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Too Many Keys to the Front Door
Edward A. Pane, LCSW, MBA, CAADA

Ed Pane

My Blog

“Just how many keys are there to your front door?”  That was the question I asked a young married couple that came for counseling.  Family of origin issues (the families each came from) abounded.  There were intrusions, confused loyalties and attempts to keep the peace that were doomed to failure.

When people can just walk in on what rightfully belongs solely to the married couple problems overflow.  The couple can’t become an “us”, the new life form born from their union.  “Us has its own story line, history, language, sexuality, its own breath. It needs its own time and space to develop.

“How many keys. . .” asks how many people can intrude in their marital and family life

In ‘therapy-speak’ the new family is a “holon,” a little whole, a unit unto itself.  One of its tasks is to realign outside relationships to people and activities outside the marital and family unit, putting them into a new and proper perspective.  The partners have undergone a change of status and with that comes new understandings.

“Us” gets muddied up when there are too many keys to the front door. It happens in several ways.

One is when the family of origin assumes it still comes first in their adult child’s life. When that occurs, they need to be reminded of their new status.  Their understanding should be preferred, but it must never be required.

Another is when one of the partners still thinks “my family” means the one they just left.  Then it’s time for a reality check. The marriage comes first.  Its discussions, decisions, disagreements are not automatically for general consumption. Not for mother, father, sister, brother, or best friends.

Still another happens when “my career” or the “cause I’m committed to” or other outside interests interrupts family life instead of being a part of it.

The words “our family” mean the one the partners formed through their marriage and their children should they be so blessed.  Everyone and everything else is tied for last place, including families of origin.  It doesn’t mean others are cut out of the couple’s, life, that should never happen or marriage is a prison.  It doesn’t mean the partners give up their friends or outside interests. But it does mean those are reexamined with the considerations of marriage and family first.

“Our family” means the couple understands its new status even if others don’t seem to get it.  It’s the “us” that responds regardless of who does the talking.  There is no putting one partner in the middle and no putting yourself in the middle to keep the peace. The peace was already challenged with the intrusion.

When your family boundaries are clear you have more freedom without the worry of who might get upset, that’s their problem to struggle with, not yours.  “We understand what we’re doing even if you don’t.” frees the couple from a lot of unnecessary tension.

When counseling couples I sometimes ask, “How soon after you got married did you become a husband (or a wife).  There’s usually a brief pause.  That new identity is seldom grasped simultaneously with the words “I do” even for couples who have lived together.  “Us” is a new life. And like any new life it needs time and space for nurturing, and to establish the protection of appropriate boundaries.  It’s a new relationship with one another and a new identity for each.

So, first things first.  You married one another, not your parents or your in-laws; not your husband’s buddies or your wife’s girlfriends, or either or your careers or causes.

And if there are too many keys to your front door it’s time to change the locks.