Spouses are of­ten in de­nial about un­happy mar­riages

The Covington News - - Religion -

Ques­tion: Do you feel that there is a kind of “blind­ness” that can oc­cur when a vic­tim of an af­fair de­nies the truth? I seemed to ex­pe­ri­ence this when my hus­band was fool­ing around with my best friend. The af­fair went on for two years be­fore I could ac­knowl­edge it to my­self. But why would I deny the truth? Why do vic­tims “choose” to be blind?

Dob­son: That psy­cho­log­i­cal process is called de­nial, and it is de­signed to pro­tect the mind from an un­ac­cept­able thought or re­al­ity. Once a per­son ad­mits to him­self or her­self that a beloved spouse has been un­faith­ful, then he or she is ob­li­gated to deal with that cir­cum­stance. The ex­tremely painful ex­pe­ri­ences of grief, anx­i­ety and in­som­nia be­come in­evitable once the truth has been faced. Fur­ther­more, the in­jured per­son fears that a con­fronta­tion with the un­faith­ful part­ner might drive the spouse into the arms of the new lover. Given th­ese con­cerns, the per­son con­sciously or un­con­sciously chooses not to no­tice the af­fair in the hope that it will blow over and be forgotten. Ob­vi­ously, there is am­ple mo­ti­va­tion for a vul­ner­a­ble per­son to deny what the eyes are see­ing.

When the ev­i­dence of un­faith­ful­ness be­comes over­whelm­ing, a man or wo­man will some­times “ask” the guilty spouse to as­sist with the de­nial. This is done by mak­ing ac­cu­sa­tions in the hope of be­ing proven wrong. For ex­am­ple, a wife will say, “Are you and Donna see­ing one an­other?”

“No, I’ve told you a thou­sand times that noth­ing is go­ing on,” he lies.

“But where were you un­til 2:00 A.M. last night?”

“I had car trou­ble. Now will you get off my back?”

This wife knows her hus­band’s story is phony, but she con­tin­u­ally asks him to lie to her. And in­ter­est­ingly, she does not feel ob­li­gated to “blow the whis­tle” on him un­til he ad­mits his in­volve­ment ... which may never hap­pen. Th­ese tacit agree­ments help her main­tain the il­lu­sion that “all is well” and pro­vide a per­mis­sive en­vi­ron­ment in which the hus­band can play around.

De­nial has many ap­pli­ca­tions and uses in hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. It will per­mit a wo­man to ig­nore a sus­pi­cious lump in her breast, or the drugs in her son’s bed­room, or the debt that the fam­ily is ac­cu­mu­lat­ing. Through this process the mind is pro­tected for a time, it of­ten per­mits even greater dis­as­ters to gain a foothold in our lives. Ques­tion: Why do you think par­ents are so quick to crit­i­cize them­selves? What is the source of the self-doubt which seems so preva­lent? Dob­son: It is a cul­tural phe­nom­e­non. Moth­ers, es­pe­cially, have been blamed for ev­ery­thing that can con­ceiv­ably go wrong with chil­dren.

Even when their love and com­mit­ment are in­cal­cu­la­ble, the ex­perts ac­cuse them of mak­ing griev­ous er­rors in toi­let train­ing, dis­ci­plin­ing, feed­ing, med­i­cat­ing and ed­u­cat­ing their young­sters. They are ei­ther over­pos­ses­sive or un­der­nur­tur­ing. Their approach is ei­ther harsh or per­mis­sive. One psy­chi­a­trist even wrote an en­tire book on the dan­gers of re­li­gious train­ing, blam­ing par­ents for scaring kids with talk of the next world. Thus, no mat­ter how dili­gently Mom ap­proaches her par­ent­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, she is likely to be ac­cused of twist­ing and warp­ing her chil­dren.

Per­haps this ex­plains why women are more crit­i­cal of them­selves than men. Eighty per­cent of the re­spon­dents to our poll were women, and their most fre­quent com­ment was, “I’m a fail­ure as a mother.” What non­sense. Women have been taught to think of them­selves in this way, and it is time to set the record straight.

The task of pro­cre­ation was never in­tended to be so bur­den­some. Of course it is de­mand­ing. And chil­dren are chal­leng­ing, to be sure. But the guilt and self-doubt that of­ten en­cum­ber the par­ent­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity are largely self-im­posed. It’s time we re­stored the con­fi­dence to those who are work­ing so hard to raise their chil­dren with love and wis­dom.

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