Let's Talk

Discerning Hidden Agendas in Relationships

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
—Oscar Wilde

“I work hard to listen and say exactly what I mean. But it seems no matter what I do, we still end up arguing. The other person just won’t listen. When I bring up a point it is countered with another negative jab at me. I am reminded of when I did this and that and pretty soon we don’t even remember what the problem was that we were talking about. So why isn’t all this communication stuff working?”

Like any skill we gain competence in, communication needs to be practiced. But like any habit we put in place, it is easy to get discouraged and go back to old ways of doing things.

Too often we come to our conversations with a hidden agenda – a motive that isn’t always clear to us.

We don’t come to resolve problems, but to convince the other person they need to change.

We want the other person to see and hear and accept our point of view – we don’t really want to hear theirs. We want to be understood and accepted just as we are.

What is your motive in personal communication?

How do you approach conversation when there is a core difference of opinion or understanding?

Is there a secret vendetta that you don’t want to acknowledge because you want to believe you have the best interests of your friend at heart? If we were wounded, we often want the other to experience that too.

If conversations continue to break down, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is my true motive in this conversation?
  • Am I listening honestly to hear and accept the other person’s point of view?
  • Is revenge more a part of this conversation than I want to acknowledge? Is it more important than understanding?
  • Do I want a relationship? Am I willing to do the things it takes to not only develop but maintain this relationship?

Anything worthwhile in life requires work and effort. But the benefits are indescribable.

Think about a beautiful garden that you enjoy. In order for you to continue to enjoy your garden, you must diligently pull the weeds, trim the bushes, and keep the soil moist and porous. A beautiful garden will soon become a scene of chaos unless we maintain it.

A promising relationship will soon die if do not work to keep it vital and flourishing. Without maintenance, it too will quickly dissolve into chaos. Maintenance means doing things together that are pleasant for both of you.

Maintenance also means:

  • Having discussions that explore positive and mutual interests.
  • Taking time to accurately define problems instead of simply blaming or finding fault. Related post: Problem-Solving, Step 1: Identify the Problem and Define the Conflict
  • Honestly talking about those needs that are important to you.
  • Genuinely trying to see the other person’s perspective – to understand how the other person is seeing the world. That their point of view is as valid as yours and that you both can be right.

Relationships take a commitment – a willingness to give and take – a desire to better know the other.

Within our relationships, we learn the art of give and take and the humility of knowing we are not the end-all.

We learn the strength of defining our values and principles and the motivation to live them.

Within our relationships, we find ourselves if we are honest.

But it takes effort and work. Instead of looking for that blame factor, begin to believe the best in you and the best in the other. Challenge your thinking. Relationships are too important. The more we can appreciate each other, the happier we will be.

What can you do to make relationships better?

You cannot be responsible for the other person’s sincerity or desire to have a good relationship. But you can begin by defining what it means to you and then putting that into practice and action.

Not all relationships will survive – not all relationships are of the quality that should survive. We will falter and fail but we can look at our intentions, agendas and goals and honestly do what we can to improve.

So, ask yourself, “This relationship is important because…”

Then ask, “What actions do I need to put in place to make it grow and thrive?”

We can’t change another. But our behaviors, actions, sincerity, and honesty can and will influence others.

Understanding Conflict and Working Through It

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

A lot of our conflicts are fueled by early childhood experiences, those internalized and unresolved memories that trigger anger and resentment and drastically influence the relationships we have as adults.

Basics of Conflict

Before you can negotiate conflicts, you need to first understand what you bring to them.

  • What triggers a conflict for you?
  • What are you feeling and experiencing?

That requires honesty without making excuses. It is so easy to see ourselves as a victim and play the blame game. However, when you give up your responsibility, you also give up your personal power.

Next is understanding others.

Why do you think they do the things they do?

When conflict begins, we can make a decision not to attack and defend but instead acknowledge the differences we have. We can respect others even when we disagree.

The goal in conflict is to come to some resolution or understanding that both of you can live with. That involves learning the skills of negotiation, listening, and communication.

If you believe you have no other option but to fight, retaliate, or give in, it’s time to step away and evaluate who you are and your core beliefs. Every person has the right to be themselves within the parameters of not taking advantage of someone or doing someone harm.

When there is a conflict we naturally assume it is because of what the other person did or didn’t do. But it takes two to tango – it takes two to remain in a conflict. You may not be able to arrive at the solution you want, but there is a solution of some kind available.

If conflict is ongoing, recognize when it begins, count to ten, take some deep breaths, go for a walk and ask yourself, “How have I contributed to this situation?”

This is different than automatically thinking, “I must have done something wrong to make this person act this way.” Each of us is responsible for our behaviors and for discovering why we do the things we do.

Resolving conflict

Conflicts can only be resolved when we face them, stop blaming, communicate how we feel and what we want, and take the time to understand where the other person is coming from. Otherwise, we will generalize the problem (“everybody acts like this.”) We will use put-downs, superiority tactics, or labeling to justify why we feel we are okay and it’s all the other person’s fault.

The first thing to do during a conflict is to acknowledge your feelings and own them.

Identify why the situation (not the person) made you feel the way you do.

Then ask for what you want. This is sometimes referred to as an “I” statement. “I get angry when I am talking and am constantly being interrupted. I would appreciate being able to complete my sentence.”

In that interchange, note it’s important to refer to what you are feeling, why you are feeling that way, and what you would like to have happen.

