Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Proving Your Point Can Be Hazardous for a Relationship

Some people are able to remain calm during a disagreement while others avoid conflict completely. Still others blow up quickly and seem to enjoy the fight. Letting go of the conflict and the need to “win” or prove your point is hard for many but crucial for the relationship.

Jill and Jim fought a lot. Their friends referred to them as “The Bickersons” and kept their contact with them as a couple to a minimum, especially when it included drinking.

While their fights did not include throwing things or hitting each other … yet, there was still a lot of passion and volatility.

Jim and Jill liked their passion. It went quite well in their bedroom; however, it was pretty destructive to their feelings about themselves and each other and, now that they had 2 children, they were especially concerned about their style.

Both halves of the couple agreed that they could share equally in the escalation of the fighting. They could agree on that when they were calm, that is. Otherwise, things quickly deteriorated to blaming and accusing the other of being the aggressor.

Both also agreed that they knew each other’s “hot spots” and even confessed to using them to gain power in fights. They also acknowledged that they really had difficulty resisting the fight when it started. Both felt a need to prove their point or win the argument.

Many people, those who avoid conflict, will flee when fighting begins. Others find that they cannot let go of any argument and will fight until the end. (The fight or flight response to conflict is a common pattern for many couples.) The seduction of an argument is powerful.

A high level of disrespect and contempt can erode love and kindness in any relationship.

Problems arise, however, with high conflict in any relationship. Things that are said and done, even if there is no physical violence, can erode love and respect in any relationship. Contempt is one of the biggest killers of a marriage.

One of the skills that I first teach couples is the importance of taking a time out when flooded. (When their heart rate starts to rise.) Finding ways to soothe themselves or to help their partner calm down is the only way to protect the relationship and work toward finding solutions to any problem. While in the heat of a fight, it may be hard to let go, it is crucial for the long-term health of the marriage.

Jim and Jill had a really hard time pulling themselves away from conflict. When one of them “drew a sword” or pushed a button, it was hard not to defend themselves or accuse the other of causing problems. While they both agreed that, when they did take a break, they were able to think more clearly and rationally, they had to work extremely hard to take a break when the conflict started.

Over time, with lots of practice, they were able to change their behavior which led to a change in their thinking and in their feelings about themselves, each other and their relationship. It never became “easy” to resist the seduction of an argument but most of the time, they were able to put their relationship first and find ways to let go of their destructive pattern.

The main question that couples have to ask themselves at times like this is “Which is more important, winning … or the relationship?”

Monday, May 30, 2011

Tip of the Week, May 29, 2011

Begin a gratitude journal about your spouse and your marriage. Each day, write down 3 things that you like or appreciate. Focus on the positives. Pay attention to what you like and what is working.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tip of the Week, May 15, 2011

There Is a Hole in My Sidewalk
Autobiography in Five Short Chapters
By Portia Nelson

Chapter One
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost…I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter Two

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend that I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter Three

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep whole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in…it’s a habit…but,
My eyes are open
I know where I am
It is my fault.
I get out immediately,

Chapter Four

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter Five
I walk down another street.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Three More Keys to Being a Successful Stepfather

5. Reach agreement together with your spouse about the house rules. Some of these decisions might come through private conversations with your wife; however, family meetings are a great idea. The more that you can involve the children and allow them to have a voice, the more likely it is that they will be in agreement with whatever is decided.

6. Always be loving and respectful to your stepchildren’s mother.
Children really do want to see their parents in happy and healthy relationships. Whatever the reason that the natural parents are not together, it may have been a hard ending and children need to see a loving and healthy marriage.

7. Nurture your marriage. Don’t let the stresses of step family life get in the way of your relationship with each other.

Find ways to have dates, spend time alone and build on the positives in the relationship. Talk a lot with your wife about the small successes and steps in the right direction, even more than you talk about the problems.
Living in a step family … and succeeding in meeting and figuring out solutions to the complexities, can be very rewarding. You and your wife can look back on these times with mixed feelings and memories but be grateful that you survived with the strength of your love and ability to figure out the best ways to work together.

We welcome your comments, questions and ideas. Please share them with us.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Four Keys to Becoming a Successful Step Father

1. Envision the big picture. With the help of your wife, friends in a similar situation, reading or a support group, gain some understanding of the complexity of step family life. Learn about your own challenges as well as those of your wife and the children. There is no quick or easy “fix” or “blending” and there are absolutely no easy answers.

2. Build a relationship with the children before attempting any kind of disciplin
e. This will pay off in the long run as children can find ways to accept discipline (teaching) from some one that they have a relationship with and someone that they know truly cares about them and their lives.

Look for things to like and appreciate about each of them. Find time to spend with each one individually on a regular basis even if it is just for 5 minutes. Ask about their day and their lives.

I often encourage new step families to act as single parent families for the first year. Let the natural parent handle all of the discipline while the new step parent builds a positive relationship.

3. Understand your role as a step dad.
Recognize that you are not, nor will you ever be, their natural father. Even if you have the best relationship in the world, it cannot and will not ever be the same. In addition, you cannot expect to have the same feelings for them as you do your own children.

Talk with your wife about your role with the children and with her. Define a role that fits for both of you but allows you the flexibility to see as your main purpose, for at least the first year, to concentrate on building a relationship with the children.

4. Share, privately, any important concerns that you have with your wife about the children or parenting.
There will be many things that you will need to be talking about as you all learn how to live together. Find ways to do this from a positive rather than a complaining or critical place.

It is best for the children NOT to know about your disagreements most of the time. If their mom changes much or the two of you come up with a rule that they don’t like, they will blame you for sure.