I’ve been through counseling 3 times. Once after college in the wake of a bad break up and depression and then the 2 marriage counseling rounds. And now this exercise with Patsy Dawson. Counselors LOVE family of origin, and delving all into the relation you have with your parents and even the relationship with THEIR parents. My sister went to counseling in college and it was the same with her. Lots and lots of family of origin to dig up patterns of behavior that we may have picked up from our parents that are maladaptive. There CAN be some very important insights gained from some examination of family dynamics and I don’t discount it completely. HOWEVER, this can also be as destructive as constructive.
I remember going around with my first counselor about my relationship with my dad, who was a typical midwest farming type. Workaholic, and largely emotionally stoic or absent. In order to survive the environmental hardships of a midwestern winter outdoors you have to have balls of steel. Being emotional and whiny means you won’t succeed, as its up to you to take care othe animals that are out and exposed. The cows need milking in all weather, 365 days a year. They don’t take snow days. You basically need gumption and those cows really don’t care about your feelings. Neither do drought, hail, tornadoes, blizzards or floods. It was hard work that began before the morning light and did not end until after dark amidst biting insects and biting brambles in the extreme cold and heat. You almost HAD to be a stoic to do it and get up to do it again and again.
That first counselor basically said that I wasn’t really going to be able to break through unless I drug my parents and my siblings into his office for their own sessions to resolve all these issues. Basically, I was left with no one left to blame for all my defects except my parents. I kinda took it with a grain of salt…I was going to move on. My sister, on the otherhand, took my parents defects much more personally even so far as to tell them they never should have had children. Mom told me about that much later after the fact, but what you suppose the liklihood of them ever going to ANY sort of counseling would be after that shit?
And it IS shit. Our parents, your parents everyones parents generally do the best they can with the resources they have. Even the most defective ones.
Arwyn’s family of origin is fraught with more complications. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother enabled him until she couldn’t deal anymore and divorced him when she was 12. And somewhere in there, Arwyn was sexually abused. By someone. While she disclosed to our marriage counselor that she was in the church recovery program for issues of her father’s alcoholism, she also said she was there for recovery from sexual abuse. That last bit was a bombshell for me, because I don’t recall her ever mentioning sexual abuse before. But Arwyn never elaborated any further in my presence. I do not know who did it, what they did or when. I suspect it might have been her father but I honestly have no idea to this day. But obviously the ramifications of this is pretty substantial in our relationship on many levels. The biggest being her not disclosing anything to me about this, leaving me wondering and not fully understanding.
Regardless of what happened or when, the fact that she never trusted me enough to tell me anything speaks VOLUMES. And regardless of what happened, it is her choice what and how much to say. I’m left with all sorts of suspicions, theories and wonderings even to wonder if I might have been considered a sexual abuser at one point toward her.
Both of her parents have passed away. Her mother to complications related to smoking and her father with bladder cancer. But I knew both of them. Her father was in recovery when I first met him and he seemed like he loved his daughter and would do anything to take care of his children. Though he could also be prone to setbacks. He met his second wife in AA and it was a classic case of 13th stepping. This lady was also very nice, but there was a lot of friction between her and Arwyn in those early years though much of that was water under the bridge by the time we got married. Her father would end up divorcing this second wife as she persisted in drinking and he was trying his best to remain in recovery. That second divorce was messy and devastated his finances to the point where there was very little left for the children after he died.
I liked my mother-in-law for the most part. Met her even before Arwyn and I were a couple, and she took a liking to me right off. Not that it would last, but we were always on cordial if not friendly terms. For the most part, I got along with her family.
It took a little longer for my own mother to really get to know and accept Arwyn because of some things that she noticed right after my oldest son was born. Arwyn was a VERY protective mother, to the exclusion almost entirely of me. By the time this blog began its life, they were getting along well for the most part. And as I said last entry, she is up visitng my parents right now whilst my youngest is on Spring Break.
The other thing about family of origin that might be somewhat beneficial (and just came to me) is dealing with the fall-out when our own children come back from their therapy sessions. They are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to relationships because of the defective autistic relationship that Arwyn and I have. And I use the term autistic knowing full well what it means, being on the spectrum myself and she might be too.
BUT the problem with dwelling on the family of origin like our first marriage counselor did is that it is like asking what color the drapes are while the house is on fire. Our marriage has been in crisis pretty much since 1999 (by Arwyn’s admission). We were married only in 1996. And I didn’t get really on board with how bad things were until around 2001 or 2002. Even though I knew we were in trouble well before then, I was very passive for a long time, hoping things might turn around. It was after our second son was born in 2002 that things got bad enough that I started reaching out and trying different things to save and salvage this sinking ship, not realizing that she had checked out already.
By the time we got what I would call a good counselor in 2013, we were already rebuilding our house with plans for us to have separate bedrooms. She did the best she could with what she had, but it was too little too late. I wish we had met with her the first round in 2009 when Arwyn was at least nominally willing to go through some motions. It might have saved some time to cut to the real issues. Instead, we dithered around with family of origin for over a year and it allowed Arwyn (and probably me) to sidestep all of the real issues that we needed to confront. Things that were right in front of us both instead of going through old history. I mean its wonderful studying history…I love it. I love looking at backstories of Ukraine and Russia, but the Ukranians need bullets not history books as there is an existential threat to their survival. And so it was with our marriage at that time. There was an existential threat that there was no intimacy or trust. Perhaps we were already too far gone even then. But our counselor at the time methodically drew out our family tree, developing it over the course of over a year before deciding to move to Alabama. Probably easier to draw family trees in a place where family reunions are pick-up joints!