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The Married Woman

It seems paradoxical that there were just as many laments by the women of this group about unfulfilled dependency needs as there were protests against excessive interference by parental figures. On one hand, a married woman generally indicts the husband for her unmet dependency yearnings. Her resentments are focused on the husband. She might discuss in passing similar difficulties with her parents. However, in recalling her original frustrations at the hands of her mother, there is little affective discharge. On the other hand, many women continue to remain greatly influenced by parents or by in-laws; they suffer from the great frustration of never quite achieving the status that a wife’s or a mother’s role is supposed to give.

In both instances, whether the patient felt the deprivation of emotional support or the frustration of being undercut by strong parental figures, the significant contributory factors were traced to unresolved dependency problems prior to marriage. Information given about expectations from marriage indicated that it was seen mostly as a way to get out of the house and parental control. Or that, with the acquisition of a husband, the- woman felt she had added to her resources for dependency supplies.

The patient had therefore embarked on the marriage with her unresolved dependency problems, in the, hope that marriage would provide the solution. Similarly, her ambivalence towards parents, in-laws, and occasionally the husband, who inhibited and controlled her, is merely a later version of an old problem, the existence of which she had previously denied and complete resolution of which was never accomplished. The old ambivalence in her attitudes towards being dependent or independent was now rendered more complicated and often worsened by demands of a husband, his family, and their children.

Her statements revealed that although she accused the husband of failing to give her enough emotional support, she herself had not cast her lot completely with him. Much of her heart still belonged to her mother and father. Faced with making a choice, she found it easier to upset the husband—to risk a quarrel with him than to displease her parents. What she really wanted was to keep both her parents and her husband. In some instances, this was possible. But there were many men who resented being mere additions to the wife’s family.

One flaw which had characterized her relationship with the parents returned to plague that with the husband. This was the inability to express her feelings freely. With the parents, she had suppressed her feelings and wishes, out of fear of and respect for their authority. With this was a strong sense of obligation, to make them happy in return for their love. Toward this end she avoided saying anything which would hurt them or cause them to worry; with the husband, her ability to communicate did not seem to have significantly improved. To protect him from hurt, she refrained from challenging him or revealing her worries to him. She felt that to let him know that she was not happy would lead him to feel that he had failed her and that he was the cause of her unhappiness. She therefore assumed the role of a strong, silent, although suffering, wife and kept from him her headaches, frustrations, problems about the children or her business, or her resentments against him or his family.

It is no accident that three of the women who had extramarital affairs were more free with their paramours. With the latter, they carried on lively arguments with an occasional knockdown, drag-out fight, and little inhibition in expression of feelings. With husband and wife, what happened frequently was that, after some feelings were hurt, they avoided each other for a few days and later resumed the relationship as if nothing happened.

Whenever I asked the patient to document the husband’s inability to meet her dependency needs, she was often hard put to do so. The issues were at first vaguely stated: lack of attention, ignoring her signals for his sympathy, leaving her all the problems of the children, criticizing her housekeeping (cooking, in particular, is a touchy area), his passivity or complacency in the face of a family problem. Asked to elaborate, she tended to feel uneasy and unjustified in feeling resentments on these points alone. Even specific complaints such as his stinginess, lack of communication, or unsatisfactory sexual relations which she felt were solely undertaken for his pleasure, did nor really give her valid grounds, in his or her opinion, to be unhappy. They were apt to be regarded by everyone as trivial.

One could see, however, that in the face of increasing responsibility in bearing and caring for children, managing the home, which she believed she was facing alone, the woman felt drained of her emotional resources, If she was also cut off from outside contacts and activities, such as what she was likely to have been used to prior to marriage, or without emotional support from parents or in-laws then she found her back against the wall, with no way out.

Small wonder, then, that when specific issues arose, she seized them like ready ammunition to wage war against his seeming failure to recognize and satisfy her emotional needs. There were certain particular issues to which she was hypersensitive which served as an effective fuse to trigger off major emotional upheavals. These were:

1. His interest in or involvement with another woman;
2. His preference for his parents’ and siblings’ interests to her own; and
3. His open rejection of her family.

