In a vain attempt to solve my parents’ marital problems, I had them come to therapy with me one time when they were visiting me out west. I was seeing a therapist because I was trying to work through some problems with my boyfriend, Russell, while our relationship crashed and burned around me. This is where I began to form my theory of “you’re not in therapy for the reason you think you’re there.” It turns out that I wasn’t ready to be cognizant of my problems.
Mom eagerly agreed to come to the family therapy appointment – “anything for you, sweetheart.” She knew there were issues with her marriage, but hadn’t taken any steps to deal with them. So getting my father to come to a family therapy session might bring him one step closer to couples therapy at home.
There we were, the three of us, sitting in the dimly lit office of my therapist, Cheryl. Dad got antagonistic, not wanting to share or open up. He finally admitted that the only reason he was there was because I asked him to come. We talked about the emotional distance that existed in our family – especially between my father and the rest of us. He admitted that that’s how his parents treated him. His emotional distance became actual physical distance, as he was much more interested in pursuing his own hobbies and career than actively participating in his marriage, and Mike’s and my childhood.
Then the revelation came. Cheryl said, “So you and your brother were married to your mother. You provided the emotional and physical support for your mother because your father was absent.”
You could have knocked me over with a feather. Cheryl got it. It was true. Mike and I were both very close with my mother. To this day she is the first person either of us calls when we need advice or want to share news. Unbeknownst to us, as children she was leaning on us for the emotional support and affection that she was not getting from my father. She was sacrificing her own emotional needs (her marriage) to be mother …