“There is not any present moment that is unconnected with some future one. The life of every man is a continued chain of incidents, each link of which hangs upon the former. The transition from cause to effect, from event to event, is often carried on by secret steps, which our foresight cannot divine, and our sagacity is unable to trace. Evil may at some future period bring forth good; and good may bring forth evil, both equally unexpected.” ~ Joseph Addison.

Transitions are changes that take place as we move from one place in our life to another. Pregnancy, birth, adolescence, adulthood, marriage, falling in love, aging and death are some of the most well known transitions.

Lesser spoken about transitions include the first day of school, the beginning of soccer practice or music lessons, geographic moves, job changes, break-ups in relationships with friends or lovers, illness, surgery, accidents and more.

Transitions are powerful moments. They are emotional moments, and as such, they are potentially dangerous.

Every time you embark on a transition, you are vulnerable. Leaving the constant place of known parameters must be done without any real guarantees. Some folks try hard to foil chance, randomness, the unknown and unexpected and fate. They prepare for all the unknowns. They believe they can prepare for the unexpected.

Although we can always prepare for an anticipated event or change, we cannot negotiate complete preparedness, especially where emotional components of the transition are concerned.

Let’s think about what happens in a transition such as your son getting married. This is a transition for your son and for everyone who knows and cares about your son. It is also, comic as it sounds, a transition for the IRS, banking institutions, 401 K’s, his attorney, etc. Everyone must accommodate this change your son is about to make. Equally, everyone must accommodate his fiancee as well.

You son (let’s call him Mike) is marrying a girl you think is not smart enough or resourceful as a partner. Let’s call Mike’s fiancee Rita.

Rita has a history of mental illness in the family and in her own personal history. She doesn’t always tell the truth and she is prone to dramatizations of the histrionic kind. In short, you feel gypped. You had someone different in mind for Mike.

Mike is OK with her history. He likes the time they spend together and he finds her sincere as a partner. Mike does have a tendency of explaining away problems, but he is aware of this tendency.

The first tier of danger rests with Mike and his partner.

Perhaps equally important are the others who are a part of Mike and his partner’s life. There are parents (and the soon to be in-laws), siblings, family friends, extended family, nieces and nephews, cousins and aunts and uncles.

Unfinished business has a way of wanting to make an appearance at transitional events. Have you ever noticed how a mother or mother-in-law will insert herself in wedding plans? Have you ever noted how special requests seem to be made about the meal or about bringing or leaving young children behind? Or, the father who refuses to come if you invite his ex-wife?  It makes one wonder about whether some of these folks are trying to ascertain their importance. It is the wrong time and place to do this.

Transition times, such as a wedding, are stressful. The couple is changing directions from one that was solitary to one that involves a union and mutual decision-making.

Family and friends need to support this union or stand back. It is not the time to figure out if your son loves you more or as much as his new wife. It is not a time to discover if your daughter will ask you to come visit when the first child is born. It is not a time to dictate, rustle up old issues, or incite arguments and stress. All of this can be done long before. If it wasn’t, time’s up. It’s time to let the transition take place.

Transitional events are dangerous mainly because of the people who are part of the transition. It is important to acknowledge transitional times as uniquely stressful where you will simply be more vulnerable. It is OK if you are the one who tells family and friends about the psychology of transitions. They need to step back and either support you or step aside.

Transitions have a metastatic nature. If mother is upset, this may lead to father getting upset, which further leads to threats and lines being drawn in the sand.

I have had plenty of clients over the years who operated under the principle of “peace at any cost.” The catch here is that these clients, at the age of 70 or 80 or 90 are now wondering why they insisted on peace at any cost. They gave in to the threats and wishes of others. Their wedding was decided by others. Their children’s schooling, their place of residence, their careers and even the way they will spend their last days in life was decided by someone else.

I don’t advocate for conflict.

I advocate for understanding transitional times. They are loaded with unfinished business and it is a collective experience where feelings become metastatic.

Be well and take care.

Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD