Solutions for Marital Discord and Distress

Solutions for Marital Discord and Distress

Real Marriage for Real People

Life is trouble. Only death is not.
To be alive is to undo your belt
and “look” for trouble.

We all know about failure to launch, but what about failure to consummate? No, not that way. Rather, creating new relationships while changing, but not losing, the old ones.

In response to On Becoming a Couple – Marriage Preparation and Enrichment, Holly Evans wondered about my statement that “marriage requires commitment to a new family system and realignments of many, if not all previous relationships.” She posed three questions:

  1. What challenges/obstacles prevent a person from realigning previous relationships?
  2. How might they address those challenges/obstacles?
  3. What are the consequences to the marriage of not re-aligning previous relationships?

In the following three- to six-hundred short words or less, I will attempt some preliminary answers. It’s not about what it’s not about, but it’s about always varying levels of chronic anxiety, differentiation of self and level of functioning.

Unresolved emotional attachments from our families of origin is the primary answer to Question Number One and the biggest impediment to resolution of Question Number Two. The consequences inquired about in Question Three are an ever-widening collection of interlocking triangles, cut-offs and failed fusion.

In the “Wedding Gift Triangle,” the young man reactively distances from the intensity of the emotional relationship with his mother and simultaneously engages in the development of fusion in his newly married “we-ness,” a most non-productive solution to the problem of developmental fusion.

None of us gets to choose our parents; they just come along with being born. “Any set of parents is merely the current embodiment of forces or processes that have been active for many generations before them” (Papero 1990). All families have a history of varying degrees of unresolved emotional attachments passed down from generation to generation.

Solutions for Marital Discord and Distress By Ronald B. Cohen, Family Focused SolutionsAnd the solutions of the title? No surprise there, it is work on differentiation of self in one’s extended family of origin.

The process of self-differentiation is about setting appropriate limits and boundaries, staying connected to one’s extended family of origin while maintaining emotional independence and self-sufficiency. Tasks include redeveloping personal relationships with key family members, repairing cutoffs, de-triangling from conflicts, and changing the part one plays in emotionally-charged vicious cycles.

The process of differentiation facilitates becoming more “responsible” for yourself so that you can act more “responsibly” toward others. In regards to a spouse, this involves knowledge of the family as a developmental system. Attention to the major issues of sex, money, children and in-laws can alert couples to potential marriage- and relationship-destroying stressors and transitions. Unfortunately, unfinished business often gets in the way of working on new relationships. Bowen Family Systems Theory provides a constructive path to exploring and understanding the rules of one’s family of origin, one’s role in it, and the ongoing influence of these experiences.

When the fusion of marital “we-ness” threatens the unresolved emotional attachments of a partner’s less than “solid self,” consultation with a well-trained Bowen Family Systems Theory coach can help reduce systemic anxiety and restore a more functional level of self-differentiation.

Best of luck on your unfolding journey of a lifetime.

Please share your thoughts about, and experiences concerning, marriage and its discontents in the “Leave a Reply” box below. To request more information or contact me directly for any reason, please click here. If you found this post helpful, please don’t keep it a secret. You are encouraged to click on the buttons below and share this article with your own networks. Looking forward to continuing the conversation.

Ronald B Cohen, MD, PC Ronald B. Cohen, MD
Bowen Family Systems Coach
1 Barstow Road, Suite P-10
Great Neck, NY 11021
(516) 466-7530

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  1. Sherry Wright on July 8, 2015 at 10:18 pm said:

    I have been a Family Systems devotee for many years.

    Recently I have encountered couples and families that have had me wondering about the application of the theory to couples and families that I have been working with.

    I refer to non-Caucasian people who have cultural/religious beliefs/norms that are very different to the ones that are the basis of Systems theory.

    How have you applied the theory to this client group?

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on July 21, 2015 at 9:31 am said:

      Hi Sherry,

      We need to be careful about culture and ethnicity. Where does sensitivity cross the line to stereotypes? If there wasn’t a certain consistency to human behavior we wouldn’t be able to do our jobs. If we weren’t aware of the many variations on the theme we wouldn’t be doing our jobs very well. Bowen’s approach of maintaining connection with all family members while staying outside the family emotional system does have universal applicability.


      — Ron

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