Family Life Cycle Theory (Reuben Hill, 1949) Stage 2: The new couple
Once the two adults enter the marital relationship, they enter the second stage of the family life cycle: the new couple. The important tasks are to form their marital system in their family of creation and to realign the relationship with their families of origin.
At this stage, if the couple does seek couple’s therapy, majority of the time, the focus of the issue are related to their relationships with the in-laws to set up the boundaries, the household responsibility delegation, such as who pays the bills and who cleans the house, and financial decision in the family.
Family Life Cycle Theory (Reuben Hill, 1949) Stage 3: Families with young children
Once the couple has their first child, they enter the third stage of the family life cycle. At this stage, they expand their roles from husband and wife to mom and dad to their child. They also have to realign their household responsibility and financial responsibility to welcome the new family member in the household.
At the same time, depending on the age when the parents got married and the age of their first child, the majority of the time, the parents are at the stage of stabilizing their own career, which demands a lot of attention and dedication. At the same time, they also have demands from their young children who require a lot of attention.
As the result, when the couple seeks couple’s counseling during this time, many issues are related to their communication about the household responsibility delegation and parenting responsibility delegation, and personal time. In addition, they often also fights about the differences in their parenting styles and discipline styles. In addition, as the couple enters the parenthood, they often forget that they are also a couple. The conversation and communication centers around the children and family need but not what the couple’s needs. A lot of times, the couple reported that they are “falling out of love” because they fight about differences and demands in the household all the time. They never have time to focus on the individual and couple’s needs, which often lead to the affairs and detachment from each other.
Cedar Cove Example: Justin and Seth Gunderson
Cecilia and Ian Randall is the classic example to come to the therapy in the New Couple Stage. The barely have the time to know each other and to establish their routines together. Suddenly, Ian left on the Navy assignment and Cecilia is left to deal with the trauma of losing their child.
On the other hand, the couple that is successful in transition to the couple stage is Justin and Seth Gunderson. After they eloped, Seth moved back to Cedar Cove and the two of them started a restaurant business together. They established their routine and collaborated with each other in creating their dreams and lives together. It showed their ability to delegate the roles and responsibilities in their relationship. In one of the story, they invited both Justin’s parents who were divorced at the time to come to the dinner to establish their couple unit in front of their extended family. They borrowed the money from Seth’s parents but also paid back on the monthly basis, which showed their ability to be responsible financially as well as to set the boundary of their family with the extended family.
However, as the story continues, once they have their first child while continues to manage their restaurant business, Justin grows unhappy. In the story, they barely have time together as a couple and they barely see each other outside the restaurant.
A lot of times, the couple wouldn’t come to counseling until the dissatisfaction goes on for at least a year or two. Transition to the parenthood is not easy. Family Therapist. Dr. Minuchin reminded the therapists and the couples to watch out the boundary between the couple unit and the parent unit. Both partners are still a couple but they now add roles as parents. In the clinical settings, I have seen a lot of couples have the following difficulties:
1) Having difficulties in communicating the parenting roles and responsibilities, which leads to the conflicts in resolving their differences as parents.
2) Having difficulties in balancing the roles as a couple and as parents to each other is likely to lead to the breakup of the couple unit. A lot of couples were able to “hold it together” until the oldest child prepares to leave home, which is the case in the Cox family that I will talk in the next post. Or, some couples continues to fight because they lost the couplehood and it might spill over to their parenting relationship if they already have the issues in communicating their parenting roles and responsibilities.
Justin and Seth have a good couple relationship. However, it is very clear that they have very difficult time in balancing the roles as a couple and as parents to their son together. In addition, they also have the responsibility to maintain their roles as the providers to their family, it is clear that they have had the difficulties in balance different demands and the couple unit is not the priority in their day to day life.