She considered the effects of the accident on their marriage, noting that it marked a precipitous change in her spouse’s attempts to engage with her. She interpreted this as due to both his guilt and anger, noting that“…he stopped talking to me and sharing anything pretty much.” She perceived that, “He stays angry at me because he has had to take care of me and mine. He wasn’t much of a talker before, really; now he won’t talk at all.” She also interpreted his withdrawal as guilt about the drastic changes it wrought in J’s life. Their marital bond was significantly challenged by this accident, an event that was attributable to difficult, angry stepfamily relationships, and which left J bereft of her husband’s emotional support.
There was stark contrast between this couple’s initial hopes and their current reality that might magnify J’s experiences of rejection. Prior to marrying, they held optimistic expectations about combining their two families. J recalled that they “talked enough before the marriage that I was very comfortable remarrying…” (1091-1093) and her husband believed “everything would go perfect[ly],” In the interview, however, she described enormous disappointment about their marriage, as she compared their former ability to “talk enough” with their current stony exchanges. This further exemplified J’s sense of loneliness and increasing emotional isolation.
J could not recall the content of the argument that led to the first separation; therefore it was not considered attributable to stepfamily factors. This initial abandonment likely primed J for future threats to their couple bond, whether or not the issues were “step” related. Regardless of its genesis, she was continually challenged by his temper and his depression, and felt abandoned by his withdrawal from their relationship, with his threats of abandonment or invitations for her departure.
Some “step” issues played a prominent role in J’s sense of abandonment. For instance, J reported a sense of abandonment and rejection from being left alone on the holidays: “…my children and I are not welcome with his family.” She described a typical holiday: They opened gifts at her home, and then her husband would take the children to his mother’s home for gifts and a meal. She stated forthrightly, “It breaks my heart for him to go see his family without us…” but suggested her heart breaks for her children, because “I know how badly it has hurt my children to be left out.”
She described cutoffs in her husband’s family, and incredulity that although many of her husband’s family lived locally, his parents and siblings did not associate with other family members. This suggests insight that their family belief about the importance of familial connectedness differed from hers. Understanding this, J painted a bleak picture of her in-laws’ sense of connectedness, and clearly this mitigated the pain of her husband’s rejection, as he supported his family’s decision to exclude J and her children.
J described frequent cycles of her pursuit and her husband’s withdrawal that maintained the sense of abandonment she felt in their relationship. “I keep pushing to start trying to rebuild what we lost 5 years ago [at the time of the accident] and he won’t even talk about it.” In fact, she noted an attempt to talk to him about their problems during a break in the interview, and “He doesn’t want to talk about anything…I asked him how he thought we could fix anything if we don’t talk and he said he doesn’t know but still won’t talk. He rolls his eyes, crosses his arms…and either gets quiet or gets mad and walks out of the room.” She interpreted his behavior as “…refus[al] to accept any