vignette was laced with D’s pain and illustrated a severe test of this stepcouple’s bond, as D was “outside” and literally could not look in.
Respondent 4. Abandonment occurred in L’s marriage through her frequent outsider role in painful coalitions where her husband’s support was absent. Furthermore, he aligned with those who expressed disapproval of her, exacerbating her sense of being alone and uncared for in her marital relationship.
L shared numerous examples of being the outsider in coalitions between her husband and his children. She expressed feeling “like an outsider in my own house when [my stepchildren] are here.” For example, “The three of them, meaning [spouse and two stepchildren] some times whisper about stuff like I am not even in the room.” L remarked that this caused many disagreements, and in fact, “The last time it happened, I totally blew…I told my husband ‘This is why I don’t like them to come.’” Her strong reaction, coupled with her husband’s lack of response, “My husband just sits there…,” illustrated how she felt unsupported and how vulnerable to ongoing coalitions. Most painful is her husband reportedly doing nothing to change it.
Her husband’s coalition with his children caused him “[to] let…so much slide. He once told me that he didn’t want them to not want to come see him.” This was an example of the spouse’s coalition relegating the stepparent to the outsider role. The motivation was simple determination to please the children so they would want to return; the outcome was L’s sense of abandonment, in feeling less than important.
L reported that her husband engaged in similar coalitions with his mother, whom L described flatly as “a BIG issue in our marriage.” (189) This mother-in-law wished for reconciliation between her son and his ex-wife. From the beginning, L perceived her mother-in-law to be an enemy of their married state. Mother-in-law, in turn, developed coalitions with her son and her grandchildren that cast L as the abandoned outsider.
Respondent 5. B’s interview yielded the fewest coded markers for abandonment. B focused n her attempts to understand her husband’s opposing points of view, as well as to clearly communicate her own views in their relationship. She attempted to support her spouse’s entitlement to behave in ways she may not agree with and that she finds enormously challenging in their daily lives. B clearly wished her husband’s parenting behaviors were different. She did not, however, convey an overwhelming sense of abandonment.
In summary, abandonment appeared frequently in these interviews, dressed as coalitions, leading to respondents’ feelings of being outsiders, literally being left alone, and a sense of rejection conveyed several ways, including through non-responsiveness or withdrawal of the respondent’s partner.
Emotional detachment appeared in these interviews as issues that were considered threats to the relationship, the severe and prolonged withdrawal of one partner, and a discussion or threat of divorce or separation. The screening questionnaire for this study included a rating scale for “threats to the relationship.” This discussion will review each respondent’s rating and identify her perceived threats. Most respondents described some