We love our children-but they inevitably grow up. The child we held in our arms and whose diapers we once changed is now an adult, or very nearly so, and this raises a number of difficult issues for all involved.
A father of a college student daughter was in great suffering. He kept asking his daughter, “What do you need?” and when she answered, “I am fine, Dad, thanks, I don’t need anything,” he became frustrated, unhappy and depressed. It turned out that he was accustomed to expressing his love for her by satisfying her wants and needs; that is how he loved his daughter growing up; so long as she needed him he knew he was a good dad, that he loved her and she loved him back. Now she was grown and off on her own. He was confronted by, “How do I love my beloved daughter now that she has grown up into an adult, the adult I always hoped she would be?”
The difficulty he was facing was not only his. His daughter had her own dilemma. She knew she loved her father but she wasn’t sure what her relationship to her father and mother should be now that she was out on her own. How was she to include him in her new adult life?
Another couple had a grown son who had successfully left home but had returned to live with them out of economic necessity. His parents had unhesitatingly and lovingly welcomed him back into their lives-but their new household of adults was in an uproar. Communication was breaking down and love was swiftly evaporating in a mounting heat of anger and frustration.
There were a number of thorny issues for this family. On one hand, there were parents rebuilding their lives and enjoying new freedoms. On the other, there was an adult male child who had already escaped his parents’ loving care and concern who is in the uncomfortable position of having to compromise his hard-won freedoms and independence. He had returned home to find that his parents were treating him in much the same way as they had before he left. What he once endured as loving parental care and guidance-now felt like unwelcome parental domination. Ouch!
The six challenges: How do we love our children once they have fledged and left our nests? How do we love them once they are much too big to pick up? How should we relate to them when they come to visit? What are our new roles and expectations? How do we move from being a family of cute, cuddly dependent children-to become a community of adults and children united in mutual love? In an age of “boomerang” adult children who return home out of economic necessity, how do we live with one another?
The three tasks: These are three tasks to midwife a new family of adults. Please remember that this may take some time to achieve and to install. Rome wasn’t built in a single day. Please plan enough time for this.
1. For the parents: your task is to distinguish for yourself that you already have won the parent game. Hooray! The source of your discomfort stems from a need to progress beyond parent-of-child to become a parent-of-adult. Your parental turn at bat is past and the game has changed. Not only that, it’s your adult child’s turn. If you handle the transition well you may get to be a member on their team. You will root for them from the sidelines. Your final task is to become wholly comfortable sitting in the bleachers of their lives-while living your own life. You will need to discover new ways to love your children that work for all concerned.
2. For adult children: distinguish for yourself that the source of your discomfort stems from your evolution from child of your parents to being an adult child with your parents. In a sense, loving you was far easier for them when you were small. Everyone knew what to do; they made sacrifices and worked day and night to get you out the door. Now that they have succeeded, they will need some time to step back and get that an important chapter in their lives has come to an end and a new chapter has begun. Your task is to recognize, appreciate, and acknowledge your parents who held you in their hearts for a very long time, who did the best they could, and who may not have prepared themselves for you to be grown.
3. For everybody, the family: Your task is to schedule and hold a number of family gatherings together, gatherings devoted to listening to one another and talking it all out loud. There are two phases to this process.
a. First phase: Awareness of the new family Past.
i. Appreciate each other’s strengths and accomplishments. Share what you like about each other.
ii. Acknowledge the family past and share fond memories. Remember and celebrate the past together. You have all succeeded at becoming adults, some older, some younger. It’s an achievement, so hold a graduation.
iii. Speculate: Freely imagine what the future will bring.
b. Second phase: Inquiry into your new family Present.
i. Inquiry: Take turns asking each other: What has changed? What is the same? What is different now?
ii. Exploration: What new agreements and covenants need to be made?
iii. Commitment: After all members have been listened to and heard, and when all have signed onto the new family community, rise together as a new family.
