Seven Lessons to improve your life

Five Epidemic Personal,
 Marital, and Family Hazards

Are they stressing you?

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
NSRC Experts Council

colorbar.gif (1095 bytes)

The Web address of this article is

Updated  01-02-2015

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open  an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.

      This 30" podcast and brief YouTube video preview what you'll read in this article: The video mentions eight self-improvement lessons in  this site. I've reduced that to seven.

      My clinical research since 1979 suggests that most troubled families and the tragic U.S. divorce epidemic are caused by an unseen [wounds + unawareness] cycle passing down the generations. This cycle promotes five little-recognized family, marital, and personal hazards. The hazards are specially common and impactful in typical divorcing and step families. They are:

  • denied psychological wounds from early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse (trauma); plus...

  • unawareness of key relationship skills and key topics, plus...

  • incomplete grief from major life losses (broken bonds). These combine with...

  • neediness, denials, and ignorance of these hazards to promote courting couples making unwise commitment and conception choices and ineffective parenting.

  • these four stressors are amplified by public and professional denial of them. That promotes public ignorance and amplifying these hazards' impact in our culture. This is probably true in all cultures..

      Once understood and accepted, each hazard can be prevented or reduced:

      My research also suggests that few committed mates or family-support professionals know these hazards, what they mean, and what to do about them. This article provides perspective on each hazard and links to more detail.

  Five Unseen Hazards

      This five-hazard theory is not validated by any formal research that I know of. The most crucial part of it is validated. When I’ve proposed this theory to other human-service professionals and researchers, most say something like "That makes sense." See what you think.

1) Psychologically-wounded Partners in Protective Denial

      My clinical experience since 1981 and these widespread social problems suggest  that well over half of modern American adults and their ancestors have survived significant early-childhood trauma. Such "Grown Wounded Children" (GWCs) are often unaware of developing personality subselves that helped them survive their unintended abandonment, abuse, and neglect.

      GWCs enter adulthood with up to six psychological wounds which degrade the quality of their health and relationships. The core wound is a fragmented personality and the dominance of well-meaning false seves, which disable their wise true Self and causes excessive shame + guilts + fears + reality distortions + trust and bonding problems. For more detail on these widespread psychological wounds, see this after reading this article.

       Typical GWCs unconsciously pick each other over and over, perhaps because excessive shame automatically seeks its own level. Current self-help media call GWCs "Adult Children" of childhood trauma or toxic parents. Without self-awareness and personal recovery (healing), GWCs often unconsciously pass their wounds on to dependent kids like their ancestors did.

      Kids who chronically "act out" or "fail" are often manifesting false-self dominance and related wounds + incomplete grief + personal overwhelm. Adults' unseen psychological wounds amplify the next three family hazards. Once acknowledged (vs. denied or minimized), these wounds can be substantially reduced (vs. cured) over time. Lesson 1 here proposes an effective way to do this.

      Pause and notice your reaction to what you just read. If you accept this key "wounds" hazard, go ahead. If you doubt or disagree that psychological wounds could be a key reason for widespread personal and family stress and divorce, a protective false self may control you.

HAZARD 2)  Unawareness + Ignorance

           Few family and human-service professionals I've met could talk knowledgeably about all these interrelated topics...

  • human personalities and psychological wounds (Lesson 1 here)

  • effective communication basics and skills (Lesson 2)

  • healthy-grief basics, and how to build a pro-grief family and finish incomplete grief (Lesson 3);

  • healthy-relationship basics and requisites (Lesson 4);

  • high-nurturance family basics (Lesson 5);

  • effective parenting basics (Lesson 6); and...

  • basic facts about stepfamilies; how they differ from intact, healthy biofamilies; and what these difference mean. (Lesson 7).

Typical adults (like you?) aren't aware of themselves, each other, and of their ignorance (lack of knowledge).

      I invite you to take these quizzes after you finish this article, and see how much you know about these vital topics. Then you'll better understand why I propose that most troubled people, couples, and families "don't know what they don't know," and what this means to them and their descendents.

      The maxim "what you don't know can't hurt you" is tragically wrong when it comes to these hazards, marriage, child-conception, and healthy parenting! This nonprofit educational Website offers a comprehensive free self-improvement course to help visitors convert lifelong unawareness into knowledge and understanding.

           Premise - adults' psychological wounds + unawareness + ignorance often combine to promote...

    HAZARD 3) Incomplete Grief

      All healthy kids and adults form bonds over time - emotional and spiritual attachments to valued ideas, living things, places, freedoms, dreams, and rituals. As we age, we choose - or are forced to - break these bonds, causing significant losses. Human nature provides a way for us to process and accept our losses -  grief, or mourning. Natural mourning takes it's own time, and can't be ignored or hurried.