When you make an “I” statement, never use the word “you.” When “you” is inserted, it becomes an attack, and the other person will defend and counterattack.

When this goes on long enough, words become weapons of choice designed to injure the other in some way. Sometimes the damage can be brutal, leaving lots of scar tissue. A marriage or relationship can be so severely damaged that recovery is impossible. Words become like sharp knife blades.

When you are in a conflict, what is your goal?

What do you want for the result? Is it to be able to communicate better – to be better understood?

If so, before you can expect these things from another, you need to learn the skills of communication and try to understand the other person’s point of view. You don’t have to agree with why they feel or do things a certain way, but you respect it. This helps in negotiation.

Conflicts may be divisive but they can be great teachers

Relationships are never perfect.

Relationships are where we learn we are not the end-all – the greatest thing on God’s green earth.

… Where we learn that we don’t always get what we want.

…Where we learn to appreciate our differences.

…Where we learn to negotiate and compromise and sacrifice personal wants.

…Where we learn that our need for each other is more important than winning a battle.

…Where we learn to practice the concepts of love and grace.

… Where we learn to give and receive.

The hidden questions within our conflicts:

  • What do I really want?
  • What do I need from the other?
  • What does the other need from me?
  • What will be different – what will remain the same?
  • What is the most important priority in this conflict?
  • Am I willing to work towards a win-win?

We enter relationships because we need people.

We want to be loved and accepted for who we are in spite of our shortcomings. We want to be heard and understood. We want what a relationship can bring, but we aren’t always ready to work on making that happen. Yet, moving in and out of relationships is not very satisfying over the long term.

So, is there any hope? Is there ever a chance that we won’t be in some kind of ongoing conflict without having to give up our rights, our wishes, our wants, our needs? Can there be a win-win solution?

Life is never perfect. But when we have identified a problem adequately, we can work on finding solutions.

We cannot avoid conflicts.

Our relationships will in some way be identified with how well we are able to negotiate and affirm each other. At some point, those relationships may break down. The best friend we thought would be loyal forever does some egregious thing and we struggle with our friendship.

Without listening, understanding and forgiveness, those good friendships can end up on the garbage heap. Instead of doing things together, we find ourselves at opposite sides of life. It doesn’t feel good, and we wonder how we got there.

The same is true in our marriages. I choose the word marriage, because within its tenants there is a commitment, even though we are not very good at honoring that commitment. A live-together may have the same ideals of a commitment but they are not spoken.

So where do you begin?

If you are anything like me, I don’t like conflict. Neither do I like to be used or disrespected. And whether I like to deal with conflict or not, it is a part of life.

I believe we begin by establishing the values and principles by which we will live.

  • What do you believe and why?
  • Do you change your values to correspond to whatever the culture of the day says it should be?

And if you do change your values, aren’t you at risk of becoming someone who is not honest, sincere, and reliable? If you choose to follow a religion of hate, you will not only destroy yourself, but others around you.

I have chosen to follow the tenants of Christianity that has its roots in the beginning of time. It is where I find love, grace, forgiveness, and rules for living that go beyond the test of time. While I grew up in the church, each person who professes to be a Christian is required to eventually choose to make this their personal belief.

Review your beliefs and why you have chosen them. Be willing to live them.

Then, when you are in a conflict, make a personal rule that no matter how you feel, you will avoid pointing the finger or disavowing your beliefs.

No matter how egregious the situation, pointing the finger eliminates the need to check your own behaviors and intents. We are prone to seeing the other person’s faults but not our own. Or we only see our faults and never the other person’s.

When one finger is pointed outward, there are at least three that are pointed inward to oneself.

Based on A Couple’s Guide to Communication, by Dr. John Gottman

“That’s Not What I Meant”: 11 Pointers to Promote Good Listening

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

“But you said…”

“No, I didn’t…”

“Yes, I heard you say…”

“Well, that’s not what I meant!”

And so, it goes – round and round and round, until we end up with two angry people who continue to find ways to attack, defend, and destroy each other.

You were sure you said what you believed would be easily understood. And yet, that is not what the other person heard. Anger is intensified, and you dig in your heels and refuse to budge.

How did we get into this conflict in the first place? And how do we get out of it?

Everybody wants their needs met. Everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to be liked and appreciated and respected. And yet, we fight more than we agree.

When we find ourselves in constant disagreement, we believe that if the other person would only see our point of view, we wouldn’t have this problem. “If you cared, wouldn’t you understand my needs?”

The only problem is that the other person is thinking the same thing. And since neither person is listening to the other, the conflict intensifies.

Recognizing Patterns of Response

To end the constant arguing and quarreling, we need to first become aware of our patterns of communicating.

What ignites our conflicts?

What is our typical pattern of response?

These patterns soon become habits that are constantly repeated.

The first step in stopping conflicts is breaking our usual pattern of response.

Different Perceptions

When dealing with others it is important to understand that each of us sees the world differently. Our observations influence how we determine reality. It plays a role in our self-esteem and how we present ourselves.

We cannot separate people from their emotions, deeply held values, or different perspectives and viewpoints. To communicate effectively, we need to build trust, understanding, and respect.

Interpretations will be different. When we continue to experience disagreements, it’s time to examine how we talk and listen.

Understanding requires active listening. Listening requires attention, effort, time, and focus. Our brains are going so fast we often become bored and shut down before we have heard what the other person is trying to say.

