Harvard university press, cambridge, massachusetts




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Families and Family Therapy

Mrs. Wagner: Well, I have a brother that I didn't speak to up until about three years ago. We fought like cats and dogs. I have a close rela­tionship with my mother. My father, I couldn't stand until I got married. And that's about it.

Minuchin: That doesn't seem to be too close.

Mrs. Wagner: No, but then there's a whole, there's a closeness in some degree, you know, and there's permanence in other degrees.

Minuchin: Were they very controlling? Were they concerned about your movement?

Mrs. Wagner: Well, my father, yes, and my mother, no. My mother was very lenient; she used to cover up Tor the things that I did wrong.

Minuchin: Umph. So there was something between you, your father, and your mother in which you could play one against the other.

Mrs. Wagner: Well, but I—I smoked at thirteen. I didn't have per­mission from my father until I was sixteen, and yet I was allowed to smoke in front of my mother. When he was out, I would burn the house down.

Minuchin: That's quite a triangle.

Mrs. Wagner: I used to play sick, you know, stay home from school, and she knew I wasn't sick after about 8:15, and she'd cover up for me to stay out the rest of the day.

Mr. Wagner: Oh, something a little further than that—

Minuchin: Wait a moment. She is describing her family and she is supposed to ask you.

Mrs. Wagner: He wants to get in his thing.

Mr. Wagner: I know as an example, later on, when we knew each other, if we were out until 2:00 or 3:00 at night, if Papa knew,whew— the house would rumble, but he never knew.

Mrs. Wagner: Your mother and father never knew, either.

Mr. Wagner: No, they didn't care, though, that's the difference.

Minuchin: In your family, something was going on between your father and your mother in which you joined your mother.

Mrs. Wagner: I remember one incident, I don't know what it was, my father got mad at something. I was, you know, fresh; I had a ter­rible mouth and thought nothing of telling him to get off my back. I must have been maybe fifteen, I don't even know what it was that I got him upset about, but I know that he wasn't speaking to me be­cause he was furious over something I did, and my mother let me go out because she didn't agree with his theory there, and he didn't speak

A Family in Formation

to her for the rest of the day, he was so aggravated. I mean that was the type of situation, just one incident—

Minuchin: So your mother was fighting your father through you.

Mrs. Wagner: Probably, yeah. Ah, I can't remember my father ever hitting me until I was about fifteen, and then he did. I think he struck me once. He struck me a couple of times, and that did it; I didn't speak to him. And he told his brother that—I was very arrogant. I had no respect for him.

Minuchin: I am interested in moving both of you through the ways in which a family develops, so we started with your family and what I think is a triangle in which your mother fostered your anger at your father. Let's go to your family, Mark. What kind of family was it? I want you to understand what I am trying to do. I want to know some of the things that you need to create in order to separate from your families of origin.

Mr. Wagner: Well, I can start with the differences, between the two. My family in contrast is extremely close. I have a brother and sister and we are all very close. It might be due to the fact that my parents were very definitely together.

Minuchin: How many brothers do you have?

Mr. Wagner: An older brother and a younger sister. We've always done things together, with very little dissension or fighting of this nature within the family.

Mrs. Wagner: I think you're wrong there. You know your mother—

Minuchin: Wait a moment, do you want to let her in?

Mr. Wagner: Yeah, okay.

Mrs. Wagner: You and your mother carry on as though you are

close, but your father is an outside member-Mr. Wagner: Yeah, he's sort of a Johnny-come-lately in a sense. My

mother was the guiding torch of the family. Minuchin: Big torch or little torch? Mr. Wagner: Little torch—about this big (laughs). Minuchin: But his father was outside?

Mrs. Wagner: His father had nothing to do with the family, really. His mother was the guide; I mean, she made the decisions; she did everything for the children.

Mr. Wagner: She took care of all my clothing and socially and just about in every way. This is true. Or was—has been—true. Without going into a lot of detail, the only person that wasn't perhaps close,

Families and Family Therapy

not that close, was my father. He was the only person that was per­haps a little different in that he wasn't part of the unit. At the present, though, that whole situation has changed. At that time, though, he was an outsider. There wasn't that much strife, because we just tried to avoid each other in a sense. Minuchin: You and your father.

Mr. Wagner: Yeah, I would just—just avoid him. I actually did the same with her father if I disagreed with him. Minuchin: In disagreement you avoid them?

