Thursday, May 29, 2008

Our Nest is Empty, Now What Do We Talk About?

Many couples find it strange to suddenly be living alone, cooking alone, free to come and go as they please and not worry what time their offspring get in at night. Habits and worries that occupied so much of their lives outside of work are no longer present. Finding ways to occupy time and topics to talk about may provide a challenge. This can be especially hard when there has been a close connection between a parent and child.

One woman recently complained that she often felt depressed because she really missed her Wednesday night shopping and Sunday night movie dates with her daughter. She was worried that, now that her “playmate” was gone, her husband could not or would not fill that role in her life.

The transition is often easier when parents and children have had good relationships and can negotiate the changes in adult-like ways as relationships move from parent-child to more of a peer-like relationship. When there has been hostility or anger a painful move out of a parents’ home, it is much more difficult to feel positive and good about these changes.

When children have been a worry, it is not easy to let go of the worry. One dad recently said that he had a good relationship with his son but lots of his behavior concerned him. Moving out was good for both of them because now the worrisome behavior was not “right under his nose” so when they met for lunch or played golf together, they could chat about family news, politics or sports and not what was “wrong” with his son.

Many people are very excited and well-prepared for the change. These are usually those who have other interests, hobbies and activities alone and together; however, that may be something hard to cultivate during child-rearing years.

One thing that couples must do is to recognize that this life transition brings about many different feelings: sadness, disappointment, loneliness, excitement, confusion, boredom; along with concerns about aging or getting old. It is good to talk about it with each other … about the changes for each as an individual and as a couple, and look for ways to fill those gaps without causing distance in the marriage.

Spend your talking time by looking for and dreaming about the positives of this transition. Talk with each other about what you DO like about this different time in your life. Brainstorm activities, classes, hobbies, trips and new experiences that you can have with each other. Develop new rituals of connecting like sharing coffee and the paper on the living room couch together every morning or taking a long walk after dinner every night.

Celebrate the transition to a new relationship with your adult children and plan regular opportunities to gather such as family vacations, monthly dinners, Wednesday night phone conversations and other regular connections that you all can plan for and count on together.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Tip of the Week, May 26, 2008

Don't worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.
Robert Fulghum

Monday, May 19, 2008

Tip of the Week, May 19, 2008

I cannot change another person. I cannot change another person. I cannot change another person. The only thing that I can do is to change myself, my thoughts about them or their behavior or the way that I handle certain situations. Some things I must accept … and learn to let go.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Infidelity: Do you love him or her?

One question that is often asked is “Were/Are you in love with this other person?” We fully understand the desire to have an honest and open answer to this question, but this is often much more complicated than a simple yes or no answer.

When there is a secret affair occurring, those caught in the throes of passion, newness and excitement often believe that they are experiencing love, when, in fact, it may be more about a change in brain chemistry that is stimulated by something new and exciting. Fantasies, coupled with furtive meetings and new and stimulating conversation and contact, fuel the increased adrenaline and general feelings of pleasure, happiness and lust that can often be misinterpreted as “love”. While in this state, people often believe that they have found the one true person for them and their lives and it is not until some time later that the whole picture can provide a clearer perspective for them.

Thus comes the question that many want answered … “Are/Were you in love with this other person?” The answer in the moment may be a protective “no”, a serious “no” or a hurtful “yes” which may be true only for that moment. This may be a question that is better asked, and answered, at a much later time and after there has been a lot of conversation between the couple about their own relationship.

Infidelity: How Much Do I Need to Disclose?

When someone has had an affair, or multiple affairs, the last thing that they want to do is to talk about it and to tell the stories, and yet, that is an important part of healing.

In the early stages of recovery from an affair, the only details that are important are the answers to who, what, when and where. Answers should be clear and specific about meetings, timetables, protected or unprotected sex, etc. The offending partner does not need to volunteer information at this point and the hurting partner should only ask questions that he or she truly wants answered.

Later in the process, and hopefully with the assistance of a competent and skilled couples’ therapist, a deeper understanding of the affair can be discovered. This process will answer questions about both the person who had the affair and the problems and feelings in the marriage before the affair.

Some of the questions about the affair involve the thinking of the person who had the affair such as: When did he/she recognize that there was a developing attraction or feeling for this other person? What was their thinking about this person and how this relationship would affect the marriage? How did they think that their spouse would feel about this friendship? Did this affair develop with a co-worker or someone that they would normally see on a regular basis? How did it move from a working relationship to something more? What were some of the experiences, thoughts and or feelings that happened in the affair that would be helpful to cultivate in the marriage?