Meanings are in people. We infer meanings to the words we hear. The problem comes when our inferences become confused with facts. When we make inferences, we are usually mind-reading. Then a perception check is needed.

11 Pointers to Establish Good Listening

Many of the problems we experience in communication happen because we don’t understand how to listen.

Here are 11 pointers that can help establish good listening.

1. Keep body language and tone of voice the same. Look at the person. Give them your full attention. Does the expression or tone of their voice match the verbal message?

2. Stay focused on what is being said. Don’t plan your reply. Actively work at listening. Resist distractions. Keep an open mind.

3. Suspend judgments. Delay evaluations. Don’t make snap decisions. Rather than reacting to perceived criticism, find common ground – someplace where you both can agree, even if it is agreeing to disagree.

4. Don’t speak for the other person. Wait and listen! Listen for ideas.

5. Restate what you hear. Paraphrasing isn’t interpretation. It is clarification. You don’t add to what the other has said. You simply restate what you heard in your own words and ask for clarification.

“What I heard you say was… is that correct?”

6. Be reflective. Validate feelings. Mirror back what you see and hear.

“It sounds to me like you are sad about…”

“I’ll bet that’s frustrating…”

“You’re upset with me because…”

“You sound like you feel anxious about…”

“I’m not sure I understand. Did you mean you are disappointed that…”

7. Avoid advising. People want us to listen and help clarify. Unless you are working together on a problem, giving advice, or offering solutions is a put-down. It says, “You are not capable of making a decision.”

8. Don’t analyze. Interpretations are helpful only when people ask for your aid in considering alternative meanings. They don’t want you to think for them. Examples of interpretations:

“I think what’s really bothering you is…”

“I don’t think you really meant that…”

9. Ask questions for clarification. Questions can help problem-solve and can clarify thinking and understanding. Use information that others bring to you. Here are some examples.

“You said Mary was acting differently toward you lately. What was she doing?’

“Do you have any reasons for (saying or doing) that?”

“Is that very important to you?”

“How did you feel when that happened?”

“Did you decide that or were you feeling under pressure?”

10. Be careful when reassuring others. Your words may not be supportive.

“You’ve got nothing to worry about. I know you’ll be fine.”

“Don’t worry; we all love you.”

“You should get out more. Then you will feel better.”

A better approach would be to validate feelings – normalize what is happening to the other person. Empathy says, “I hear you. I can understand where you are coming from.”

11. Prompt with encouraging statements. Brief statements of encouragement help the other person sort things out.

 “Uh-huh.”  Or, “I see…” indicate you are listening.

Purposeful Conversation

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

As I sat with my friend, having dinner, I was struck by how many couples were sitting opposite each other, engrossed in their cell phones, with only an occasional comment to their partner. Or they were simply sitting quietly, looking out the window or watching the activity in the restaurant, each deep in their own thoughts, with emptiness reflected on their faces.

Where was the active engagement in conversation? Where was the listening, gesturing, offering points of view, and laughing? Moments in time that offered opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle and connect with each other instead were spent absorbed in trivial things.

Relationships take time to develop. They require ongoing conversation, face-to-face interaction, discussion about problems, listening, and then responding.

Relationships require feedback for better understanding, validation, and confirmation of feelings.

Relationships require being in the present moment with each other and a willingness to work together.

Good conversation is intentional. Good conversation is necessary to maintain a strong relationship.

Too often, couples get mired down with work or other obligations. When they finally take time for a dinner out, their conversation gets caught up in all the problems they are facing to the exclusion of their goals and plans for the future. One person often dominates the conversation, and the night ends with frustration and depression over the problems they are facing.

“This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

— Psalm 118:24

We have 24 hours in every day. How much of that time is spent in purposeful discussion?

When you spend time with another, being in the moment is imperative. Otherwise, the conversation has no meaning. It doesn’t mean you can’t talk about problems, but problems should not be the only thing.

We only have that moment. Any moment in time holds the promise of discovery, reflection, or opportunity.

In The Art of Living Consciously, Dr. Nathaniel Branden, speaks to the need to take responsibility for where we are at any point in time. “Living consciously is a state of being mentally active rather than passive.”

We live in a fast-paced world, with everyone going in different directions, oftentimes fragmented and disconnected. We are faced with drastic changes in our worldview that challenge our values and beliefs. There is less and less time to sit and enjoy each other’s company.

It isn’t just how we say or interpret what was said. Words themselves used in different contexts can have different meanings.

Consider the word “work.”

We think of work as something we don’t especially enjoy but are required to do. And yet when we are “working” on a project we like, such as painting or cooking or creating or maintaining a garden, we don’t think of “work” the same way. It is something we enjoy – it is the effort used to accomplish things that give us deep satisfaction and joy.

I believe that many marriages would not end up in divorce if there were regularly scheduled times to “be” in each other’s company, without phones or iPads, to-do lists or complaints.

We schedule time away with the “guys” or “gals,” but do not see the need to schedule purposeful time with our mates to share our love and let them know how much they mean to us, focusing on their good attributes rather than the things that irritate or displease us.

How important is your marriage? How important are your relationships?

When we make a commitment to spend quality time with the people we care about and love, we will be rewarded with incredible blessings.

Life isn’t a “bowl of cherries” where everything is great, and we are given all the love and attention we crave.

Life, instead, is a challenge to ferret out the important and work hard to build on that.

The Value of Investing in Relationships

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

“A friend is a gift you give yourself.”

