What Is a Rescue Marriage?

Rescue marriages are one antidote to falling into the well of grief.

Posted Sep 09, 2018

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“In a successful rescue marriage the partners’ early experiences have been traumatic. They are the walking wounded as they begin their lives together. The healing that takes place during the course of the marriage is the central theme.”   –Judith Wallerstine in The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts

Linda: The importance of having a trusted person to talk to about previous traumas cannot be overstated. Having a confidant is so much more than psychologically and emotionally beneficial. It also assists in the areas of health and longevity. To have a supportive, trusted partner to listen to the strong emotions that erupt periodically due to childhood traumas is a profound benefit.

Prior to the research done in the late 1990’s, even the health profession did not grasp the widespread impact the body of childhood trauma. There was only a limited appreciation of how many people were affected by it, and how far into adulthood the traumas persisted. A joint study was conducted of 9,500 mostly middle-class adults by the Center for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente. Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda published their ground-breaking Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study in 1998.

A death in the family, a parent in jail, alcoholism, drug addition, divorce, a mentally ill parent, physical, sexual or emotional abuse are all considered childhood traumas. The medical community was stunned to find that nearly two thirds of the study's subjects reported at least one of the above adversities and almost half reported two or more. Shockingly large numbers of adults have sustained cumulative traumas during the course of their childhoods. And the resulting chronic stress reaches into adulthood. Robert Block, past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics testified before a Senate committee on children and families saying childhood adversity “may be the leading cause of poor health among adults in the Untied States.”

Many studies are now revealing that in those marriages where one or both partners suffered terrible childhoods, early traumas do not spell more tragedy in their marriages. Many go on to heal and co-create long-term happy marriages filled with love and deep appreciation for their spouse’s support. They often report that their spouse was the most important influence in attaining a high quality of life.

The benefits of a rescue marriage are multifold.

  • A child who was rejected and unwanted is, as an adult, finally accepted, welcomed and cherished.
  • A child who was isolated and lonely finds, as an adult, a welcoming companion to share their life with.
  • A child who lived in fear of being bullied, now, as an adult, lives with peace of mind.
  • A child with multiple siblings where there was never enough attention to go around, as an adult, now has an exclusive relationship.
  • The child who was physically abused is, as an adult, touched only with great tenderness.
  • The child whose sexual boundaries were violated now, as an adult, has a sense of control over their world where their boundaries are honored.
  • The child in a chaotic, unpredictable environment due to drug addiction, alcoholism, or mental illness now, as an adult, has peace, harmony, predictability, and security.
  • A child who was blamed, criticized scapegoated, or humiliated is now, as an adult, treated with dignity, consideration, and respect.
  • A child who suffered abandonment through death, divorce, or imprisonment no longer suffers from longing for connection. Their partner is alive, well, and available.
  • Because they suffered inadequate parenting as children, the partners in a rescue marriage are highly motivated to become excellent parents themselves to spare their children the traumas they experienced.

Psychological growth occurs in all good marriages, but the changes observed in a rescue marriage are more dramatic, obvious, and pronounced. Those with traumatic childhoods have more area to traverse and more pain as a motivator to make the necessary changes. They have an enormous sense of relief in having transcended their traumatic early life. They take pleasure in some of the smallest things that others with less stressful beginning might not even notice. And their sense of this ordinary magic in their lives fills them with exquisite gratitude.