Blood is thicker than water.

Sometimes people ask me whether or not they should marry a certain someone. All I can do is predict what will happen in a marriage, based upon what a patient tells me, and help determine whether or not it's worth the risk.

There are certain obvious traps, however, and depending upon how many balls we are juggling and whether or not dropping a few will make a difference, the traps can be insurmountable.

Here's one. Susan is an American girl, brought up by working class Protestants, British descent, and Lawrence is an Iraqi from a wealthy family.

It doesn't matter. She could just as easily be a Latina, a Jew, or a Christian. And he could be Caucasian or Puerto Rican. They could both be Mexican; she could be Swedish and he could be Muslim from Turkey.

What matters in this case is that Susan's fiance could not put her before his son, Moudi. She had moved in with them and was doing most of the domestic chores. Moudi, 24, belittled her and messed the house after she cleaned. If she sat down to watch television he took the remote out of her hands and changed the channel. He told her repeatedly, when she complained, that she didn't deserve his father and that she was a tramp for sleeping with him . Moudi's girlfriend, by the way, spent many nights in his bedroom with him. She wasn't nice to Susan, either.

Lawrence wouldn't talk to his son about Susan's complaints. He dismissed her concerns and acted as if she was interrupting more important things by bringing them to his attention.

Susan thought,

"Fine mate for life this is, and future father of my children!"

She didn't want a kid ordering her around, criticizing her. She grew up in a home with two parents who respected one another and never uttered a harsh word. Lawrence had fooled her by presenting himself as a gentleman, a man who would protect and take care of her. It turned out that he couldn't even protect her from his own family. He said more than once:

"Moudi is my son. This is Moudi's house, not yours. It won't be yours until we marry. Even then the house will still be his. He is and always will be my child and my first priority. Blood is thicker than water."

Children first. Okay. But 24-year old children?

"Come on, Lawrence. Who're you coming home to, Moudi or me?" asked Susan.

She broke off the engagement. She had invested everything emotionally in this man and lost it all. What happened?

Was Lawrence such a bad guy? He treated her well and promised to take care of her, to be her partner for life, eventually father a child.

Susan was stuck in what we family therapists call a perverted triangle. In healthy families the mom and pop are the head of the household. They sleep together, huddle together, think together, conspire together. They dialogue and make decisions regarding the children and the rest of the family, including how they will deal with their own parents and siblings.

If there is a primary dyad in a household it should be mom and pop. Not pop and pop's son. If pop and pop's son are at the two decision makers, then mom symbolically occupies a place beneath them, one less important. The men are the ones in alliance.

Lawrence and Moudi are the two intimates in this case, Susan is alone.

Therapists and counselors see this often in families with marital intimacy problems. If the two parents are fighting and one confides about it to one of the kids, it is putting the other partner beneath that child in the family hierarchy. By confiding the deficits and/or escapades of the other spouse (the drinking, cheating, spending, whatever), the parent who allies with the child not only empowers the child, who may or may not be comfortable with the information, but also relegates the errant spouse to the child position in the family.

If this situation continues, and if the child is really uncomfortable (as they usually are, hearing bad things about one of the parents), we consider it emotional incest.

So. Whether it's a cultural thing that the woman is less important to the man than his son or perhaps other members of his family, or whether it's a machismo chauvinistic thing, that the woman must respect the man but not vice versa, or whether it's an emotional need to ally with a child in the family because of distress and/or anger at a partner, perverted triangles have to change for the family to function happily.

Preferably BEFORE the wedding.

Copyright Therapy Doc, 2006


Anonymous said…
Long time reader, first time commenter. As usual, a wonderful and poignant post. Being a south asian woman, i've seen my fair share of perverted triangles in families and sadly even in my own relationship. I had always felt uneasy about my ex-fiancee's mother's unhealthy reliance on him and belittling me infront of her family. Eventually I couldn't take it anymore because I was always in second place. ~Myra
therapydoc said…
Thanks for sharing, Myra. I'm glad you decided to make it an ex. His behavior was emotionally abusive, and if you called him on it and wouldn't change, what kind of hero is he?
Kellen said…
This is so true. I've just finished reading a book about the Scapegoat Role in families and how the parents triagulate with the child to make the child the bearer of their dysfunction. I'm sure you've seen this too, when the parents bring the child in for therapy and want you to "fix" him or her. It's really the relationship between the parents which needs to be fixed.

Nice article.

Popular Posts