—Robert Louis Stevenson

When we talk about investments, it usually relates to what stocks we have, or investing in our children’s education, or in our future.

But perhaps the greatest investment we can make is our investment in our relationships.

Learning to invest

When you want your money to grow, you check out investment options. What amount needs to be invested to bring a good return over time?

Growing up, I was taught to save 10 percent of everything I earned. From the berry fields to my first job after high school, there was little left to put into savings after expenses. But it was a principle I took seriously, abided by, and was always amazed at how those little deposits added up over time.

When my husband and I got married, we started out barely able to make ends meet and pay the bills. But over the years, we continued putting away whatever we could and investing it for later years. It required discipline, self-regulation, sacrifice and commitment. But it was a diligence that more than paid off in dividends.

Investing wisely took a while to learn. Some stocks were too risky; others gave hardly any return. But we learned how to invest wisely and prudently, maximizing our return while minimizing the risks.

Relationships are like investments

“Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.”

—Eleanor Roosevelt

But it wasn’t just money that we invested in. It was our relationship – how we treated each other, how we spoke to one another, how we showed that we cared for each other.

Just like we use a dollar amount to invest for financial growth, investing in our relationship required a commitment. To gain a positive return, we invested time, energy, loyalty, reliability and dedication. Over time, that investment returned dividends we couldn’t have imagined.

Relationships from childhood on

Early childhood relationships meant playing with kids who were nearby. As time went on, friendships became more complicated.

As we grew up, the kids we hung around with gave us social identity and status and we shared a commonality in our doubts and fears. Our camaraderie made us loyal. When that loyalty was betrayed, we experienced the sting of rejection and betrayal.

Entering adulthood, we began to choose more wisely. Our circle of friends gradually extended from party times to those who shared the same or similar values and goals.

We began to make a different investment in our friendships. We realized that important and valued relationships required on-going effort and commitment, loyalty, and sacrifice; being willing to endure those tough times as well as enjoying the good times.

“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than walk alone in the light.”

—Helen Keller

Some friendships last a lifetime – others go by the wayside – others we drop because those early moments of compatibility were shallow and had no roots to grow.

The friendships where we invest the most time, energy, love, commitment, and loyalty will be those that give us the greatest return – a return that can’t be measured in monetary ways.

Relationships – who needs them?

We are social animals and require social interaction to survive. As we learn more about the human brain, research reveals that we are hardwired to connect with each other. Creating secure bonds is important for our health.

Socially isolated people are two to three times more likely to die prematurely than those with strong social ties.

The type of relationship doesn’t matter. Marriage, friendship, religious and community ties all seem to increase longevity.

Divorced men before the age of 70 are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer, and strokes as married men. The rate of all types of cancer is about five times higher for divorced men and women.

Poor communication and the inability to resolve conflicts within our relationships can contribute to coronary disease.

One Swedish study examined 32 pairs of identical twins. One sibling in each pair had heart disease, whereas the other was healthy. Researchers found that obesity, smoking habits, and cholesterol levels of the healthy and sick twins did not differ significantly. Among the significant differences, however, were poor childhood and adult interpersonal relationships, the ability to resolve conflicts, and the degree of emotional support given by others.

Perhaps you have experienced misplaced loyalty, broken commitments, and trampled expectations from those you considered friends, colleagues, and spouses.

If you have been hurt in relationships, you may ask: Relationships – who needs them? Wouldn’t it just be easier to stay out of any serious relationship altogether?

And yet, as social beings, we require social interaction to survive. Consider this post from Jenny Cadell, PsyD, who writes in her blog post, 3 Key Factors of Healthy Relationships:

“We are much more interconnected than we realize. As technology advances and we are able to actually see into the human brain, we now have proof of this.”

Research is revealing that evidence that we are hardwired to connect with each other and “that healthy relationships actually soothe our brains.”

Technology is allowing us to see what is happening within our brains. We were not meant to face “the trauma and difficulties of life” by ourselves. Creating secure bonds is important for our health.

Do we need each other?

Oh, I think we do.

And does communication play a large part in that?

It plays a huge part. Examining our relationships and how we communicate can be a lifesaver.

What relationships have you invested in?

  1. How do you choose your friends? What are the most important criteria for you?
  2. What kind of friend are you? What qualities do you believe make for a dependable and long-term relationship?
  3. Are there friendships you continue to invest in for the wrong reasons such as status, popularity, inclusion, someone to party with, use as a bargaining chip, etc.?
  4. Are you able to be yourself in your relationships, feeling the safety to disclose?

We need each other.

Can you find those ways to invest in your relationships, making them the best ever with the greatest return?

How Birth Order Impacts Your Life and Your Communication

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

Are you on top or bottom of the heap?

Families influence how we approach problems and how we communicate with one another. They can also have an effect on the success of our marriages.

While family dynamics help shape and mold us, another component that few people are aware of impacts our relationships. Long-term research confirms that our birth order and position within our family of origin have a predictable emotional effect on our lives.

Where do you fall within the members of your family?

Were you the oldest, the middle child or the youngest? Perhaps you were an only child. If you had siblings, how did you feel about them? Did you feel lost within the family structure, or believe others received special privileges while you always had to be the “good guy”?

Growing up, we struggle with issues of “closeness and distance.”

According to Dr. Ronald W. Richardson, author of Family Ties That Bind, many “outwardly independent people” are in reality only “pseudo-independent.”

