Dr. Val Farmer
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Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Early Marriage Gets Off To Rocky Start

March 19, 2006

A young couple comes for help for their marital problems. They ranch with his parents.

The young husband. The young man we’ll call Dan. As a teenager Dan was given a loose rein and a new four wheel drive pickup (a tax write off) complete with gun rack to drive to school. His parents were successful and he had a lot of cocky self-assurance.

In high school, Dan would goof off and have fun. He didn’t see the relevance of education to his future success. For him, his future was assured. He was going to work into his parents’ large ranching operation.

Dan loved being with his friends. His high school excitement came from sports glory, parties, keggers, reckless driving, macho posing and adolescent sexual experimentation.

Dan’s parents weren’t too alarmed by the trouble except for the vehicle accidents. They saw his behavior as normal for boys before they become saddled with adult responsibilities. "After all, boys will be boys."

The young wife. The young woman, "Jody," was an attractive and popular teenage town girl. She was attracted to the carefree, fun loving and often boisterous rancher’s son who acted with such ease and self-confidence. She, too, wanted to experience the excesses of youth and was a game and willing companion for exciting and adventurous activities.

A hot couple. In the beginning of their relationship, they didn’t seek each other out. Jody and her friends and Dan and his friends hung out together. Part of the fun was an expressive display of bravado and personality for the consumption of their audience.

Dan and Jody connected and began to pair off. With time, their personal relationship took on meaning and specialness, especially after they became sexually intimate with each other. Then toward the end of their senior year, Jody became pregnant.

A quick marriage. Jody canceled her plans to go to college and planned a big wedding. Dan was fine with this. He was going to be on the ranch anyway and he could go with the flow. Both sets of parents were relieved that their children were going to settle down and their worries about adolescent stupidity would end.

Jody and Dan moved into an available home on the ranch. There were a lot of adjustments for this town girl. She had no clue about the realities of ranching, and the dynamics of Dan’s family. She had a romantic notion of ranch life and was sure this was going to be OK.

Jody tried to make her presence felt and to make a home in a situation where the boundaries between families was pretty blurry. There was plenty to feel slighted or insecure about.

Unlike Jody’s father, Dan didn’t come home right at 5:00 p.m. and didn’t have weekends off. This was a different way of life that seemed to go against her preconceived notions of a private world between herself and her new spouse. Her influence and ideas of marriage was pitted against ranching demands, a fuzzy income, and Dan’s priorities that didn’t seem to leave much time for her.

Her headstrong husband also had some adjustments to make. It wasn’t easy working with Dad. Dan’s father was critical and demanding. Dan was expected to give and do more than he was used to. Neither did he expect Jody is be so demanding of his time and attention.

The new arrival. The really big problems came when the baby was born. Jody took to motherhood like a natural. She wanted the closeness of hearth and home with an attentive and loving husband to share her excitement about their new baby.

All the values about family life she had absorbed in her parents’ home were coming home to roost. Jody no longer wanted to run, to drink, or even to party with her single friends. Social life, at least the adolescent variety, didn’t appeal to her.

Left alone, her imagination, jealousy and indignation were fueled by Dan’s frequent absences, repeated failure to take responsibility and his inattention. Jody resented his freedom and the cavalier way he dumped the work of the home and family on her. The more upset she became, the more resistive and defensive Dan became.

Maturing differently. Dan resented the new demands being placed on him to change. He didn’t want to give up his single friends, the partying and the late hours. More than ever he needed these outlets to escape the pressures form his wife and from his parents. He wanted his old life back. Jody could out talk him and he didn’t know how to react to her anger. It was easy for him to run away than try to defend his need for freedom.

Jody had grown, he hadn’t. Her acceptance of adult responsibilities, especially mothering, pushed her into maturity. For Dan, the leap from male-oriented privilege and permissiveness to mature interdependence of marriage was too great.

After three years of struggle, here they are in the counselor’s office. She is waiting and hoping for Dan to grow up. The question is, will he?