[Two Pronged] My 2nd husband wants my son to move out

A Filipina married to an Englishman says he gave her one year to prepare her 22-year-old son for independence

Dr Margarita Holmes and Jeremy Baer

8:35:51am August 19, 2018

8:35:51am August 19, 2018

Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.

Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer:

I am a Filipina, married to an Englishman. It is a second marriage for both of us.

I have 3 children; my two daughters are financially okay, but my 22-year old son is not. He lives with us here in Makati and shows no signs of moving out. He shows no ambition and does not seem to worry about living with us and being supported by us until he gets married, has children of his own, etc.

This does not upset me. That is the Filipina in me – my parents supported me until I got married, supported me and my children until I got married again. I want to do the same for my son.

But my English husband is not okay with this. He is the one earning the money. We have enough, but he says he wants to retire next year.  He says he is giving me one year to prepare my son to be independent. After that, he is throwing my son out of our house. But my son will feel betrayed if that happens.

Please help.

Worried Mother

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Dear Worried Mother,

Thank you for your email.

Your story starkly illustrates a well-known cultural difference between Filipinos and Westerners (and maybe others with which I am unfamiliar). Westerners encourage independence and self-reliance at an early age while Filipinos value family, have less inclination to loosen the bonds, and often live in very close proximity for years, if not life. This is naturally a gross generalization, with many exceptions, but it is a good starting point nevertheless. An interesting though extreme case is tackled here.

However there are countless examples of Westerners who have married Filipinas and happily supported not only them, but their stepchildren and extended family members as well. It is your misfortune that your husband is not one of these.

As this is apparently your second marriage, no doubt you had a discussion with your new husband to be, before you actually tied the knot, about your children and their upbringing. Typically this would cover inter alia the age at which financial support would cease, though of course he might have agreed to leave it open-ended. It would also have included the role your children's father would play. You do not however mention any such discussion which leaves us totally in the dark as to what agreement, if any, both of you reached.

Your current choices seem rather stark. You can try to persuade your husband to be more flexible, you can side with your son and quit your marriage, or you can accept your husband's edict and expel your son in a year's time. As an Englishman I favor the third option which might be the making of your son. However, you are neither English nor a man and so I imagine that would be your last choice.

All the best,

JAF Baer

Dear WM (Worried Mother):

Thank you very much for your letter. I admit I am rather stymied by your problem and invite our readers to please weigh in. You are in a quandary. You feel it is because your idea of supporting your child (let's call him Ed) is in direct contradiction to your spouse's idea of the same thing. It makes it doubly hard because Ed is your biological son but he is merely the stepson of your husband (let's call him Peter).

Mr Baer suggested that you have 3 current choices: "You can try to persuade your husband to be more flexible, you can side with your son and quit your marriage, or you can accept your husband's edict and expel your son in a year's time."

To a results-driven person, perhaps the above would make perfect sense.  And in the stereotypical notion of what "marriage counseling" is, perhaps the most stereotypical response would be to give you "tips" on how to better persuade your husband to be more flexible. His flexibility might include (but is definitely not limited to) extending the one-year deadline to, say, 18 or 24 months; or not making the consequences of "incomplete independence" as extreme as throwing Ed out of the house.

But these suggestions are mere logistics. They may make your conversations with Peter flow better but they do not change your actual goal: to get Peter to accept Ed's style/personality/sense of urgency (or lack of) and not kick him out of the house. In other words, to paraphrase Alfred Korzybski who said "The map is not the territory," what really matters is not how to get Peter to agree with you but to decide what sort of marriage you want and to do something about it.

I first took notice of John Gottman after Malcolm Gladwell (Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking, 2007) mentioned him as the scientist who could predict, with impressive accuracy, whether a couple would stay married or divorce after listening to them talk for only 3 minutes. But the two Dr Gottmans (John and his wife Julie) do much more than predict marriage outcomes. They also help relationships grow and prosper; even marriages that are on the brink of Armageddon.   

I cannot help feeling that, instead of merely focusing on the pros and cons of going along with Peter's proposal or trying to convince him to behave otherwise, you would do much better making a paradigm shift so your marriage doesn't continue on the path of "Me: Tarzan/Peter  You: Jane/Worried Mother."

It is not too late. You could change the trajectory of your marriage so you become equal partners, assessing situations, reading from the same page perspective, and making decisions that take into account where each of you comes from (in terms of your individual cultures, family dynamics, and biases usually due to childhood experiences).

One of the most effective ways to do this is via Dr Gottman's  books; especially the two he wrote with Nan Silver which are The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert (2015) and What Makes Love Last?: How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal (2012).

One of the most fun – and effective – learning points I got from Dr Gottman is his conclusion after studying thousands of newlyweds that there can be masters or disasters when it comes to marriages. 

Even if both kinds of couples might project the same sort of happily married image, the physiology of disasters were diametrically opposed to the physiology of the masters: quicker heart rates, more active sweat glands, and faster blood flow.

The masters, by contrast, showed low physiological arousal. They felt calm and connected together, which translated into warm and affectionate behavior, even when they fought. It's that masters had created a climate of trust and intimacy that made both of them more emotionally and thus physically comfortable.

In other words, the disasters showed all the signs of arousal – of being in fight-or-flight mode – in their relationships. Having a conversation sitting next to their spouse was, to their bodies, like facing off with a saber-toothed tiger. Even when they were talking about pleasant or mundane facets of their relationships, they were prepared to attack and be attacked. This sent their heart rates soaring and made them more aggressive toward each other.

Gottman found that the more physiologically active the couples were in the lab, the quicker their relationships deteriorated over time.

I look forward to the day talking with Peter about Ed's future or, indeed, about anything else will feel like you are speaking with a beloved spouse rather than being terrorized by a saber-toothed tiger.  

Best of luck,

MG Holmes

– Rappler.com

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