Some of the questions to answer about the context of the marriage before the affair developed are: What was the status of connection (conversation and physical) in the relationship? How do you resolve, or not resolve, conflict? Do you have a healthy sex life? What are the conversations that you need to have, but do not, in your marriage? What are the guidelines that you have in your marriage about friendships with the opposite sex? What do you both need to do to stay connected to each other, talk about difficult problems and work through them, and to also recognize and acknowledge normal observations of others while maintaining a clear boundary around the marriage.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Tip of the Week, May 12, 2008

Ask your spouse about his or her dreams … for career, travel, entertainment, retirement. Ask your child the same question. Talk with your friends and family about their dreams. You may find some very interesting and intriguing things out … and the person that you question will appreciate being asked.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Resolving Family Tension After Parents Die

Question: Do all families have tension and disagreements after their parents die? My sisters and brother and I have always gotten along; however, since my parents’ death, we have grown apart and two of them are no longer speaking. There are 4 of us and we are all in our late 50’s and early 60’s. Seems like some of them are acting like children again. What can I do to help?

Response: It is not unusual for families to develop tension after parents die. Often the tension develops as plans are made for funerals and memorial services or the parents’ household is distributed. Old feelings of jealousy and hurt can emerge as some take charge and others respond or react. Many people are not good at resolving conflict, asking for what they want or need or even disagreeing. Other people, often the oldest child, take charge and that can cause resentment. One recent study found that dividing the parents property caused the most tension because so much holds sentimental value and desires for and losses of “special” things from wedding rings to family photos to Dad’s favorite chair can cause tension, hurt and angry feelings.

When the tension emerges after the death, try to talk as a group about a safe and fair way to divide the property. There are lots of different and creative ways to help this to happen from selling everything and dividing the profits to drawing numbers and going through the house one room at a time, choosing an article based on each person’s number. The main thing is to have a group decision about the process. If everyone is involved in that decision, things will go much more smoothly.

If there has been some time since your parents’ death and the lingering tension remains because of how things were handled after the death … or before with care for the parents and/or end of life decisions, it can be harder. As a family member who is interested in seeing change, look for one or more of your sisters or your brother who might share your feelings. Begin conversations with each other and then with those who are still hurting, about their struggle and listen with empathy and concern, even if you do not agree with them. Don’t try to “talk sense” but see if they can feel as if their ideas were appreciated. Begin to talk about some process of contact, even if it is limited. That may not happen; however, if you are patient and go slowly, sometimes this can change. Losing parents, even when you have been an adult for a long time, can be very difficult. Grieving and resolving the loss takes time. When this is complicated by feelings of old childhood hurts or wounds, it can take even longer.

Find ways to keep yourself out of the middle in this. You are not a mediator or a therapist. Do what you can to keep a relationship with all of your siblings and model love, respect and healthy communication.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Do Stepfamilies Ever “Blend”?

Most do not … although a realistic goal is for all of the members of the stepfamily to feel comfortable, respectful and appreciative of their new relationships. It truly is too much to ask for everyone to have the same feelings for a family that parents have chosen as they do for the one into which they were born, especially if there are other parents around. Even if the other parent supports the new family, there remain ties of longing for and belonging to the original family.

Everyone has to find ways to expect things to go slowly, relationships of friendship and respect to take a long time to develop and reasonable comfort in new surroundings to arise. Most people in stepfamilies say that it generally takes one to two years before breathing a sigh of relief. If there are complicating factors, that may take even longer.

Here are a few suggestions for stepfamilies.

· Communicate. Talk and listen to each other. Allow children to ask questions and disagree. If a child does not like something, find out why. That does not mean that parents have to agree, however, listening and questioning provide respect, and often, important information.
· Engage children, considering their age, in establishing family rules such as household chores. Consider holding family meetings as a way of ongoing communication and assessing progress and problems.
· Parents should use healthy humor, apologies and loving comments to model for their children ways to survive in a stepfamily,
· Develop rituals. Some ideas are: a special dinnertime event, birthday and holiday celebrations, evening and winding down rituals, welcoming children home after visiting with the other household rituals. Think together about what might be rituals and routines to develop for this new family constellation.
· Talk at the dinner table. Consider asking questions such as “What were the highs and lows of your day”. As parents, get involved in the discussion as well.
· Treasure time for the original family … without stepfamily members, and make sure that it happens on a regular basis.
· Never talk poorly about the other parent(s) and respect the children’s desire to have a relationship with that other parent.
· Do not look for or expect “thank you” or appreciation. Celebrate when it does happen.

What ideas have you had? What experiences have you found that worked, or did not work, to share with us?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Tip of the Week, May 5, 2008

The next time that you and your partner have a very difficult conversation that really seems to go nowhere, ask your selves … “Is this about a conversation that we really should be having instead of this argument?”