Mr. Wagner: If I disagreed with him, I would avoid him, so to speak. I would just disregard his wish if I didn't think it was fair. If I thought it was fair, I would abide by it, my mother always sided with him, anyway.

Minuchin: Your mother would side with your father?

Mr. Wagner: Yes, I would say she backed him up in many bad decisions—she really went out of her way. If it was very out of line, however, she would always rationalize for him, and try to make us understand why.

Each spouse has now described the functioning of the parental subsystem in each family of origin. The parental subsystem is the unit of the family that bears the main responsibility for guiding and nurturing the children.

In Emily Wagner's family of origin, the parental subsystem was the middle class norm, a husband and wife couple. But husband and wife conflicts spilled over into the arena of parenting. Parental authority was split, and each parent attacked the other spouse through their daughter. The mother encouraged her to disobey the father; the father attacked her when he was angry at his wife. In Mark Wagner's family of origin, the parents had agreed to a distribution of functions. The mother carried out most of the nurturing tasks and the father was rather peripheral. But the children experienced their mother as representing their father's authority.

Minuchin: So you came to develop a family, and each of you had a model of how to talk. You know, there were some rules that Mark learned, and some rules that Emily learned, and these rules apparently were different.

Mr. Wagner: That's right.

Minuchin: Okay, now, you went together, and what happened? You needed to create your own rules. How did that develop?

A Family in Formation

When partners join, each expects the transactions of the spouse unit to take the forms with which he is familiar. Each spouse will try to organize the spouse unit along lines that are familiar or preferred, and will press the other to accommodate. A number of arrangements are possible. Each spouse will have areas in which he cannot permit flexibility. In other areas, alternative ways of relating can be chosen in response to the other's preferences. Each spouse will confirm the other in some situations and disqualify him in others. Some behaviors are reinforced and others are shed as the spouses accommodate to and assimilate each other's preferences. In this way, a new family system is formed.

Minuchin: How were the first years? The first year of marriage, what happened? Mrs. Wagner: It stank.

Minuchin: He lets you say the affective thing, you know? So you say it stank. How was it for you, Mark?

Mr. Wagner: Ah, it was a disappointment to a degree, because—not any more or less than I really expected it to be, in a way.

Minuchin: Oh, that's a lot of crap.

Mr. Wagner: Yeah, it was. Because I knew, when we got married,

that we couldn't buy a house. Minuchin: Yeah, but that's nothing. That's not the way in which—in

which you experience-Mr. Wagner: I went into it a little more romantically than that. I was

certain that it would be overcome easily. Minuchin: Is he always an understater of things? You said it stank,

and he said with his logical-Mrs. Wagner: He is logical in everything. He rationalizes what I was

telling you, even though he might really not feel that way— Minuchin: You mean, probably, the same thing. It's just different

ways of saying exactly the same thing. If I would translate what he

said to your language, you know what I would say? Mrs. Wagner: What?

Minuchin: It stank. Do you want to say how it stank, or do you want Mark to do it?

Mrs. Wagner: No, we know how it stank (laughs). Put two immature people in a room together and naturally it's going to stink.

Minuchin: But in different ways.

Mrs. Wagner: Well, he was a student, so he had, when things got bad, Mark could go to his books. And he'd really plug, and when things got

Families and Family Therapy

bad, I'd sit there and drum on him and make a mountain out of—they really got blown out of proportion, and I think if I hadn't had Tommy, I probably would have left him after the first month of being trapped. Minuchin: Who?

Mrs. Wagner: Tommy, my son. If I hadn't had him, I probably would have packed my bags and gone running home to mother after the first month of being with him alone. I'd say the second month. The first month was all right; we were still unpacked—

Minuchin: No, but you said the first four months you—

Mrs. Wagner: Oh, this is when we moved out.

Minuchin: Okay, that means that's—the first four months it stank in

one way and then it stank in a different way. Mrs. Wagner: Right. It stank for 2V2 years. Mr. Wagner: It had more downs-Mrs. Wagner: It had more downs than it had ups. Minuchin: And probably you thought that that was unique in your

situation.

Mrs. Wagner: Unique? I thought it was horrible. Minuchin: Okay, so, how did it work, then? He—what were you studying?

Mr. Wagner: Biology and business—biology, initially.

Minuchin: Where was that?

Mr. Wagner: City College, Kansas.