It is a fact that all families will achieve balance and a new equilibrium over time. Sometimes it can take a long time until the new family community is in place. Even when things go well and speedily, the process will include considerable uneasiness as the old family model is retired. Expect some healthy nostalgia as the new family model starts up. Lastly, do not be surprised if your new model requires a bit of tweaking and remodeling as new adults and children enter the family.
With a little forethought, listening, and communication we can shorten the family rebirthing process and generate an extraordinary loving future for a new grown-up family of adults.
One of the concerns I hear from female clients is something like the following: "I am not sure I know the man I married. What I mean is on the surface all seems "fine." We have all the normal things that go along with a marriage: our home 2 plus children, money in the bank, careers and so forth. And yet, I have feeling that there is something missing. I find myself growing lonely in our marriage. Marriage communication, a deeper communication, seems to be missing for me.
When he returns home after a day's work, I want to reconnect with him, to restart our relationship after our absence from one another and I want him to want to reconnect with me, interested in hearing about my day. But that’s not the way it goes for us.
Whenever I’ve asked him, "How was your day, dear?" most of the time he says something like, "Fine. Okay. Things went well. No problems." If I press him for more details, he looks either confused or gives me a look that says that there is something wrong with me for asking." He gives me much the same look when I try to share my day with..
Sometimes it seems to me that he doesn't care. Oh, on some level I know that can’t possibly be true - but what he chooses to share is all the information I have to go on.”
In the next part of this marriage counseling blog “Why is she bothering me?” we’ take a look at her male partner’s perspective on the very same issue.
What would our lives be like if we took care of our relationships as well as we do our cars?
Think about it. You need your car; it provides you with a sense of freedom and mobility. Your car is a valuable extension of yourself and your life. You routinely watch its speedometer, odometer, tire pressure gauges, oil indicators. You look and listen for any and all warning signs. When your car breaks down you mobilize quickly to get it, and you, back on the road.
But what about our relationships and communication skills?
We need our relationships to work at least as much as we need our car. Our lives will not have much enjoyment nor worth for us without trouble-free, good-working quality relationships, love and intimacy.
Cars come with repair and maintenance manuals. We need to be at least as well-informed and prepared to maintain and keep our relationships running smoothly. It’s not hard to do - if you know how.
Ask yourself, “Do I along with my partners in life, my spouse, children and friends:
Are you beginning to dread the upcoming holiday season?
Have you begun to think, “I just do not know how I am going to sit and smile at them for one more year,” or, “Am I going have to have to pretend to get along with her, again?” or, “Oh gee whiz, another Christmas with him?.”
If you are beginning to feel those questions you may have a case of MAS, or Mistletoe Avoidance Syndrome. If one of the “those people” happens to be your spouse, you may be looking at some serious trouble with Spouse Avoidance Syndrome (SAS).
The good news is that there is still time before you have to smile and pretend that everything is “fine;” you have a whole month to “spruce up” family relationships before you have avoid that person beneath the mistletoe; you have two solid months to make Auld Lang Syne really mean something when you sing together New Year’s Eve.
The bad news is that if you don’t do anything you are looking at a replay of last year. The worst news is that if you do nothing at all you can look forward to another holiday season just like this one, next year.
It is not too late; it is not too late to take an inventory of relationships that don’t work and repair broken lines of communication in and around your family.
Right warms no beds; truth is a cold companion. Whatever lies between you and them, real or imaginary, is in the past.
What will matter is your relationship with them in the coming months and years.
What there is to do is to reach out and touch someone, start a dialog, swallow a gallon of pride, and apologize; ask for forgiveness wherever and whenever you can - even if you were right.
Paradoxically, they may very well be waiting for you to call them. So why not call first - and get to be the hero for being the one who got the ball rolling again?
If the person you are dreading being with is your spouse, stop now. Stop whatever you have been doing (it hasn’t worked, has it?), and get yourselves to a relationship repair professional: a counselor, a pastor, or another person with whom you feel safe.
