Kids & Families First: The Meaningful Work of Relationships
Thursday, April 20, 2017 11:34 AM
Assumptions ... expectations.... Relationships are important work. Certainly not the kind of effort to avoid, but rather the kind of work that requires a strong commitment to rolling up our sleeves and really digging in. It demands that we be transparent, vulnerable, our most authentic self with another person. For some, that’s a pretty scary expectation. We believe we know what our partner is thinking, how he/she will finish a sentence, and sometimes we mistrust, believing bad intentions of him/her, because we haven’t fully listened or accepted our own responsibility. Let’s take a look at several scenarios that create undue disconnection, even hostility.
Judith Hatch Orme, MSW, LCSW, has an office at 69 Elm Street in Camden. A parenting specialist, counselor, consultant, and family mediator, she provides workshops, teacher trainings, parenting consulting, counseling for children, parents, couples and families, and divorce mediation. To schedule appointments, receive her electronic newsletter, or customize a workshop/staff training, contact her at 603-801-6382 or email email@example.com.
A woman told her husband: “I’m really worried Cindy doesn’t like me anymore. She’s been ignoring me when I pick the kids up at school, and seems to be friends with several of the other moms now.” He responded: “Don’t worry about it. She’s no loss. You have other friends.” What just happened? Did she feel heard and understood by her husband? She internalizes her reaction, leaving the room, feeling hurt and dismissed. He continues to read the paper, unaware that he’s alienated his wife. Later, when she is less communicative, he asks why she’s being so irritable. Unwilling to be vulnerable, she minimizes the impact, by saying she’s simply tired and distracted. Any existing distance between them is exacerbated. The longer this “brews,” the more pronounced becomes the gap in their communication between what was said and what was heard.
Another situation: A partner who dedicates more time than necessary to his career, rather than coming home to be with his family. She assumes he has found someone else, either emotionally and/or physically, who has captured his attention. Feeling hurt, rejected, angry, her assumptions generate accusations, to which he withdraws. She “pursues,” trying to draw him out to “confess,” while her anger triggers his need to retreat. It becomes a vicious cycle of her “chasing” and him “running away.” The actual dynamic has little to do with the perceived behavior, yet more to do with unhealed childhood wounds: her need to connect, to feel accepted and loved, and his reaction/need to protect himself from anger and blame.
When we’re not clear in our communication, assuming full responsibility for our emotions, but instead projecting those onto our partner, sibling or child, we create what I call “dynamic breaches.” Our own pain and unhealed trauma get in the way of seeing a clear path for connection. Instead, we jump into an emotional minefield that quickly leads us into battle. We know that “warring factions” are typically not open to listening, understanding, negotiating. It’s a means of self-protection, hiding behind the armor, believing the other person “will hurt me unless I’m well defended.”
With our children, we may also make assumptions about behavior that triggers us, tapping into our unresolved childhood issues. “How dare he speak to me that way?” Or “He is rude and ungrateful,” OR “She thinks she can get away with that behavior?!” What we experienced growing up shapes our reactions, unless we become conscious parents and make decisions that reflect the kind of parent we choose to be. If we react emotionally to what our child says or does, believing “I’m the parent, he will do what I say,” we will likely lose the opportunity to make connection, to discover what’s at the root of that behavior. We want to exert our authority, which of course we have a right to do, yet try to envision the kind of authority that works positively. Authority that respects our opinions and our input/feedback and that honors consensus usually elicits motivation, discipline and productive work. When we’re managed by someone who shows no regard for our perspective, someone who doesn’t listen, who makes unilateral decisions, overseeing our every move, each decision, we certainly are not inspired to be creative, productive or helpful. Instead, the job diminishes us. It’s not any different for children when parents “micromanage” and control. Connection and problem-solving instill confidence and healthy self-esteem in our children.
Our assumptions are our thoughts, fears and judgments that evoke feelings causing us to react in certain ways. Thus, when our partner, sibling or child behaves in a particular way, we may think something untrue, or inaccurate, about him/her, raising fear. That perception causes us to feel a certain way and thus react, just as the above examples revealed. When we take another person’s behavior personally, it’s impossible to disengage, to see the root of that behavior, accepting it literally without understanding the source.
Finally, when we project our own negative traits onto the other person, it ensures we don’t have to accept responsibility for these. For a conscious relationship, we must develop clear, respectful communication; accept responsibility for healing our own childhood wounds, understanding how they trigger us; and value our partner’s and child’s needs as much as our own. To accept and love unconditionally means being aware of our assumptions and expectations of our partner or our child. We must assume responsibility for being the best partner, the best parent, focusing on ourselves to grow and make any necessary changes. Relationships are indeed challenging, yet meaningful work, the fabric of the life we create.