One knows, as do these patients, that examples of Filipino husbands who are guilty on any of these three counts abound in the culture and are generally tolerated fairly well by their wives. The wife either suffers in silence or tries to keep a calm, discreet, non-accusatory attitude in the belief that this constitutes playing one’s card right. She may run to her friends to vilify the other woman, she may pray novenas, or berate the husband a few times but in general refrains from creating any serious quarrel with the husband.

Not so with the group of female patients in this study. To them, the first on the list was the most grievous fault. The other two might be tolerated for some time but they, too, would always be counted heavily in the final reckoning of his faults.

There were sixteen women who had definite proofs that the husband was either having an affair or keeping a mistress. Considering that it is a rare husband who admits to such practice, these wives were ingenious enough to be able to gather conclusive evidence. Having the husband followed was one method of gathering evidence. Befriending the girls in his office, from the secretarial to the switchboard staff, was another way resorted to by several women. Going through his things occasionally rewarded her with incontrovertible evidence. This was a standard procedure if her index of suspicion was high. Some women used the word “raid” to describe their forays into the abode of “the other woman.” In certain instances, the amount of gossip generated was enough reason for the wife to confront the other woman or ask a close friend to investigate for her and unearth the necessary evidence, Evidence in hand, she would take it up with the husband and, as a rule, obtain something halfway between a denial and an admission.

The discovery of his involvement with another woman provoked a major emotional upheaval, with hysterical outbursts, a deluge of somatic ailments and seemingly endless self-torturing obsessions, about the traumatic event. The husband’s past faults, innumerable proofs of her own devotion and tolerance and of trust in him were recounted many times.

Fantasies about the rival were countless—a favorite is that the other woman is sexually superior and able to perform all kinds of unusual sexual practices. The wife was convinced that this was the principal reason he had turned to the other woman. Her interpretation of his motives thus brought out all her feelings of inadequacy as a sexual object. The husband’s infidelity was interpreted as a total rejection of her as a woman. She then became keenly aware of her own pre-existing ambivalence towards him. Feeling the rejection the woman was likely to remark, ‘1 never wanted him really; he was the one who pursued me persistently in courtship,” or “There was someone else before him whom I really liked.”

Indeed, years might pass and the incident of unfaithfulness was stili far from forgotten. But still the marriage endured. Ultimately she rationalized that there was no choice, absolute divorce being impossible to obtain in the Philippines. She then told herself and others that her children were her principal reason for going on with the marriage. It was after much discussion in therapy that she began to recognize her strong dependent needs and her fear of a final break. She knew she could not stand being alone; she also knew that it would be very difficult for her to enter into another relationship because of cultural reasons.

What did these women do to help restore their self-esteem after such injury? In situations like these, she hardly brought the problems to her parents. Her reasons were that it would only cause them unnecessary suffering, or that they would not understand and so could not possibly be of any help. Most of all, she was afraid they would put the blame on her for marrying him. Another reason, given by a few, was that she wished to protect her husband from her parents’ ire.

Very few tried to repay the husband with his own coin. These rare attempts were very half-hearted, awkward, and completely unsuccessful. It did surprise these women that the thought even entered their minds, much less be translated into action. About the only purpose this served was that the woman had a good laugh at herself.

The more successful resolutions were in the direction of less dependence on the husband and greater self-sufficiency. These steps were far from easy to take. Concealed ambivalence was more paralyzing than that which could still be worked with. To get reassurances from him and to convince herself that he was still worth loving, she made him suffer through her illness and forced him to give even more of himself to her. Successful thus far, she could now start to think of becoming less dependent on him.

Efforts to be independent were occasionally complicated by the husband’s resentment of such move on her part. Getting a job, starting a small business, becoming even more involved ir her career and, for several, going back to school, sometimes provided a partial answer. The marital relationship did not improve after these steps were taken but after the wife had exhausted her emotional ups and downs, it became tolerable for both husband and wife.

One tragic instance was that of a woman who, after failing in all her attempts to win back her husband from a night club hostess, his mistress of several years, decided that there was no point in going on. She killed herself with an overdose of sleeping pills.

When it came to the husband’s partiality for his parents and siblings, the wife might be silent about it for a long time, keeping her resentment to herself. But there would come a point at which she could not stand it any longer. Burdened with other frustrations for which he blamed him, she would force issues with him to a head. In the process, she would usually voice out her resentment of his family as the principal cause of their disagreements.

