We are communicating every day in some way: with words, or a look, a touch of the hand, a gesture or by our posture. Sometimes it is through notes we write or texting on our phone.
What are we saying and what is being heard?
As I was reviewing some of my notes and former class material on relationships, I came across the following five important communication reminders for parents.
But they’re not just for parents communicating with their children, but also for couples who struggle every day to share and better understand each other. I have rewritten them to include spouses as well as parents and children.
Everything was going so nicely – we were so happy. And then reality stepped in:
there’s not enough money to pay the bills, credit card debts keep piling up, in-laws intrude with all their advise and many visits, and we have to work longer hours to keep our jobs while accomplishing more.
Suddenly we find ourselves arguing more, tempers flaring, anger rising beyond the norm and the blame game begins. We go outside our marriage to talk about our spouses and get consolation, validation, sympathy and support.
And the scene is set for even more serious troubles.
In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman lays out in a practical format the seven principles for making marriage work, based on years of research and study in his Seattle based clinic, The Gottman Institute.
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 face.
Where was the active engagement in conversation – listening, gesturing, offering points of view, and laughing?
Moments in time
At any moment in time we are offered opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle and connect with each other.
We choose what we do within each moment. We can spend our time on trivial things or purposefully spend time to connect with one another.
Relationships take time to develop and they require conversation, interaction, face to face interaction, listening and then responding. It requires feedback for better understanding, validation and confirmation of feelings. It requires being in the present moment with each other.
“For I will pour water on the thirsty ground and send streams coursing through the parched earth. I will pour my spirit into your descendants and my blessing on your children. They shall sprout like grass on the prairie, like willows alongside creeks.”
There are two trees in my backyard. Their trunks touching, roots entwining, they reach high into the sky, together yet separate. They symbolize the life I shared with my husband.
The love we shared was as deep and connected as the entwining and supporting roots of these two trees. We nurtured each other while allowing the other the independence to grow in their own ways.
The tree that was Le Roy has been cut down, and the love that flowed through those roots that nourished each other now seeps into barren soil.
This was a journal entry I made after the death of my husband that reflected the life we shared. It is included in my new book, From Winter to Spring, currently being edited for publication that gives helpful information to individuals moving from losses to creating a new reality.
We bring to the marriage altar a truckload of expectations, myths, wants and wishes hoping that now I will be loved unconditionally and all my needs will be met. The problem is that the other person is bringing their own bag of history with them.
In March of this year I wrote this about a friend of mine:
“My sister – not by blood, but by a bond forged over the years.
Sometimes we are fortunate in that God gives two people a heritage that goes beyond blood, and we can truly call ourselves sisters.
Through thick and thin – good times and bad – I know I can depend on her to be there – for support – for physical assistance – someone who never thought twice to fly all the way from England to be with me when my husband was dying.”
And in the same way, she knows I will be there for her, whatever the situation she may be challenged with. It’s not keeping score.
When you want to make your money grow, you check out investment options. What amount do you need to invest and what will be your return over time.
When I was growing up, I was taught to save 10% 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. In fact the first six months of our marriage we lived with his parents.
But over the years, we continued that same principle of putting away whatever we could, investing for future years. It required discipline, self-regulation, sacrifice and commitment. But it was a diligence that paid off in huge dividends.
Investing wisely took a while to learn. Some stocks were too risky, others gave no return for an investment; but after a short period of time we learned how to invest wisely and prudently, maximizing our return while minimizing the risks.
As we continue our series in relationships, we want to know how we can make our current relationships more meaningful and satisfying.
Exploring our past gives us information about what we bring with us into our present day relationships. We may not always find the answers we want, but we find enough clues to help re-direct, fix or change courses today.
Patterns are repeated from generation to generation.
Children growing up with an alcoholic parent are only too aware of how destructive addictions can have on the family. They swear they 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.
We repeat what we are familiar with. It is what we know. To keep from repeating them, we need to have new information to work with.
Remembering those good times
We often forget the positive experiences we had growing up. There were those times when we knew we were loved and appreciated, complimented or encouraged. Who were involved in these affirming experiences?
But as we grab hold of understanding our past, we can let go of those parts that hold us hostage and keep us from swinging free into tomorrow.
My son was born without the muscles to hold up his head. A special brace was designed just for him so he could learn to walk and do all the things every kid does. It had a metal rod that went up the back and was anchored around his waist and around his forehead to hold the head up.
He never let his brace or lack of muscles deter him from grabbing hold of life and swinging into the unknown. He let go of anything that kept him grounded and swung freely.
Handicaps of any kind do not need to deter us. Difficult childhood experiences of neglect, lack of love, favoritism, alcoholism, rejection, abandonment or abuse can feel like handicaps. They can make us feel as though we are trapped in an ongoing cycle of shame, anger, self doubt or depression. But these nor any other handicaps need to keep us imprisoned to a past or unable to find hope for the future.
Let’s create a rope we can grab hold of and swing to a new way of doing things.
Years ago, I facilitated many parenting classes for Kaiser Permanente Health Education. We helped parents identify the needs of their children and the importance of establishing rules, structure and communication within the family.
If children know what is expected of them, they will know how to comply. They will understand the consequences of their choices, good or bad and know that they are making those choices.
When children are unsure, there is an undercurrent of not knowing what to do.
One way for parents to set rules and structure is to do hold periodic family meetings. In these meetings kids are able to give their input while parents make the final decisions. Here rules and responsibilities can be discussed and chores and household tasks set for everyone. It is here where the family can discuss vacation options and review different outside schedules.
Families not only have an influence on how we approach problems in life or the blueprint we follow, but it can have an effect on the course of our marriages.
It is important to remember, that 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.
While family dynamics help shape and mold us, there is another component that can have an effect on our relationships that few people think of.
Long term research confirm that our birth order and position within our family of origins has an emotional effect on our lives in predictable ways. It is a phenomenon that occurs in all cultures and countries.
Where do you fall within the structure of your family? Were you the oldest, the middle child or the youngest? How did you feel about your siblings? Did you feel lost within the family, or feel that others received special privileges while you always had to be the “good one”?