Researchers have found that in two-parent families the primary alliance should be between mother and father if the family is to function well.
Each partner must have a primary loyalty commitment to the other which cannot be divided by grandparents, children, friends or others. This type of bond between the marital couple is a fundamental feature for a healthy family.
In families that are not as healthy, one sees primary relationships forming between a grandparent and a parent, between a parent and a child or within some other dyad.
However, cultures vary in how strongly they emphasize family loyalties and extended family members may play a more important role in child rearing.
Take for example the Greek culture. It appears to be very common that the grandparents (especially the grandmother) play an important role in childcare responsibilities.
The problems start when the extended family becomes intrusive in the nuclear family’s affairs – a situation very common in Greek culture. This seems to happen because it appears that many young adults haven’t been able to transfer their primary loyalty commitment from their family of origin to their spouse – thereby making their marital bond porous and vulnerable to outside interference. Consequently, this creates not only conflict between the couple but it also makes it more likely to produce offspring with enduring behavioral problems.
How does a primary coalition develop between husband and wife? Well, both parents have to have had individuated from their family of origin. This means that they were allowed to achieve, in adolescence and early adulthood, a sense of self that is based on their own feelings, interests and values, followed by being given their parents’ blessing when leaving home and not having their wings clipped by being persistently reminded of the dangers looming out there.
When young adults are able to to transfer their primary loyalty commitment from their parents to their spouse they experience an increase in self-esteem. In turn it can also insulate them from experiencing panic attacks during various life transitions due to the increase in their self-efficacy developed by their successful individuation.
It’s an all-around win-win situation because this personal evolution increases in young adults flexibility regarding their sense of responsibility for their family of origin, simultaneously maintaining that the primary relational commitment is between husband and wife.