rejection/protection cycle did not change: “…we have agreed that we cannot spend our lives fighting about these same things without making headway. We are seeking therapy to prevent reaching a ‘that’s it’ point… we need to be successful at resolving some of these things.” She felt an urgent need to move from their mutually adversarial position, to one of mutual support.
In summary, these stepfamilies struggled, with varying degrees of insight and success, to overcome a continuous dichotomy, yet remained mired in a “yours/mine” mentality. These families struggled with problems that challenged their relational bond, affecting the stepcouples’ sense of trust and perceived ability to depend on their partner. The respondents all experienced change in the beliefs about their spouse. This appeared in their relationships to varying degrees and was processed in their marriages in different ways, from hopelessness to humor and resolve. Each respondent reported at least one perceived coalition that aroused protection of herself, protection of her child from rejection, or both. In each case, these cycles were directly attributable to factors of stepfamily formation.
Abandonment and Detachment
Feelings and expressions of abandonment may signal attachment injury in adults. As the infant whose mother is out of sight, one feels bereft and alone, unloved or uncared for. As with the infant, whose mother may or may not be in the next room, abandonment may be a perception of the individual, or it may be real. Individuals may express loss through various emotional channels, arousing identifiable fear, hurt or anger. The sense of abandonment may occur precipitously, triggered by a single event. Or experiences of abandonment might have a cumulative effect, insidiously eroding one’s feeling of safety in the relationship.
Abandonment for the respondents in this study was prompted by coalitions that placed the respondent in the outsider role. Some reported spending holidays alone or being ostracized from family events, in favor of others their partner appeared to judge as being more important. For others, abandonment appeared through behavioral patterns of pursue/withdraw or a spouse’s perceived lack of caring due to non-responsiveness. Finally, some experiences of abandonment were overt, in a spouse’s threat to leave, actual departure, or requesting that the respondent leave.
Emotional detachment in adult relationships is a clear marker for attachment injury. The attachment bond has been so challenged, assaulted, or traumatized that it is weakened or even severed. Detachment manifests itself in adult relationships in a variety of ways. Detachment affects the partner’s willingness to give to the relationship, or openness to receiving from the partner. One might experience detachment as feeling completely deserted, isolated, empty or numb. The relationship itself may feel devoid of emotions important to the partner, such as love, caring, or respect. A partner may experience detachment as no longer wanting to give of self, not caring about the relationship or partner, or unwillingness to participate in the relationship. One or both of the partners may feel a strong vulnerability that stops them from giving, receiving or participating wholeheartedly in the relationship.