Loyalty Binds and How Couples Can Deal with Them

Here is a wonderful YouTube video that we found by Marcia Sheinberg of the Ackerman Institute: Loyalty binds experienced by families.

Loyalty binds are discussed in four different contexts:

  • Problems with In-Laws: The key here is to respect your lover’s loyalty to his or her family members even if you don’t much care for some of them. For example, we worked with a couple where the husband couldn’t stand his wife’s brother while at the same time understanding how much she loves her brother and the deep emotional ties between them. It helped the husband to understand and appreciate the difference between his wife’s love for him and her love for her brother. It was always a trap for them when he criticized her brother and she defended him. In the the heat of their argument it was often easy to forget how much they love each other.
  • With Divorce: When the parents have plunged into a civil war over custody and maintenance, the kids can become collateral damage. They often feel they have to choose sides. It’s crucial for parents to take their kids off the hook by reminding them that the one thing their parents agree on is how much they love them and that it’s okay for their parents to disagree and argue as long as the kids know they are loved “by both even though we no longer love each another.” The concept her is both-and: The kids must be reassured that their parents can both disagree and still be allies in loving them. For example, in the film Kramer vs. Kramer when the father tells his little boy that mommy and daddy can no longer live together because they disagree but the one thing they will always agree on is how much they love him.
  • Blended Families: The biggest challenge here is for the step-parent who may not love the spouse’s kids as much as his or her partner’s kids. It takes time for relationships to develop and have to be earned, The kids on both sides are going to test their step-parents as well as each other. Trust is a big issue in blended families. And it’s important to remember that the biological parent always has to be the one to make the decisions about his or her child. It’s not realistic to believe that now we’re going to make joint decisions. The feelings and wisdom of the biological parent must always be respected.
  • Couple Differences: The biggest mistake here is when couples confuse loyalty with agreement. Our favorite example is a couple who have always delighted in celebrating their differences. For example, when he teases her that if she’d had some lesbian relationships when she was in college, she might be more well rounded; and when she tells him he’s so gender sensitive and calls him a metro-sexual just to get a rise out of him. One of their favorite films is Four Weddings and a Funeral, especially a scene in which two dipsy folk singers at one of the wedding sing the lyrics “I’m sad when you’re sad and I’m glad when you’re glad.” When they hear this silly lyrics, they remind themselves of how much fun they have celebrating differences.

The Brief Solution Focused Therapy that we offer couples focuses on each of the above areas of potential conflict.

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