The wife was apt to resent his financial assistance to his siblings, invoking the greater need and priority rights of their own children. She was less apt to feel resentful about financial help given to his parents.

One patient moved out of her in-law’s compound (where all her husband’s siblings had homes close to each other) after the mother-in-law refused to accept the patient as a member of the family. For these women, the mother-in-law’s acceptance seemed to be very important. When this was not achieved, it was interpreted as one strike against the couple’s chances for happiness. Years afterward, the wife recalled, still with some resentment, that the mother- in-law “had someone else in mind for her son.” One young wife virtually got herself sick trying her best to please her mother-in-law who lived nearby. The lack of positive response from the latter was interpreted by the patient as complete rejection of her. Actually, it was due to factors which had little to do with the patient.

An interesting twist, however, was provided by a few women who found themselves very affectionate toward the mother-in-law. As may be deduced, these were the women who had been unable to feel close to their own mothers when they were growing up. The mother was usually described as “too preoccupied with herself, “very passive, had no opinions” or was “too efficient, I could not do anything for her.” There seemed to be a built-in transference for a new mother-substitute. The mother-in-law quickly filled this niche. The discussion of this new relationship provided an opening for the patient to bring up in therapy the unsatisfactory relationship with her own mother. There was little guilt occasioned by the closeness to the new mother-figure. “I feel more like a daughter to her than to my own mother and no one can blame me.”

The husband’s acceptance of her family was just as important to the patient. However, she was willing to tolerate his rejection of them provided he allowed her to see them whenever she pleased. In one particular case, the husband forbade the wife from making visits and extending monetary help to her family; although this was not her reason and many other factors were involved, she did make him pay bitterly for openly refusing to set foot in her family’s home and for just bringing her to or fetching her from there at a nearby corner. The wife generally tolerated this situation, but she was quite unhappy about it. She rarely confronted him with it but brought it up, with much bitter resentment, in therapy.

As mentioned earlier, the ideal situation is one wherein she retains her closeness to her family—if possible living near them— and the husband, as it were, becomes part of her family. If this were not possible, at least he should not openly reject her family. Furthermore, it would help considerably if his family accepted her like a real daughter. Otherwise, these were two grievous counts against him. It was not usual to hear disagreements between husband and wife about each other’s family. Discussions involved heated comparisons between his and her family and much debate about which family—his or hers—was mote sincere, more prestigious, more generous, more principled, more affectionate, etc.

One of the most frustrating situations for women—married or single—was the inability to assert one’s wishes in the face of objections from parental figures. The parental figures concerned were not always over-controlling or interfering, but the patients perception of them was greatly distorted by fears that they may be hurt if she spoke out her feelings or that in retaliation, they might cut off all ties with the patient.

Ability to voice protest, to the doctor as well as to the parents, varied from patient to patient. In some instances, all that the woman could muster was to express regret that her parents would find it impossible to understand her feelings which she must therefore suppress. Many would blurt out in exasperation a determination to assert themselves, but between that and actual implementation was a wide gap. Many others eventually came upon clever solutions by going around the problem of confronting the parents or parental figures. The illness was sometimes utilized for this purpose. The therapist was often asked by the patient to act as intermediary between her and her husband, but somehow difficulties with parents or in-laws did not seem to be the kind of situation which would benefit from such a maneuver.

In most cases, the parent accused of being possessive and over-controlling was the mother. The patients’ statements tended to show the mother as having felt that daughters were her personal property. There was a special bond between mother and daughter which seemed to decree that they should come first with each other. In a few instances, the father was the parent who generated the frustration in the patient by imposing his will. In such situations, the mother was usually child-like, ineffectual, dominated by the father and often by the patient, too.

When it was the father who exerted excessive control, the patient invariably was his favorite. In this sample, there were at least fifteen women who gave this information about themselves. It is difficult to interpret the meaning of a statistic such as this, as there must be many fathers’ favorite daughters who never turn up in a psychiatrist’s office, By the same token, there were about four who said they were “grandmother’s child” (‘laki sa lola”) having been raised by the grandmother. Many neurotic mechanisms and consequences are involved in “the gift of the child to the grandparents,’ but there are also many who have grown up in such circumstances who appear to be negotiating life very well.- Still, the role of father’s favorite daughter, similar to that of being singled out as the gift to the grandparents, brings with it its own special set of psychological problems.