Einstein reminds us that insanity is,” Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Looked at in another way, shopping for Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza gifts is a whole lot easier when you actually like the person you are shopping for.
There is no good reason to suffer any longer than it takes for you to realize that you are suffering from
Mistletoe Avoidance Syndrome.
Reach out and touch someone; add some serious warmth to the coming season of Joy.
Relationships thrive within a WE-ality, not a ME-ality
The key to creating an Extraordinary Relationship lies in developing your capacity to go from a ME-based life to a WE-based life. Up to and until the moment you entered into a relationship with another, the language you spoke, the choices you made about how and where you live, and how you spent your time and money came largely from within you. You made choices taking into account personal wishes and desires. Until you entered into a relationship with another, you were accountable to and one hundred percent responsible—to, you. If you made a mistake, the consequences were yours and yours alone.
However, the minute your life merged with another, the context of your life had to undergo a radical shift of focus and language. Where once you spoke from within a context of "I, ME, and MINE," you now had to learn a new language of "WE, US, and OURS."
ME-based conversations are full of ME, MY feelings, MY experiences, MY needs, MY wants, and how I am being frustrated by YOU.
For example, ME-based language sounds like: "You are not making ME happy, there’s something wrong with you; MY needs are not being met. YOU never listen. "If only THEY would… then I would be happy." In ME-based relationships one ME based partner complains, the other defends, feelings get hurt, arguments escalate, and the temperature grows hotter. The ME based relationship spirals downwards from there.
But what if we shifted the way WE talk about our relationships from ME-based language to WE-based language, such that "I, ME, MINE, and YOURS" becomes "WE, US, and OURS?"
How would our relationships feel were we to say, "WE are not making ME happy; the way WE communicate with one another is not working for US; OUR needs as a couple are not being met?”
Isn’t it easier to hear our partner when they say, "WE are not making ME happy," “There something about US, the way WE speak and listen to each other that isn’t working for US.” Isn’t “WE need to take a close look at how effectively WE are doing US"much easier to hear than, "If only YOU would…then I would be happy?”
With a simple shift in the way WE talk about ourselves, we’ve taken our partners off the hot seat; we’ve stopped making them the one responsible for our feelings and upsets. When our partner no longer has to stop listening to defend themselves in the face of our upsets and dissatisfactions—then WE can shift our attention to where it belongs, to US, about WE and what is going on between US. Once WE have accomplished this, WE can begin to clarify, discuss, and focus on the relationship WE share. WE can listen to one another in a way that will make a difference for US and the future of OUR relationship.
As a WE, speaking with rather than at one another, WE have a chance to listen to our partner in a way that makes a difference for US. With our relationship at stake, WE can look for what is missing; WE can uncover new ways of being with and for one another that would transform us from struggling individuals to extraordinary life-partners. With our new set of WE-based skills, WE have an opportunity to be extraordinarily happy together for the rest of our lives.
Relationships thrive within a WE-ality, not a ME-ality.
Has this ever happened to you? Driving your car, you discover that not only are you well past your exit; you are a number of miles further down the road!
You wonder, “Where am I? How did I get here?”
Or, have you ever woken up one morning next to your partner, lover, or spouse, shaking your head and wondering, “Who is that next to me?”
Your confusion was real. The source of your confusion is your brain. Your car and your relationship were both on cruise control, both operating on autopilot.
Don’t get the wrong idea. There is nothing wrong with your brain. It was only doing the job for which it was designed, good at some tasks, not so good for others. For example, your brain is good for learning and recalling - but not so good at helping you handle the unexpected or surprises.
In relationships as in driving, zoning out, taking a break, switching off your conscious awareness can get you an expensive relationship “citation” - or a front-seat to the next dramatic breakdown in your relationship.
Using relationship cruise control to drive your life, taking your partner for granted, pretending you understand when you haven’t a clue, being inauthentic, failing to be aware of and present to the people around you – are all breakdowns waiting to happen.
