Last year at this time I addressed boundaries and how to use them effectively to have a good holiday season.
After giving a presentation to my community about boundaries and family of choice I heard a resounding theme.
It seemed the crowd had a great grasp on the concept of boundaries including how to use them and how to make them effective. The questions came as we shifted the focus to family of choice.
Family of choice refers to those who find the holidays are best spent with the family members they have chosen. Some times these are blood relatives, some times they are friends collected along the way. These are the people who make up the inner circle of your world. They are the people you trust fully and are there for you through thick and thin.
Guilt is a feeling associated with doing something wrong. Usually intentionally wrong. Or how dictionary.com puts it “the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, especially against moral or penal law; culpability:He admitted his guilt.
When one gets married and especially when they have children, this is your family. Parents, siblings, and other relationships take a back seat to your marriage and children.
I suggest another word for the feeling associated with recognizing that a family of choice doesn’t include a parent(s) or sibling(s).
It sucks. No one in the world likes recognizing that a family member or someone they were raised by or raised with has a negative impact on them and their partner or children. And often those who need to build a family of choice the most have given way too much time, thought, consideration, and has given too many second chances.
Let go. Grieve. And give yourself permission to spend your holidays with people who make you feel loved, connected, and cared about.
It can be difficult to tell when you need outside help in your relationship. Relationships go through phases just like people and sometimes the stress we feel is simply a point of growth. However, when the stress or issue begins to inhibit growth and linger, it’s important to tend to the issue. Also if these behaviors or interactions occur for a long period of time or become primary ways of coping in the relationship they are red flags.
- You stop talking and start avoiding: Is there a topic you can no longer discuss because both of you get to mad or hurt? Is there a topic that you have discussed at great length with no resolution or understanding? When both partners begin giving up on finding understanding, it is an issue. It can be beneficial to have a professional guide you two to better understanding of one another instead of just avoiding.
- Withholding affection or stonewalling: when one or both partners participate in this behavior it is dooming the relationship. The good news is it’s just a coping skill, with therapy you can find more productive ways to move through issues.
- Keeping secrets: It doesn’t matter if they are financial, emotional, or any other type of secret, keeping secrets in a long term relationship doesn’t work.
- If you feel like the only problem is your partner. That isn’t how relationships work. It takes two people to build a relationship and chances are your behavior or attitude could be fueling what you don’t like in your partner. Keeping yourself stuck in the victim seat only prevents both of you from growing together building the life you do want.
- When one or both of you can no longer lighten up once in a while. When the topics or issues being avoided or the pattern that gets you two no where is so large you are no longer having date nights or having a good time together that’s when it is time to see a professional. Relationships need care and attention to survive.
Problems in your most important and intimate relationship is scary and isolating. It can feel like no one understands and there is no one to talk to.
Here are some triage steps to reducing damage and getting your relationship back on track:
- Stop the damage: Is there a topic that sets off the same argument? Is there a predictable negative interaction pattern that you can see? Does the problem appear unsolvable to one or both of you? These are excellent indicators to try doing something different. Try saying to your partner, “I feel like this topic always leads to an argument, can we put it aside until we have help with it?” or “I can see you are getting really upset with me, can we take a 20-30 minute time out to cool off?” Be sure to validate that you are both upset/hurt/angry, DO NOT MINIMIZE or ignore, simply state your desire for change and to not hurt one another more.
- Make time for the relationship: It is very common for couples to sense the stress in the relationship and begin to avoid the stress by avoiding one another. Often this leads one or both parties to begin to write a story in their minds about the relationship. These stories often sound like, “maybe I am better off on my own”, “all he does is avoid me”, “she has given up on me and this relationship”, or worse, “he/she did all this on purpose.” These narratives are built from only one side of the relationship and are rarely accurate. Make time to check in with one another and be curious, “what were your intentions?”, “how would you have preferred that argument to go?”, “what did you mean when you said ______?”
- Find a therapist or counselor who specializes in couples therapy. Many therapists are trained in their graduate programs to do couples work but that does not make a specialty. A therapist who specializes will work primarily with couples, attend ongoing training in couples therapy, and have confidence about how to approach your particular issue. Many therapists and counselors offer free consultations. At least talk on the phone with the therapist to get a sense of what they have to offer and how often they work with a couple.
For the past year it seems headline after headline reminds me of the importance of community. From the circus of a presidential election to a harsh hurricane season when I read the news Monday about Las Vegas, it was too much. I find myself attempting to learn as many facts in a short scan of the news and then needing a break from it.
It is important to remember flashy news headlines can be addictive. They make us feel under threat and rope us in. And now with social media broadcasting many of the same news stories, it is hard to get away from it.
My true hope is that you can dig deep into your community. Make eye contact and genuinely ask your neighbor, “How are you today?” Take a pause and thank the people you interact with throughout the day. Make plans with friends and family. Play games with your children. Take a break from media. For example, Michael and I quit watching/reading any news or social media after 6pm every day. This gives us a full 12-13 hour break each day. Go for a fall walk with a hot cup of tea.
Be in touch with your humanity.
Media is fear based. Fear sells things and makes people feel isolated.
The only antidote is to be in touch with your humanity and to love the wonderful people in your life.
The theme of my week has been the importance of showing up. In a world where with the click of a mouse and/or the swipe of a debit card we can send condolences, comfort, and pseudo connection I’ve been struck by the power of showing up. No one can read your mind and often our intentions are assumed by others. By showing up we communicate our thoughts and intent clearly.
Here are some ideas of how to show up in your life for those most important to you:
Take flowers to someone
Say thank you in person
Look people in the eye
Compliment what you admire
Shake someone’s hand
If you love them, say it! Again and again.
When you feel the urge to say just about anything to make someone feel better; hug them instead.
Hold your loved ones hand
Be patient with emotion. Feelings come and go but some linger… that’s ok.
Human interaction truly matters. Don’t let the digital world fool you into thinking otherwise.
Couples therapy can look different from couple to couple and I have been working on finding the key ingredients. Those components that seem to help every couple at every stage of their relationship.
Meaning making appears to be one of those key ingredients. We all do it from the time we wake up until we go to sleep. As human beings we don’t just take in facts and observations we make meaning from that information. Sometimes this is totally unconscious. For example, this was the first frosty morning here in Bend Oregon. For some people the first frost is a sign that summer is gone. For me it means ski season is closer!
Perhaps the best question to ask your partner when you don’t feel you are seeing eye to eye is, “What does that mean to you?”
“I hear there is a lot of change for you at work lately, what does that mean to you?”
“When I got upset yesterday, what did that mean to you?”
“When we couldn’t agree last night and went to bed upset, what did that mean to you?”
Look for ways to understand your partners experience and you will discover no matter how long you have been together there is so much you don’t know.
Perhaps it is backlash for all of the participation trophies and unfounded praise our culture is accustom to offering children these days but I have never heard children described in terms of their deficits so often.
It seems my work with children and their families commonly begins with uniting all of the deficits from the child. In the past it seemed parents would reflect, “it feels like he isn’t listening to me” but that has morphed to “how do I get my ADHD child to listen to me.”
Maybe the internet has turned us all into diagnosticians or maybe the school system has become the leading authority on your child and their behavior.
Either way, my dream as a family therapist is that parents would return to seeing their children as human beings on a complex journey of maturing and not a list of abilities and deficits.