A woman, raised as the father’s favorite, had to cope ‘with certain types of problems. There tended to be higher expectations from her than the rest of her siblings. In subtle and direct ways, father exerted pressure for her to achieve more in school, to stand out more than the rest in order to bring pleasure to and admiration for him as a parent. The girl could manipulate the father in many small ways, but she was not to go against his wishes and decisions.

She was likely to receive from him much physical cuddling, favors, and privileges not extended to the other siblings. Very often, siblings utilized her special position to their advantage, making her the go-between between themselves and the father for requests they were afraid to make. At the same time, she was aware of undercurrents of envy and resentment from the others.

She was also prone to have a strained relationship with her mother. The degree depended on the mother’s personal qualities and abilities. The patient tended to feel superior to and critical of her mother. The latter never openly resented the father’s special treatment of the daughter but mother-daughter relations were never relaxed.

Below are ten capsule situations presented by different, patients, each giving an illustration of the manner and extent of parent1 influence and its role in shaping the emotional dilemma. Similar patterns, varying only in details, were encountered in many other patients. Adult male patients did not experience as much of this type of unwanted parental interference except when they took part in the management of family business in which the relationship is seldom untinged with parental-sibling conflict.

1. A single woman, past forty, mending a broken love affair, began to realize in discussing her family that her mother and two sisters had been running her life all along. They had dissuaded her from marrying her first boyfriend fifteen years earlier. They insisted on finding out every little thing which happened to her and gave no solitude or privacy for her to work out her problems.

2. A 38-year-old housewife, recently reconciled with her husband after a three-year separation, would like to retrieve her three children from her mother. Five years earlier when her marriage had become unstable because of the husband’s philandering, her mother took her children to the province. Since then she had refused to return them because she had grown very attached to them. The patient did not wish to hurt her, but wondered why her other sisters seemed able to stand up to mother and get what they wanted.

3. One young married woman living with her husband and their one-year-old child in her mother’s large, comfortable home, felt encumbered by this arrangement which meant, among other things, that she had no say in the running of the house. Each time she and her husband stepped out, even if only for a movie, they had to ask permission from her parents, a practice which is a part of family and cultural tradition. Part of her problem stemmed from the fact that although she did not like the arrangement, her husband did and was content with it. After her emotional illness, a compromise was decided upon. With the help of the patents they built their own house in the lot adjacent to the parental home.

4. A 30-year-old housewife with two children was hospitalized in the psychiatric ward following a hysterical outburst. After a quarrel with her mother over financial matters, the latter had screamed and castigated her, calling her stupid, moron, dumb. In calmer moments, they were very close; the mother visited her regularly and cued the patient on what to cook for meals, how to raise the children, how to treat maids, etc. The patient’s first statement in the hospital was “I am confused; I cannot distinguish between right and wrong”

5. A 37.year-old housewife, mother of seven, reported that whenever she received a telephone call, her mother eavesdropped through the extension line. Once she challenged the mother for her lack of trust, whereupon she threatened the patient with disinheritance as well as responsibility for her high blood pressure.

6. A 22-year-old girl, recently married, reported that her parents (mostly at the instigation of the mother) had procured a job for her husband in the city where they all lived because there was a prospect of a good job for him three hundred kilometers away which the parents were afraid he would take. In addition, they presented the couple with a lot on which to build a house, situated one block from the Parental home. The couple were touched by their generosity and did not have the heart to refuse.

7- A newly-married woman, 23 years old, came in for a sexual phobia. Her husband insisted that they live separately from her mother who seemed to give them little privacy. Being the only daughter and with the mother widowed and alone, she absolutely refused and was willing to break up the marriage rather than five away from her mother.

8. A 30-year-old housewife was her father’s pet when she was a young girl. She eloped because he disapproved of the man’s low social status. For a vest she tried to get his forgiveness but he adamantly refused. None of the family was allowed to talk with her. She would go to their neighbor’s home, just to feel close to her old home and family again. After a year, she was allowed entry into the house, but the father still refused to acknowledge her husband. The reaction of the father played so important part in the patient’s maladjustment with her husband and with his family that it resulted in the eventual break-up of their marriage. She then went to live with a married sister.

