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December 22nd, 2016 by Marta J. Papa


Part 6: Maybe It’s Not a Marital Problem…Maybe It’s a Holiday Problem

I have been focusing upon the (sometimes) surprising questionnaire responses I receive from couples who come to me for a divorce consultation. My last blog revealed some examples of unforeseen marital issues that had come to light in some couples’ sessions. Though not unforeseen by me, it is not infrequent to discover that one spouse has had no knowledge beforehand of a seriously vexing problem, which is harming the marriage and its sustainability.

On other occasions, however, one spouse is in denial of a personal problem that is negatively impacting the marriage. At times like this, there is no great “reveal” that comes out during a marital session with me; rather, a problem exists that is clearly apparent to one spouse (and often the children and other family members, as well!) but entirely denied, avoided, or dismissed by the other party. Substance abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, financial irresponsibility, acute self-centeredness, visceral low self-esteem, and/or remarkable immaturity are all common marital symptoms I witness in the course of a divorce evaluation.

Once again, my childhood friend Sylvie T. is a perfect example of this marital circumstance, which always released its toxic odor and poisoned the scent of each holiday season for her and her father. Self-centeredly, Mrs. T. would embroil the entire household in a state of deep unrest, as her moods would swing from celebratory to despair without warning. The slightest perceived offence–of an invitation not extended; of a gift not to her liking; of a response not readily forthcoming—would trigger Mrs. T. to collapse in either reproaches or tears. No wonder the entire family remained on red alert status throughout the month of December.

And, as I mentioned earlier this month, Sylvie did not reveal to me the extent of her holiday dread until we were in college. By that time, her parents had been divorced for five years, with Sylvie blaming her immature mother for the broken home that resulted.

Yet, had Sylvie’s mom and dad gone to a divorce mediator rather than jumping right into a nasty, expensive litigation process, perhaps Mrs. T. could have been made accountable for her behavior. The couple would have discovered that the problem was not inherent in the marriage; the problem was inherent in Mrs. T. She needed to grow up and mature; sadly, she never did.

Other couples with whom I have consulted have been more pro-active in recognizing the ways in which their own personal behavior has been undermining an otherwise satisfactory marriage. And, as never before, the health of a sustainable marriage bond can be resumed when the appropriate actions (and open honesty) replace the negative behavior(s) formerly exhibited.

What is most satisfying to me, however, is when the children in the home are spared the ugliness of a contentious divorce. Once issues are honestly addressed, a healthy equilibrium can envelop a home where once ruled the anarchy of chaos and disruption. In addition, by watching their parents address and work through challenging issues, children become better equipped to acknowledge and handle their own, as they, too, mature and marry…and have children themselves.