Minuchin: Okay, so what happened then? He would withdraw and he would go to his books. Mrs. Wagner: Right.

Minuchin: And you didn't have anything to do. Mrs. Wagner: I'd sit there and talk.

Minuchin: Could you take him out of the books? Could you talk with him?

Mrs. Wagner: If I got him mad enough, he'd fight back, but he's easygoing and he has to reach a boiling point before he really loses his temper.

Mr. Wagner: Emily, I think you're misunderstanding him. (To Minuchin) I think you are talking about our ability to communicate. Minuchin: I am talking about how it stank. Mr. Wagner: This was in essence the problem, communications. Mrs. Wagner: We didn't communicate.

Mr. Wagner: There were very serious differences of opinion (laughs)

A Family in Formation

about many things, one of which was living in Kansas, ah—initially you hated it-Mrs. Wagner: I think if we had lived anyplace, for the first 2 V2 years it would have been the same.

Mr. Wagner: Well, probably that was just your way of expressing it, just Kansas. She didn't like the way we were living; she didn't care for the fact that I was going to school; she wanted a little bit more, ini­tially, I think.

Mrs. Wagner: We didn't communicate at all. There was no communi­cation at all between us for two years. After the lunge, you know, "I hate you" and "I hate you"—that was the extent of our communica­tions. We finally got to a point that we hated each other after a while.

Mr. Wagner: Or we thought we did.

Mrs. Wagner: You know what it was? He could escape and I didn't have any way to escape, so I would just sit there.

Minuchin: Of course. He really didn't change too much his way of living. He was a student before; he was a student after. In what way did life change for you?

Mrs. Wagner: There was nothing, except you have to wait to have a baby and then have the baby and take care of him.

Minuchin: What did you do before you married?

Mrs. Wagner: I was a student, and then I worked for a while.

Minuchin: Thus, Mark's style of life was not disrupted by marriage, and yours was.

Mrs. Wagner: Pardon me, I'm sorry, I didn't understand that. Minuchin: Your style of life was very disrupted by the marriage. His style was not.

Mrs. Wagner: Right, I think so; I think you could say that.

Minuchin: And so you wanted more from him.

Mrs. Wagner: Yeah, in that he was continuing his same routine that he had been continuing before we got married.

Minuchin: He didn't recognize that he was married.

Mrs. Wagner: I think he recognized that—well, he did in a certain degree. He came home to an apartment that was clean and meals—I think after Tommy came, there was a little bit more disruption (laughs).

Minuchin: Okay. Let's not bring in Tommy yet. You moved away after a terrible four months, when you were still a daughter when you were a wife; then you moved out to Kansas. And there you were not a daughter any more, because your parents were not there; you were

Families and Family Therapy

not a student; you were not working; but in some way or another, you were not a wife. Mrs. Wagner: I guess you could say that, yeah.

A marriage must replace certain social arrangements that have been given up for the formation of the new unit. Creation of the new social system means the creation or strengthening of a boundary around the couple. They are separated from certain former contacts and activities. The investment in the marriage is made at the expense of other relationships.

The degree of investment in the marriage may depend on how much has been given up. Mark Wagner kept the same job, studying, when he and Emily went to Kansas. She was cut off from her former life, however, so that she demanded much more of the relationship than Mark did.

Minuchin: Now, what did you do to change that? Mrs. Wagner: What do you mean, now?

Minuchin: No, then. You see, because I can understand that for Mark it was easier to be married without changing really too much of his previous commitment. But it was very different for you. It was up to you, then, to try to change it, because he was comfortable. What did you do?

Mrs. Wagner: What did I do?

Minuchin: Yeah, how did you—how did you shake him up? You see, he was asleep.

Mrs. Wagner: Oh, I don't know, I can't—

Minuchin: How did she shake you up? (Long pause.)

Mr. Wagner: You've only seen one side of the story (laughs). Ah, no, as I see it, she didn't try to shake me up, really. What she did was stop communicating, altogether.

Mrs. Wagner: Ummm.

Mr. Wagner: See, I couldn't even talk to her. She just didn't want to discuss anything.

Mrs. Wagner: I built a big wall around myself.

Minuchin: That's a way of communicating. You were saying to him—

Mrs. Wagner: Get lost— Minuchin: Well, or change.

Mrs. Wagner: I think it was me that had to change, though. I think

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