Just a friendly reminder that you might want to read these three articles before you started reading this entry.
Family Life Cycle Theory (Reuben Hill, 1949) Stage 4: Families with adolescents
Once the children enter the adolescence stage, the family begins into another phase in the family life cycle. During this stage, depending on the age differences between the children, some of the children might still be at the young child stage while some children enter the adolescent phase. The parents need to adjust to the needs for freedom and independence of the teenagers while having a tighter leash on the younger children.
Also, this is the stage when the majority of the “parents” enters the midlife, which means, the “grandparents” in the family are very likely entering the stage in their lives which require the support from the “parents” in the family. This is where the so-called “sandwich” generation is coming from, the parents in the household are responsible for the younger generation and the older generation.
As I pointed out previously, the “Family Life Cycle” theory emphasizes the importance of building the strength and completing the tasks to set up the foundations for the next stage. At the stage with the adolescents, if the couples are not able to establish their boundaries with the other subsystems and/or to establish effective communication, they are likely to face the following issues:
Boundary conflicts with other subsystems:
If the couple has not yet found a good couple-system, the different system (grandparents and children) can easily take over the needs of the partners and further pushes the couple relationship away.
Communication is another key task to complete before entering this stage. If the couples have not yet completed this tasks, the impact on the parenting might create a vicious cycle. If the parents have different parenting style and strategies in adjusting to the needs of the teenagers, the teenagers often act out at this point and it “helps” to shift the attention from the differences and conflicts between mom and dad to the teenager’s acting out behaviors. At the same time, it also makes the conflicts and communication issues between the parents apparent, which often leads to more fights unresolved between the partners.
When the individual needs to fulfill the personal career goals, the responsibilities to the subsystem (parenting and the extended families), and the needs in the couple system are not successfully communicated with each other, individuals tended to start to build on the resentment towards each other. For example, in my clinical practice, when not communicate appropriately, holidays with the in-laws often becomes a source of conflict between the couples.
Cedar Cove Example:
Zach and Rosie Cox got divorced after 17 years of marriage. They have two children, Alison (age 15) and Eddie (age 9). This is the second case in the storyline that Olivia gave a controversial ruling.
This couple presented a lot of commonly seen issues in my therapy room. They are the main motivation for me to use this storyline to illustrate the Family Life Cycle Theory.
Their first issue is the so-called “growing apart” issues. Rosie stayed at home after their daughter Alison was born. After married for 17 years, Zach has a successful career, and Rosie is fulfilling her individual needs through volunteering at the school and community.
From the couple’s system, they are both in charge of different domains in the family system. At the family level, it functions well. However, from the storyline, due to the needs from their children’s subsystem, they haven’t invested their time as a couple. They invest their time individually into the family system to make the family function well. However, their couple system was depleted to non-existence. The rest of the energy was invested into the personal needs to fulfill their individual psychological development.
As a result, they both started to build the resentment and negative sentiment override. That is, a lot of their communication are built on their assumptions about each other. They reacted to each other with their assumptions instead of giving each other a benefit of the doubts or to check the truth of their assumptions. It became a vicious cycle in their communication.
The miscommunication also led to their co-parenting conflicts. Even though the novel stereotyped their children’s issues as the result of the divorce, Roxie and Zach’s behaviors and interaction during the divorce process certainly exacerbated the maladaptation for their children. Also, due to their two children are in the different developmental stages (teenager vs school age), it also made the parenting issue more complicated and complexed in their couple relationship.
In my office, I have often seen the couples at this stage struggle to truly “hear” what each other has to say about the issue. I am often told by one or both of them: “I know this is the way he/she thinks/believe because…….” This might be true on the surface. However, underlying the “I-know-it” is often the accumulation from years of an assumption that the partners now molding each other into their self-fulfilling prophecy.
As to how to work out these assumptions and vicious cycle, here are some articles for your extended reading. At the same time, please seek couple’s counseling soon before your relationship becomes too far gone.