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The following sections describe the respondents’ experiences first of abandonment and then detachment. These are examined in their context for the relationship to stepfamily life.

Abandonment

Respondent 1. T’s feelings of abandonment arose when her husband filed for divorce after two years of marriage. He inexplicably asked for reconciliation soon after she left their home and, after a six-month separation, they reconciled. Her persistent attempts to explore and understand the matter with him had been met with silence resulting in understandable anxiety and confusion. Although T readily enumerated the problems that led to their separation, she remained mystified as to why her spouse would “file for divorce then just a few days after…become desirous of a rekindling…I never understood that and he won’t allow a discussion over this matter and disregards my inquiries…” As a result, T felt emotionally unsafe, even after three years. “There are still issues that I question and he remains tight-lipped about. I want to know his real take on everything. What was his motivation to work out our marriage?” She had a context for his reasons to divorce, but none for why he wished to return to their marriage. She lacked closure without a framework for understanding his motivations to remain married.

T was well aware of the problems that existed in their stepfamily, and she listed them in the context of discussing their marital separation. She noted that the couple “…never had the guts to be honest about how we felt and take a stand to our kids or ex…the endless amounts of money for lawyers (regarding custody), our parenting styles…which made us argue more…[and] two exes that drained us of our love because we were always in ‘fight’ mode.” Their separation, and T’s resulting sense of abandonment, clearly occurred in a context of feeling overwhelmed by stepfamily factors.

Respondent 2. J experienced abandonment in several ways during her six-year marriage. The most salient marker of abandonment was her husband’s episodic threats to leave or requests that she do so. J described her increasing difficulty with tolerating her husband’s threats, “…every time it gets rough and he walks out or tells me to take my kids and leave.” Her husband’s episodic threats and J’s increasing pain over them, signaled attachment injury, which J experienced as emotional desertion by her spouse.

The couple first separated a year after they married, when J’s husband had a temper outburst, marking J’s initial discovery of his uncontrollable anger. J recalled “…his temper getting out of hand one day and [I told] him to go to his mother’s for the weekend and cool off.” She remembered, though, that he actually remained away for an entire week. Her vivid memory of his delayed return highlighted the rejection she felt when he did not return home after two days.

Her spouse’s “bad temper” continuously challenged their couple bond. J related his temper to his “serious depression [which] is getting harder to deal with.” She noted his mood swings, and believed he might be bipolar. This in itself does not show a direct relationship between her husband’s temper and their “step” status; however, J also connected his depression and related withdrawal to the auto accident.

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