They use distance as a way to control their fears about getting too close. “They may have tremendous needs for closeness, but have become afraid of it, so they distance instead.”  They often choose a partner that compensates for their unspoken needs.

What long-term birth-order research reveals

Oldest Child

The oldest child tends to become more serious, reserved, and less playful. They are high achievers, highly motivated to succeed, and are often perfectionists. They assume leadership roles. They can find it difficult to accept criticism and may resent the attention given to younger members of the family.

Middle Child(ren)

Being caught in-between, middle children are often confused about their identity and may not feel special. Typically, they crave attention, thrive on friendships and affection, and often go into the entertainment field. They usually have a large social circle, tend to become people-pleasers, and feel competition with older siblings. They may struggle with identifying and developing their abilities.

Younger Child(ren)

Younger children are often considered spoiled by their older siblings. Because parents have learned better parenting skills, they treat later arrivals differently. There are fewer expectations and less pressure.

Younger children are typically optimists with positive expectations about life. The offside to this is they may lack self-discipline and have difficulty making decisions. Typically, they are more fun-loving, outgoing, and charming. They can be attention-seekers and more self-centered. While the older child may consider them to have had more privileges, the youngest can feel inferior to the older siblings.

Only Child

Only children tend to be well-organized, often perfectionists. They are comfortable with responsibility and with being in the spotlight but do not take criticism well. They lack the social experiences of give-and-take that children growing up in larger families have.

Impact on future marriage

Birth order alters the communication of parents and of the children themselves. They not only react differently but see themselves differently. These patterns are taken with them and influence their adult relationships without their awareness. These patterns are especially relevant in marriages.

When two oldest birth order children marry or two youngest, the dynamics of the marriage can have a different affect than a marriage between an oldest and youngest. Birth order does make a difference in future long-term relationships.

Although these are only tendencies, understanding their potential influence can help us develop communication and negotiation skills that address these challenges and find ways to enrich our marriages.

Perhaps you are having difficulties communicating with your partner or spouse. You have tried to use words carefully, but the connection isn’t what you would like it to be.

Is your birth order influencing your current relationship?

Take a moment and look at the following five questions. Do any relate to you in some way?

  1. What position did you have in your family tree? Do you see any of the birth-order tendencies and interactions within your family? Do you look at yourself in a certain way because of where you fell in the birth order of your family?
  2. Did you believe that Mom or Dad favored your sister or brother more than you? What did you observe or experience that draws you to that conclusion? Can you expand your view of these circumstances with the new birth order information?
  3. What childhood grievances have you hung onto that may have had their origins in birth order? Do you still want to hang on to them? If not, consider starting a conversation with siblings or Mom and Dad.
  4. Do the beliefs about your family continue to divide or separate your family? Have you tried to make contact with an estranged family member? How do you think their family memories would differ from yours?
  5. How can this information change how you raise your own children? Try spending some special, undivided, one-on-one time with each of your children, even if it is just a small amount of time.

Let your children know you love them even when their behaviors are unacceptable. Regardless of birth order, personality traits, or emotional problems, when children believe they are loved, it has a huge balancing effect on any problems they may be experiencing.

If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends.

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

Families: Love Them or Hate Them

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

Do you remember when you were a kid and couldn’t wait to leave home? You couldn’t wait to do things the way you wanted without somebody telling you what you could or could not do.

But whether we like it or not, we take our families of origin with us. That includes our typical way of communicating.

If you grew up in a nurturing and loving home, you may have some anxiety when you leave home, but you recognize and appreciate the values and discipline taught by your parents that you are taking with you. It creates a foundation to build on.

If you grew up in an emotionally or physically abusive home, leaving home represents freedom.

However, good or bad, we tend to repeat what we learned in our family of origin.

Patterns of communication, whether through modeled behavior or words spoken, will be repeated from generation to generation until we recognize and replace them.

The only way we keep from repeating what we learned as children is through processing and resolving the unfinished business of our childhood. That includes untangling the web of conflicts that don’t go away just because we have left home.

Families have an enormous influence on our lives.

If we came from a supportive home, we learn that disputes can be settled, and we can set boundaries without hurting someone else. We learn how to engage with others even if it is imperfect. We know we can trust and get close to others without always feeling suspicious and wary.

It is also in our families of origin where we develop a sense of worth and esteem and incorporate the values and principles that were important to our parents. We may modify or reject them later, but they are the basis for our first core beliefs about life.

We do not have to repeat the patterns we grew up with; but to replace them, we must first be aware of them. Only then can we choose different rules and values for our life.

If you are constantly having relationship problems that repeat themselves over and over again, look back to your family of origin. Take time to explore and understand those early relationships. What was positive and what was negative?

Dysfunctional Families

In her book, Changing Course: Healing from Loss, Abandonment, and Fear,  Claudia Black, Ph.D., helps us understand how dysfunctional families have such a long-standing impact on our lives.

If we are unable to go back and face difficult childhood issues, we will keep our defenses up to avoid feeling the pain today. If we grow up with fear and shame, we become adults who live with fear and shame and a pervasive sense of loss.

Recovery happens when we recognize we want to make changes and take those steps to make it happen.

You do not need to remain a victim of a dysfunctional family.

Don’t Talk, Don’t Trust, Don’t Feel

Dr. Black indicates that the underlying forces that create a sense of loss are denial, rigidity, isolation, and shame.

