way and without blaming them or being critical, and tell them you feel that something isn’t right. Follow that with this comment, “If there is anything your dad/or mom can do right now to show you love and support please let me know.”
2. If your child confides in you, offer to pay for counseling sessions and/or take the kids while they go.
3. Depending upon with whom they counsel, retreats may be advised and are available on weekends. Offer to take the grandchildren so your child and their partner can focus on strengthening their relationship.
4. Reach out to the in-law child as well as your own child. Reassure them both that they are loved and you understand marriage is difficult and requires constant work.
5. If your own child is being traumatized in the marriage, then focus your attention and support on your child. If your child is in a traumatic marriage…with abuse (physical, emotional or sexual), your child must get out. Make sure you will help with finding a safe living situation and offer support, love and guidance for your child and any children involved.
Our children are our children all of their life (and our life). Just as a marriage is forever in good times and in bad, your children are with you forever also. Helping them through the tough times is as important as celebrating the good times with them. The worst part about a divorce or relationship break up is the extent to which the whole family is affected. If you have been “mom or dad” to your son/daughter and their spouse, then continue being “mom or dad” as long as they need you to be. Having kids means learning to let go, watch them grow, and yet somehow be the net underneath them when they fall. For many of our kids, failing at a marriage is a fall. Let them know…home is always going to be home. –Mary Jo Rapini
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