Using Marriage to Complete the Tasks of Adolescence: Social Rebellion

Adolescence is a time of rebellion, for many, and often that includes social rebellion, as well.

One young woman, a truly unique individual, in many ways, had been a member of what was forthrightly called “the popular crowd” at her private high school. She was to the manner born–her parents had been popular in the same school, as had her two older brothers–same place. She didn’t even remember how it came to be that way–she just said the right things, was invited to the right activities, had the right boyfriends.

And there it was, seemingly in a matter of weeks, that Rina* had decided she no longer wanted to be a member of the popular crowd. She determined that their values were shabby [there’s no one as upright as a wounded adolescent], their topics of discussion were dull, the boyfriends they offered her were tiring.

And, in a concerted effort, she befriended what she called the ‘smart, nerdy’ crowd. Soon she had no boyfriends, and had to spend an inordinate amount of time studying, but was, she said, as happy as she had ever been.

Her parents were beside themselves, as, to them, popularity was a decisive factor in life. And the angrier they became, the more pleased she was with her decision. This anger might have eventually played itself out, or been worked through in therapy, with less damage–had Rina not married at 18–an extremely intellectually gifted, awkwardly shy older man in his mid-20s.  Brilliant as Ray* was, he had never been able to hold down a job, and Rina met him at a friend’s house when Ray was working as a tutor promising to raise SAT scores.

Despite parental pleas and general storminess at home, Rina* married Ray* in a small ceremony–Rina’s mother held over her daughter’s head the bribe of the wedding she would throw her, if she would only marry the “right person,” but to no avail, and they were man and wife, living in a friend’s basement for free, job-less, penniless–but very intellectual, I suppose.

Rina had four children, all of whom were being or would be home-schooled, according to Ray’s dictates, as schools really couldn’t teach according to the level that their kids would need. Ray still cobbled together tutoring jobs, and Rina was home with the kids, seething with resentment.

For Rina wasn’t any ‘nerdy intellectual’ any more than Superman is when he’s lost his Clark Kent facade. Of average intelligence, she tired of Ray’s and his friend’s discussion of politics, of religion, or advanced string theory, she insisted. Ray, she complained, had no social skills, and when she tried to make plans with friends he embarrassed her with his tirades on the school system, his awkwardness, his tendency to fall asleep during meals.

“I hate him,” she said. “I hate him so much I don’t know what to do with myself. Sometimes I dream of killing him.”


No need to write in to Oprah magazine to ask if this marriage could be saved.

Because using marriage to work through your adolescent social issues will inevitably cause problems.

Think of the numbers of people who will “marry down,” out of their social class, or marry into a different ethnic group, to get back at their parents or to prove a point socially–and wind up heartily sorry. A woman from a prim and proper German background momentarily tired of her own prim-and-properness enough to marry a super-exuberant Italian man, over serious parent protestations. She soon found herself–oversensitive, for sure–so embarrassed by her husband’s, as she called it, “screaming and yelling and general carrying on,” that she would hardly socialize together with him in public. She ultimately began having two birthday parties for each child–one where her German family could comport themselves in their old-fashioned uprightness, and one where her husband’s family could freely do their shouting without humiliating her in front of her nearest and dearest.

Shayna’s* parents were both doctors, in the days when that meant wealth. She attended Brown University, as had been her parents’ dream, where she befriended all the ‘right’ people, and then moved into the world of computer programming, as they had encouraged her, and spent some time “hanging” with her programming team. Attractive, with a good job and fun-loving personality, Shayna would have no trouble forming romantic relationships now that she was in her early twenties.

Wrong. Shayna only dated men that were, as her parents put it, out of her league. Of her three serious boyfriends up to this point, none worked. Two were on welfare, one had a “baby momma” and thus was already a parent, one had been in jail, and two used drugs–somewhat more than recreationally.  To date she is living with a man–she says she’ll marry him, but it’s clear to me she may meet some resistance from him on that point–who stays home, smoking dope, while she works and earns the money. At night they go out and have, as she puts it, “a wild and great time. More fun than I’ve ever had.”

Until Shayna works through her issues and completes her adolescent social rebellion, I’d say the chances of her marrying successfully are highly unfavorable.

If you have made a marriage that is a continuation of your adolescent social rebellion, you may in fact be so poorly suited to your mate that you’ll conclude you should go, and that you have to throw in the towel. But until you get help working through your old need to rebel socially, your next mate might just be even more wildly unsuited to you than your first.


*Rina, Ray, and Shayna are not simply clients whose names have been changed to protect their privacy.  They are teaching examples, composed of bits and pieces from real individuals, combined with fictional elements designed to make the story more educational and more readable.


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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