Natural and necessary losses are balanced with comfort and support, and we grow stronger and healthier because of them. In a severely dysfunctional family, one parent intentionally creates a loss, (example giving away your pet) and the other parent denies the significance of what happened.

Loss is not always the result of what does happen – sometimes it is the result of what does not happen.

When not given support, we feel sad, unloved, and abandoned. If this occurs while growing up, it makes it very difficult to develop a positive self-esteem.

Emotional abandonment occurs when the parent is not emotionally available to the child on a consistent basis. Parents never say, “I love you.”

Physical abandonment occurs when a child has repetitively missed meals or been left alone, unsupervised for hours or days. We minimize or deny our abandonment.

Physical and sexual abuse are major boundary violations. When we treat a child as an object and not a person, we are physically abandoning our child. Not feeling secure, protected, or safe – both psychologically and physically – creates the greatest loss for children.

Denial: The Rule of Silence

Denial is a defense mechanism, a natural response to protect against pain. When someone feels helpless to alter their situation or is ashamed of what is happening, they will resort to denial.

Children learn it is not okay to speak out. We are to pretend things are different than what they are. Denial can be identified when people discount, minimize or rationalize their feelings and pretend things are different than they really are.

Rigidity: Don’t Question – Don’t Think

In troubled families, parents are usually dogmatic in their thinking, “This is the way it is and there are no exceptions.”

Children are seen – not heard.

The family rules are: Don’t ask or question. Don’t trust. Don’t feel. Never challenge authority.

Here, parents are unrealistic, expect too much from their children for their age-appropriate ability, and rarely offer rewards or acknowledgement to the child who obeys.

Obedience is an expectation you are to perform without question. This often results in children becoming depressed. These children will find hurtful ways to act out and will grow up having difficulty making appropriate choices. They become unrealistic with themselves and others. They will rebel and may develop a lenient attitude that says they aren’t accountable or responsible.


Connection with others creates meaning in our lives. When that connection is distorted, we are unable to make the kind of connections we need. We don’t want others to know of our personal pain or family pain, which then creates isolation. We learn social graces, but it is superficial – not real.

Low Self-Esteem and Low Self-Worth

Shame leads to low self-esteem and low self-worth. Internalized shame is a painful feeling that results from the belief there is something inherently wrong with who you are. You or a part of you is defective or inadequate.

To live with shame is to feel alienated and defeated. You are never quite good enough to belong. You see yourself as bad, ugly, stupid, incompetent, and damaged.

Abandonment Is At the Root of Shame

Abandonment is experienced through various forms of rejection, and is colored by parental words and actions, subtle and not-so-subtle. Whether intentional or not, abandonment makes a child feel unloved and undervalued. It’s the parent’s job to protect, care for and love their children, as well as to teach them to respect laws and make good choices.

It is not possible to live with the dynamics of chronic loss and not be affected. The younger the age of trauma or loss, the more hurtful.

If negative judgments are attached to our experiences, the greater the emotional consequences. This is portrayed to us by the communication we receive, both verbally and physically.

But with help, we can change its impact. We can use it to become more understanding and compassionate with others who are struggling.

We can’t move forward positively without completing our past.

Regardless of our upbringing and past experiences, we are not prisoners of our past. With knowledge and understanding, we gain personal power to make better and more appropriate choices.

If you have experienced any of those things growing up, please seek help from a reliable and trained therapist who can help you unravel the past, heal, and guide you in putting in place a healthy way to live.

If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends.

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

Those Early Relationships

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

We learn about relationships in our family of origin.

Our view of self, others and the world are shaped there. Family dynamics are very powerful. Patterns of behaviors are repeated from generation to generation.

How we deal with differences within our family of origin can have a major impact on how we relate today.

No family is perfect – no parents can meet all the needs of their children. When you are born, you leave a safe, warm environment and enter one that produces pain, discomfort, and stress.

As we you grow up, you go through predictable, developmental stages with certain tasks associated with them. None of us complete these tasks without some problems.

A family is the total of all the people associated with it.

Our personality develops in relation to others in our family. Every exchange influences other members as well.

Rules in the family are often unspoken and can be confusing or contradictory.

  • Unspoken rules are not openly acknowledged or agreed upon. If talked about, they will often be denied, yet have the greatest impact.
  • Spoken rules can be openly discussed, negotiated, and changed.

We discover ourselves within our relationships.

The way we interact with each other and the way others react to us is how we learn who we are.

Deprived of communication with others, we would have little sense of identity. By interacting and communicating, we learn how to relate in social circles, develop a sense of inclusion or belonging, and a desire to share and influence. We learn to have some power over our own life in the process.

Within our social relationships we fill the very important need for acceptance and inclusion and develop respect and regard for ourselves and others.

As we enter adult relationships, we are unconsciously drawn to people who resemble those in our childhood. We are drawn to similar patterns of behavior – almost like a magnet, we seek partners who treat us in similar ways as our caregivers did.

Our childhood and the relationships we had with others during those growing-up years impact how we relate today.

  • How did people communicate around you?
  • Were there ongoing arguments and name calling?
  • Were you put down and labeled “stupid” or some other discrediting names?
  • Or were you encouraged and helped?

We bring those things with us into adulthood.

Exploring our past gives us information about how to communicate more effectively.

We can process and heal old wounds and replace uncomplimentary language. We may not always find the answers we want, but can find enough clues to help re-direct, fix or change dialogue today.