      Unawareness and ignorance of grieving basics (Lesson 3 here) can impede or block healthy mourning. Because our feel-good, warp-speed culture minimizes the primal value of mourning, much ''depression'' is probably normal grief.

      Grown Wounded Children (GWCs) often didn't see their (wounded) parents grieve well, so they ...

    • can't mourn well themselves, 

    • can't model and teach their kids to grieve well, and...

    • aren't aware of this or what it means. Incomplete grief appears to promote a wide range of emotional, physical, and secondary relationship problems, including addictions, obesity, mood disorders, and some depression.

      Nature provides a three-level mourning process as a healthy way to gradually accept the many inevitable broken bonds during our lives. This mental + emotional + spiritual process can be slowed or blocked by (a) psychological wounds and lack of (b) awareness and (c) inner and outer permissions. 

      Unfinished grief has clear symptoms. Once recognized, it can be completed over time if the griever is usually guided by their wise true Self (Lesson 1), and lives in a pro-grief environment (Lesson 3).

  When you finish this article, see this brief research summary for perspective on this unacknowledged personal and family stressor.

       Adults' psychological wounds + unawareness + incomplete grief + public indifference cause another common marital and family stressor...

     HAZARD 4) Unwise Courtship Choices

      Many people agree with veteran pastoral counselor Dr. Harville Hendrix. After 20+ years’ experience with couples, he feels that despite maturity, life experience, and "common sense," most commitment vows are largely emotional and unconscious, vs. "rational." Despite this insight, he doesn't propose that the reason for this is the three hazards above.

       Wounded survivors of early-childhood trauma (GWCs) are at special risk of choosing other unaware GWCs. They commit to the wrong people, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. Too often, partners commit to alluring illusions of who "you (and we) are going to be: a perfect mate, a wonderful couple, and a happy family."

      Typical love-struck couples rarely exchange vows knowing clearly who they are now - often two needy people denying major psychological wounds and unawarenesses (above), heading blithely into an amazingly complex relationship challenge they know little about. This is specially true of couples joining or forming a stepfamily.

      A corollary of this hazard is that many couples make unwise decisions about conceiving or adopting children. They do so before they reduce their wounds and learn how to communicate, grieve, relate, and parent effectively. Result: low-nurturance, high-stress families and wounded kids who grow up and repeat the cycle.

      The current U.S. divorce epidemic suggests that over half of contemporary American couples eventually encounter serious relationship problems because of the four stressors above. If they seek help with these problems, many find..

 HAZARD 5) Little Informed Support

      Local and national media and (I suspect) most communities offer little or no informed, effective support for troubled (low-nurturance or "dysfunctional") families. By informed, I mean thorough knowledge of, and experience with identifying and reducing, the four hazards above. Reality Check - have you ever seen any articles, books, advertisements, CDs, or programs, that acknowledge these hazards together and offer resources to reduce them? 

      Since starting my research in 1979, I have never found a marriage-preparation or "enrichment" class, book, seminar, article, Web site, or program that proposes these four stressors and what to do about them. The wealth of popular materials about courtship and marriage are uniformly focused on surface issues and advice, like this example. This is true of well-researched and tested programs like PREPARE-ENRICH, FOCCUS, PAIRS, and RELATE.

      Finding informed support is even harder for average stepfamily adults. Few clergy; teachers; therapists; family mediators, lawyers and judges; and medical professionals - or their funders, administrators, and program directors - know how different, complex, and stressful average multi-home stepfamilies are. They can't name or describe these five hazards in any detail or what to do about them.

      In my experience, most marital and family counselors usually provide well-meant, misguided (superficial) advice. At best, this doesn't hurt. At worst, it unintentionally increases marital and family stress, and raises clients' distrust of professional help.

      This nonprofit Website exists to inform lay and professional people about these five epidemic hazards and help them break the [wounds + unawareness] cycle that causes them. To see if the cycle is affecting your family now, see this after you finish this article.


      After 36 years' professional study and clinical experience with over 1,000 typical adults in several cultures, I propose that the epidemic of low-nurturance ("dysfunctional") families > divorce > re/divorce that causes millions of average adults and kids to live in misery comes from the combination of...

Mates' denied psychological wounds


unawareness  of key topics and life skills


incomplete grief  in one or more family members


courtship neediness and unwise choices


little accessible, informed help


public ignorance and denial

Learn something about yourself with this anonymous 1-question  poll.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - Why did you read this? Did you get what you needed? If not - what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your wise true Self, or ''someone else''?    

 Next -

commit to protecting yourself and your family from these hazards. Study this free online self-improvement course, .

Discover how you can help to break the inherited [wounds + unawareness] cycle that fosters these widespread hazards.

 This article was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful   


 site intro  /  course outline  /  site search  /  definitions  /  chat contact