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Fantasy Versus Reality

I recently tried a case where both parents wanted to portray their family as the “All American Family.” In other words, they are both prominent members of the community. They wanted everyone in their community to believe that as a couple, they loved and respected each other and that their wonderful children were the products of this perfect union. As you would expect, if a trial was needed to divorce them, this image was far from the truth.

This case caused me to reflect on how often I had heard about the “fantasy family.” Many people wish so hard for their family to be happy, that they overlook the many serious flaws in their marriage. For example, they overlook that their spouse is having one or more affairs. They overlook that their spouse is failing to report all of his/her income on income tax returns that they are filing jointly (which means both spouses are equally liable for the unreported taxes). They fail to acknowledge that their spouse is claiming higher deductions on their joint income tax returns, which results in paying fewer taxes than is legally required (which can make the non-preparing spouse equally liable for the shortfall).   Other deceitful behavior is being ignored.

This is destructive on many levels.

1) The spouses delude themselves into believing that they have a “happy” or at least a plausibly happy marriage, when they really do not have anything close. Instead of working on the problems in their marriage, they fool themselves into thinking all is well. Rather than getting help to try to fix their problems, the difficulties often get worse due to inattention.

2) The spouses are usually living in their separate worlds. Each has his or her own version of reality, rather than shared goals and interests. The division between them grows.

3) The spouses and the children know that the family is living a lie. The adults live in fear of being found out. Often the children are confused by the difference between the public face of the family and the internal reality of life at home. These children often report later that they thought all marriages were like this. They will lack the tools needed to maintain their own happy marriages.

4) Often one spouse has an escape plan. For example, that spouse plans to leave when their youngest child attains age 18 years. The other spouse is generally unaware of this plan and will act on plans to stay married. This may include taking an early retirement from a well-paying job with the accompanying loss of income and important benefits, such as health insurance. The unaware spouse may agree to relocate to a new community (where he has no support system) when the spouse obtains a new position. The unaware spouse may agree to other major life changes that leaves that spouse vulnerable. The spouse who is left by the escaping spouse will feel particularly betrayed and angry that the escaping spouse did not share his/her plans or deliberately placed the unaware spouse in a more vulnerable position.

5) Once the staying spouse realizes this the spouse who has planned for years to leave has taken affirmative steps to improve his/her situation to the other spouse’s detriment, the future relationship between the spouses will be irreparably damaged, making it difficult for the parties to continue parenting or wrap up the business of the marriage, such as dividing accounts.

6) You are left with two unhappy people who must face that they did not keep the commitment to their marriage and their family to work on the marriage and attempt to achieve a happy home. These people often describe their marriages as “lost years.”

Invariably, all marriages experience difficulties. When you are busy balancing raising children, working outside the home and maintaining a household, it is difficult to also find time to work on the marriage and determine whether this important relationship can survive the current problems. It is important to determine whether it can be repaired and whether the two spouses want to continue the marriage. However, you owe it to yourselves to face that you and your spouse are facing serious problems that need to be addressed now. If you are successful, you may achieve your goal; a happy, All-American Family.

If this is not an achievable goal, then you can work on how you can configure your family in such a way that you can demonstrate to your community how strong, resilient, and adaptable you are. Personally, you can assure yourself that you have the skills to make needed adjustments for your family, as circumstances change. Best of all you can avoid the public display where the community finds out that everyone (including you) was deluded by your public persona.

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