In dysfunctional families there is an absence of nurturing, which often leads to shame and abandonment. There are boundary violations and rigid, dogmatic thinking that isolates members. There may be a rule of silence which means you are not allowed to discuss problems.

The 5 categories of needs

Maslow suggested that human needs fall into 5 categories and each of them must be satisfied before moving to the next one.

Those categories were:

  1. Physiological
  2. Safety
  3. Love and belonging needs
  4. Esteem
  5. Self-actualization needs

We can simplify it by saying that to be healthy, we need to have self-esteem, the desire to believe we are worthwhile, valuable people with the potential to accomplish things, and self-actualization.

Social isolation is one of the most intense cruelties.

Solitary confinement is the worst of punishments and studies have shown that healthy individuals can become psychotic after only 24-48 hours of solitary confinement.

To relate or connect, we need to communicate.

Relating is communicating in some way with other people. Communication can be intentional or unintentional, deliberate or non-deliberate.

Have you ever lost your temper or made a careless comment that you wish you could take back? But are you aware that your nonverbal messages can be just as powerful, and in many cases, more compelling than what you say?

It is impossible not to communicate.

Communication is an ongoing process. We are sending messages to other people all the time through posture, gesture, distance, body orientation, and clothing.

Facial expressions, such as signs of boredom, sour expressions, body stances, arms crossed, and every other nonverbal behavior is communicating.

Silence can reflect anger, contentment, or fatigue.

How do you determine if the message you are receiving is the message that is actually being sent?

Patterns are repeated from generation to generation.

Children growing up with an alcoholic parent are only too aware of how destructive addictions are on the family. We swear we won’t repeat the same mistakes. Yet, more times than we want to recognize, children growing up in alcoholic families end up marrying an alcoholic or someone with an addictive personality.

The words we heard, the accusations and labels we were given, the lack of love expressed – either verbally or non-verbally – all hugely influence who we are. These words, actions, and labels are too often repeated unless we become aware enough to make changes.

Whether we like it or not, we tend to repeat what we are familiar with. It is what we know.

But we also grow up with positive experiences.

These are often forgotten because the unpleasant was so powerful. There are those times when we were told we were important… that we did something right… that we could do it – those times when we felt encouraged and uplifted.

While it’s important to recognize unhealthy patterns, it is even more important to acknowledge those times when we felt good about who we were and strengthen them.

What are your earliest positive relationship memories?

Perhaps it was with a special friend, a listening grandfather, or an encouraging teacher. Perhaps you had fond memories of a pet you could talk to, hug, and who would be there with you through thick and thin.

What made those relationships special? What was important?

Perhaps it was loyalty, the confidence that you could share anything and know it would be kept confidential.

The assurance that you could be vulnerable and confide your fears and know you would still be accepted.

Perhaps, it was that someone would listen. Or that you could spend hours with someone  who shared the same interests as you and never be bored.

As you think about what was important and valuable in past relationships, can you duplicate some of that today?

  • Who do you hang around with?
  • Can you build trust today by first being a good friend to yourself?

Take some time and decide what is important to you in a relationship. Then ask yourself, “Given where I am today, how can I begin to bring that about?”

You can’t change others. You can only change your own behaviors. But your behaviors influence those around you.

If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends.

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

Of Course I’m Listening: 5 Tips for Better Communication

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 5 of 5 in my series on communication.
Part 1 – Learning to Communicate: 12 Tips
Part 2 – Communication Basics
Part 3 – Common Communication Breakdowns
Part 4 – The Art of Relaxed Conversation

Every day I observe the difficulties people have in communicating with one another.

We struggle to listen with the purpose of understanding.

We jump to conclusions instead of getting the whole picture.

We often don’t consider what may be happening in the other person’s life that might make it difficult for them to ask for what they want or need or share what they are experiencing.

We all struggle to understand where the other person is coming from and to share our own needs and wants.

  • How do I ask without demanding?
  • Can I share my thoughts and emotions without blaming or accusation?
  • And even more important, How can I really listen?

We communicate in some way every day with words, a look, a touch of the hand, a gesture or by our posture or even by our silence. Sometimes it is through notes we write or quick texts on our phone.

The difficulties we see in marriages, intimate relationships, and families often revolve around this inability to communicate adequately and accurately. Knowing ahead of time what creates these breakdowns can help us avoid them.

Too often breakdowns occur because we are not really listening.

What are you saying and what is being heard?

As I was reviewing my notes on relationships, I came across five important communication reminders for parents.

But they’re not just for parents communicating with their children. They’re also for couples who struggle to share and better understand each other.

These communication guidelines are for anyone who wants to have better relationships.

That’s Not What I Meant | focuswithmarlene.com

1. Listen – really listen.

That isn’t as easy as it sounds because as soon as we hear something we begin immediately responding.

As difficult as it might seem, stop before you respond. Take a moment and just be quiet. Before expressing your views or oppositions or even agreements, take time to consider what was said.

If passionate emotions are involved, validate the feelings of the speaker. Do not judge, or criticize, or come up with answers to someone’s problem. But acknowledge them.

Pay attention to what is actually being said or what the other person is trying to say.

Can you listen from the other’s point of view? Don’t think about what you want to say in response and don’t interrupt. Give the other person time to compose their thoughts.

If you need to clarify, ask appropriate questions to help you understand. “What I hear you saying is… Is that correct?”

Be completely present in the moment. Don’t bring up the past or attack with your own list of complaints or criticisms.