9. A Filipino girl from a poor farm in the province came to Manila to improve her economic situation. She took up dressmaking, opened a shop and after a few years met an American engineer who married her. Her rapid rise in status was regarded as a shared blessing in her family who felt that she should help them in bettering their economic situation. For many reasons, she was greatly ambivalent about this, not the least of which was the displeasure it caused her husband. The prospect of the husband’s return to the United States brought bet state of ambivalence towards parents and siblings to a head, forcing her to define her feelings about them, herself, and her new situation. It was an extremely difficult period for her.

10. A 35-year-old woman whose husband was president of his parents’ business firm felt emotionally trapped living in a “compound” with his parents and his two sisters. Living in separate houses on one big lot, she felt as if they were all breathing down her neck. Her oldest child was being raised by her in-laws. The mother-in-law would come into her house once in a while and make comments (often unfavorable) about her cooking and housekeeping. Each of the two sisters would drop in regularly to compare or contrast their financial fortunes with the patient’s. The grandfather had insisted that every Sunday, lunch should be shared by all in his house, without fail. There was little privacy; everyone knew the others’ problems. The patient said she blessed the driveway which stood between her house and the others’ and silently rejoiced each time her in-laws would go on a trip abroad.

A word about “compounds,” lest the impression be made that they are medieval-like institutions which trap families and individuals into subservience to a benevolent but tyrannical patriarch. Compounds are arrangements initiated by parents of the upper middle class who, having made their fortune, can afford to purchase a big lot and have their children build their homes close to each other on this lot. As such, it may be a symbol of status and prestige. It also makes for convenient inter-dependence, in terms of emotional and material security. The parents represent authority and control. The arrangement also provides ample opportunity for children, now grown-up, to serve their parents in various ways.

Again, it must be pointed our that although this sample revealed a number of patients who were unhappy with such an arrangement, there are many more in the general population who accept and enjoy the obvious advantages of such a system and find little difficulty in obviating the disadvantages. In this sample of female patients, there were fourteen live in compounds. More  than half of them expressed a strong desire to move out; the rest were ambivalent and did not really want to do anything about it. Among the male patients, five lived in such compounds and were riot any worse for it. Perhaps this was so because four out of five belonged to their families. Or more plausibly, being out of the compound most of the day, the men were spared most of the stresses and strains of is also commonly observed that women get along much more poorly with in-laws than men do. However, with the female patients who were unhappy living in compounds, it did not seem to matter whether it was their family or the husband’s who owned it. Three women finally moved out of such an arrangement and in each instance the compound belonged to her family.

Some complaints about the difficulties of this arrangement were: “It is like having someone looking over your shoulder all the time,” Relatives are well-meaning, but sometimes all you want is to let your hair down and have a good cry. They won’t let you.” There were also strong undercurrents of competition, from who got the biggest diamond from grandmother to who has the brightest child. “We are like tendrils, growing-up, all over each other. You don’t dare breathe or move because you may get in someone else’s way.”“It is hard to think of yourself as a grown-up, independent person when you come home to a place with built-in authority, control, and if necessary, financial help, too.” “Envy is inevitable, no matter how hard one tries to deny it.” “I never had to pay such allegiance to my parents. Now I am being forced to give it to my inlaws.” “Somehow, I cannot help but respect my husband a little less, for giving in so much to his father.”

In a rare instance, the over-controlling figure frustrating the patient was the husband. It usually takes a very dominant husband and or an indecisive, passive woman for this situation to happen. Men and husbands, tended to feel confident about their ability to control their wives, but this particular type had a greater need to assert it continuously. Women, in general, seemed to find ways to get around the superiority of the male. One husband, however, saw to it that he bought everything his wife needed, from hair curlers to appliances. He did all the shopping and, in various ways, conveyed to the wife that there was no reason for her to leave the house, since he had furnished it with “everything.” Asked during the initial interview (at which he insisted on being present) what she wanted, she whispered faintly, “kaunting laya” Ca little freedom).

 

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