form of withdrawal in their relationship, either continuously or intermittently. Withdrawal in its milder forms was a problem-solving method, as a way to avoid conflict; in its extreme form, it threatened the integrity of the couple’s attachment bond, with reaction varying from chronic irritation to hopelessness. Each respondent reported a threat of divorce or separation, either in the past, the present, or as a possible future event. None of the respondents currently was separated, though two had been and one was contemplating it.
The sections below will report and discuss each respondent’s descriptions of detachment, and consider the relationship of these descriptions to respondents’ perceived threats to the relationship. In each case, the analysis will consider whether or not these markers for detachment are directly attributable to factors of stepfamily life.
Respondent 1. Perceived threat / rating: Custody issues; discipline of the children / 6.
T and her husband attempted to continue repairing a marital bond injured over three years ago when her husband filed for divorce. T readily articulated the relationship factors that led to her spouse’s motion of divorce. Their marital bond was constantly challenged by problems with stepparenting, differing parenting styles and interfering ex- spouses. These were consistent with the problems of custody and child discipline she had noted on the screening questionnaire as a threat to their relationship. Much “…bitterness…had festered over the years.” She described it as a “family of hell,” and stated, “…we were just drained.” Clearly, T attributed her husband’s filing for divorce to their “step” problems.
Respondent 2. Perceived threat/rating: Her children’s rejection by husband’s family / 10.
J experienced clear signs of detachment from her marriage. Her descriptions of her interactions with her spouse seemed to have passed the point of argument. Their disagreements developed into neither fruitful discussions nor fights. Their relationship seemed characterized by a deafening silence.
J noted that: “I don’t let his attitude interfere with my goals anymore.” Her dispirited lack of connection was evident. She disregarded her husband’s expressions of unhappiness and saw them as interference in her attempts to move past their troubles, rather than as feelings that would benefit from attention. J stated, “I think I need to face the music on this marriage and find a way to move on,” and that, “Maybe it is time for me to realize…[my situation]… is hopeless. I have put everything I know into my stepfamily situation but I don’t think I have succeeded with my efforts.” J was drained and despondent; this was compounded by her long-term physical disability, which still limited her options: “Some days I am not sure we will work through this at all…I often wonder if I just had my health back [whether] I would still be here.”
J’s most crucial descriptor for detachment addressed the severe breach in her marriage the first time her husband left: “…[one year]…after we got married …he walked out. There was a lot of pressure from…[my unemployment then]…I imagine. The trust for me starting eroding at that point and has gone downhill since then, every time it gets rough and he walks out or tells me to take my kids and leave.” In recalling that she had actually asked him to leave, her heart and mind hold different memories.