Instead, focus on the other person’s message. Remember that silence can sometimes be the most effective and helpful tool a listener has.

2. Don’t criticize or judge.

We often dismiss what our kids or spouses are trying to tell us when they talk about the struggles they are having. Even if it doesn’t sound important to you, it is to your child or significant other or colleague.

Some of what is said can trigger an instantaneous response from us; we have the solution and if they just did things the way we would, they wouldn’t have this problem.

But that infers that you are smarter and the other is stupid. Judging anyone places you in a superior position.

We can have an opinion about behaviors and actions, but we do not always know the heart of someone who is struggling, even if we’re living in the same household.

You can support and confirm the other’s ability to problem-solve by validating their feelings. Use words such as, “I didn’t realize such things bothered you.”

This opens the door to communication rather than slamming it shut. You can encourage them to express what is happening because often our emotions and thinking get jumbled up. We don’t have to agree but can be respectful.

3. Talk from the heart.

When someone uses heart talk with you – the language of feelings and emotions – don’t respond intellectually with head-talk.

It diminishes the other person’s feelings, and they often will not talk about them again.

Confirm and authenticate their journey using phrases such as, “This must be hard for you.”

4. Don’t assume.

We hold preconceived notions about the people we live with and work with. These can hamper communication.

Don’t assume that you know another person’s thoughts or feelings. Find out.

That is also true for our significant others. We don’t know everything. We make assumptions that may or may not be true.

Repeat what was said, and then add, “Is this what you meant?”

5. Show your love.

Actions can be as important as words – oftentimes more important.

Marriage is an extremely complex institution. It takes courage, determination, and resiliency to maintain a long-lasting relationship. Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship and mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company.

Couples who have this know each other intimately. They know each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes, and dreams. They have an abiding regard for each other and express fondness in little ways day in and day out and have found ways to stay connected.

They maintain their friendship because it is the foundation of their love. Friendship fuels the flames of romance.

When dating our future mate, we want to be with that person as much as possible. We share our hopes and dreams, along with our past.

Somewhere along the way, however, people stop doing that after they are married. Instead of discovering more of each other, their focus is on all the problems they are experiencing. They forget to continue building that relationship that was so important. Without healthy and satisfying relationships life will be very difficult.

So, ask yourself, overall, is your communication bringing the results you want?

If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends.

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

The Art of Relaxed Conversation

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 4 in my 5-part series on communication.
Part 1 – Learning to Communicate: 12 Tips
Part 2 – Communication Basics
Part 3 – Common Communication Breakdowns

Have you ever sat down with an elderly parent and tried to have a conversation?

It can be difficult to find common things to talk about, because both of you are in a different world space. Most often what is needed is the art of listening. But it also requires knowing how to start a conversation.  

Communication is about sharing our thoughts and feelings, as well as what may be currently happening in the world, involving some kind of interchange or conversation. We send and receive messages as we talk about our wants and needs.

Many times, however, our conversations with loved ones end up in misunderstanding or hurt feelings.

  • What do I say?
  • How can I encourage conversation?
  • Does my body language mirror my words?
  • Am I prepared to listen and understand the other person’s world from their perspective?

This is important not only for the divide between younger people and elderly parents, but with anyone we have discussions with.

Our worlds are different. We have different experiences. We see the world differently. What may seem true to one person may not to another.

Finding a way to share ideas and listen to alternative ones with respect is critical for friendships and relationships.

Communication is a process.

It is circular and non-verbal. When our communication is ineffective we feel as though we are not understood. When communication breaks down between those we love, relationships begin to unravel.

Communication is carefully listening to another and involves body language that says we are here together.

We need people.

We need to share ideas and perspectives – our joys and laughter – our pain and sorrows. We need effective communication to solve problems, share different views and ideas.

Anything worth having or accomplishing is based on communication of some kind. We miss so much because we lack the skill of asking or sharing new ideas or finding out how the other is doing.

The joy of relaxed conversation

After returning from a seven-day river cruise I took with a long-time friend, I reflected on the joy of that trip.

Besides the relaxation, new scenery, and exciting day trips to places never before visited, wI enjoyed meeting and talking to the people who were on this cruise.

We met people from all over the United States and Canada and even Australia. As we sat for dinner or a glass of wine, we talked and shared about where we lived, places we have traveled, our interests and backgrounds.

Over the course of a week, we would bump into each other at various places on board, laugh and joke and at times, share phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Most cell phones were turned off since we had entered another country. But we found we didn’t need them except to take pictures.

How fun it was to talk face-to-face, see expressions and hear reflections and excitement in conversations.

I had to ask myself, had life become so hectic that it took going on a cruise to find time to sit, relax and talk with another person for a few minutes?

How sad that in today’s world, conversations seem to be fast sound bites texted to one another.

How many wonderful moments have we missed by not taking time for those casual but meaningful conversations, with laughter and sometimes intense discussion.

In his book, Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life, Eric Greitens, a former Navy Seal, quotes Antiphon (Fifth Century BC).

“There are people who do not live their present life; it is as if they were preparing themselves, with all their zeal, to live some other life, but not this one. And while they do this, time goes by and is lost.”

We get so busy making a living that we don’t take time to live

Living is creating meaning in our life through the friendships we make and preserve as well as our work. It is finding time to play and enjoy each other’s company.

Antiphon died 2,500 years ago. But his words still resonate as we reflect on how we can live a more meaningful life.

Conversations are one way.

If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends.

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.