Ask yourself: “Am I in the driver’s seat - or a passenger on my own bus? “
Marriage and Communication coaching is about providing skills, insights, and best practices for enjoying extraordinary relationships.
Call Paul at (520) 297-3085 for your first Marriage and Communication Tune-up.
How many times have you been embarrassed when you said something that sounded like a child was speaking? A possible answer is that you weren't truly doing the speaking, your “inner-child” was.
In that moment and in that conversation your inner child took over your listening and speaking. When holding an adult-to-adult conversation you became distracted by a piece of undigested memory from the past that affected your capacity to think in the present.
It is similar in some respects to listening in on what used to be called a “party line."
Party lines were installed where there was a single telephone connection to a community. More than one household would share a single telephone line with a number of its neighbors. To place a call on a party line you first had to pick up the telephone to listen if the telephone line was clear; when your phone rang you picked up the phone to hear if the call was for you and not for the household down the road.
You can imagine this arrangement had a potential to generate serious social mischief; you could never be confident no one else was listening to your private conversation. People were upset; often insulted when a neighbor added their opinion to what they thought was a private conversation.
In some ways your hearing and listening apparatus resembles a party line. Not only are you listening with your adult self you are also listening in along with your inner five year old and teenage selves who may have a very different take on what you want to say as an adult.
The way to get your inner child and teenager “off-line” is to distinguish and remember that you always have an inner child and teenager on your "line." Once you expect they are listening in you can filter them out. As soon as they start to fidget and seem to have something to say you tell them quietly, “Thank you, but please keep your opinion to yourself,” and ask them to, “Please get off my adult call. We'll chat later on, I promise.” Then you can return to what you really wanted to say.
Thomas Jefferson had it right when he said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” If you wish to listen and speak freely as an adult, to be accountable for everything you say, you will need to be in charge of all our conversations-and leave the kids at home.
Who is speaking? If we all have inner party lines, how can we communicate effectively?
Once you have mastered your “inner party line” you can be far, far more accountable for your half of any conversation. From then on effective communication will call for you to be aware that those with whom you are speaking have their own inner party lines, as well.
Over time and with a little practice, you will be able to recognize who you are speaking to: an adult or a younger someone listening on their party line?
“You” is a big problem. By this I do not mean that you, you are the problem. But using the word, “YOU,” when you are trying to preserve their listening and positive attention becomes a big problem whenever you want to be heard and understood. The bottom line is this: that use the word “You” - and any hope of effective communication disappears. Use the word YOU, even a non-confrontive way and it will be as if you had never said anything at all. Say “You” and you probably won’t be heard.
Our “YOU-it is” probably began for us when we were children and our parents or teachers used the word, “You” at us. We quickly learned as children that whenever we heard the word, “You” from adults and others we had gotten some kind of negative attention, that something was wrong with us, and we were being bad in some (to us) unknown, mysterious way.
So what did we do? To deflect their negative attention we quickly learned to defend ourselves by saying something like “I didn’t do it,” “It wasn’t me; they did it,” it’s not my fault,” and then try to get away in the hope they won’t find us until it (whatever it was) and their upset blew over and it was safe to come back again.
We all felt this then and we need to remember that we are still subject to that defensive reaction today.
Take a moment, can you remember back to the time somebody said to you, “Where are you? What are you doing? Why did you do it that way?” “What do you mean when you …? You always….? Why can’t you…., Why won’t you …? You’re the one who… You come here now! You get out of here!”
As children we got to hear lots and lots of YOUs. Pretty awful then weren’t it, and not much more fun for us to hear today. And over the course of our childhood years we learned we had little to no hope of either being listened to or receiving justice.
The impact on us today is that just about every time we use the word, “You,” our partner can be expected to react, stop listening on the spot, and switch from listening to us to defending and preparing counter argument. They might still be “hearing” you, but all their “listening” is long gone.
It is important to remember that everything you said after you spoke the word; “You” is a total waste. It is as if you had never said anything at all.
So why say “You” when what you really want is to be heard and understood?