Becoming an Incredible family

Becoming an Incredible family

I love The Incredibles family. Most families can relate with them. The teenager is surly at home and has social anxiety at school. The middle boy has behavior problems both at school and home, creating chaos for everyone. The mom used to have a powerful career but now attempts to find satisfaction in taking care of everyone else’s needs as a stay at home mom. Dad is so bored in his job that he pursues a secret life that creates emotional distance in his marriage and with his kids. And the baby… there is just something off with the youngest. Maybe all of them need to find some help.

These isolated problems are actually a family problem. The individual struggles affect how the family interacts with each other AND simultaneously how the family responds to the problem can either make the issues easier or more difficult. Healthy families help their kids to bounce out of their struggles more easily.

As a family therapist, I like to start with who is most concerned, that’s usually mom: help mom to identify what she really is struggling with and how she is uniquely equipped to help solve it. Then move on to the marriage. When mom and dad remember who they are as individuals and as a team, they are in a better position to craft a purpose and vision for their family. Lastly, the kids: empower them to better deal with their unique-ness as they become an extension of a strong family unit. The surly attitudes, rebellious behavior and undesirable responses become a family issue – because after all, they are experienced by the family.

It takes time. It takes change on the part of everyone. And change can be messy. However, if Mr. Incredible can get excited about his family, anyone can.

TimeOut!

TimeOut!

I have spent a lot of years watching kids learn to play sports. As they grow into their ability to utilize their individual skills and operate as a team, there are many opportunities for a coach to step in and help them operate more efficiently. Sometimes players get distracted and aren’t functioning well in their role. They can get emotionally charged and become more aggressive than the game allows. Or the intended strategy isn’t working and the teamwork has fallen apart. A coach will call a time out.

Time out is an intentional tool used by most sports to help the players step back, evaluate what is and isn’t working and utilize a new plan. Teams have a planned strategy before they ever step on the court or field but they make room for flexibility to change tactics to ensure the win.

Relationships can benefit from utilizing a timeout as well. There are times when a discussion goes sideways and begins to escalate into battle of hurt feelings and defensive tactics. The discussion over an issue becomes a war. Call a timeout.

A timeout is different than withdrawal. Some individuals prefer to avoid conflict, so they withdraw either physically or emotionally with the goal to avoid the pain. A timeout is an agreed upon tactic that will lead to reconnection and communication to resolve the issue at hand. The goal during a timeout is to take responsibility for your own attitude and emotions that are negatively impacting the discussion.

Communicate the length of the timeout. It takes at least 20 minutes to calm down all the systems once emotions have been activated, but longer than 24 hours is most likely not necessary. Agree to part ways and agree when to return to the discussion.

Calm your mind. Use prayer, deep breathing, go for a walk, etc.

Choose to forgive. Instead of rehearsing your next zinger to prove your point, choose to release yourself from the knots of bitterness by forgiving the offender. When you choose to remain angry and bitter toward your spouse, it ties you to the offense and the offender. Choose to erase the wrong, walk in freedom and believe the best for your spouse.

Choose a different response. Remember that the battle is WON when your relationship is reconnected, and you resolve the issue. You win by working as a team. Fight for your marriage, not against your spouse. Find a way to communicate that you are on the same page as your partner and you want the same thing.

Key point: If you want to see change, then YOU have to change.

Car Repairs & Marriage

Car Repairs & Marriage

My adolescent son, who loves all things mechanical and auto related, ran his car dry of oil. In his exuberance to live his life, he neglected routine maintenance and ended up with a very broken car. He had two options: scrap it or rebuild it. The rebuild process is slow, filled with delays, frustrations, late nights and greasy coveralls. Getting a different car seemed more appealing. Easier. Except at his price point, he would just be buying someone else’s problems. I urged him to do the work to resolve his issue, rather than find a quick fix. Months of excruciating research, mistakes and successes got the car running again. And then more months of tweaking, honing and gentle repairs to get it running well. He now values basic auto maintenance at a whole new level. And he built a skill set that he will use forever.

Healthy marriages take maintenance. In the blur of life, tiny thoughtful moments get sent to the back burner, because there are more pressing issues. And then one day, a couple looks up from their life to realize their relationship is broken. Really, really broken. And they have a choice: scrap it or rebuild it. Many couples opt for the first choice, believing it is easier to divorce than to rebuild. A quick fix. However, divorce doesn’t end the pain, it just changes it. Rebuilding a healthy marriage takes work. Painful truths. Changing patterns of behaviors. Choosing selflessness over selfishness. If a couple can work together on the repairs, they will experience the satisfaction of a deeper, more intimate relationship that will benefit them for the rest of the lives. Many couples make an appointment for marriage counseling hoping for a quick fix. An “expert” will either provide an easy solution or decree their relationship is indeed dead. A good counselor will do neither. When a marriage needs a rebuild, a counselor will act as a repair manual as the couple engages in the work. The couple has to set aside the time and energy to diagnose issues, replace broken parts that don’t help the marriage and install new habits that make things work. And then once the relationship is up and running, regular maintenance will still be required to keep things healthy.

The difference between a beloved classic and an old junker is the time and energy that is invested into the vehicle. A classic has been restored, taken care of and protected. It is a focused priority. And a classic has a higher value, both financially and intrinsically. When a couple takes the time to restore a marriage, the payoff will be a highly valued treasure.

Blended Families

Blended Families

Marrying a single parent is complicated. It doesn’t take very long to realize that the Disney fantasy of happily ever after is just that, a fantasy. The divorce rate for blended family couples is dramatically higher than traditional first marriages. Why?

  1. Competing relationships. Even if the kids are supportive of the union, there is still an underlying current of competition. In some cases, the kids are dead set against the new marriage and will work against the union. This causes heartache with the parents who just want to be in love and live in peace.
  2. Baggage from the past. Whether the single parent has lost a spouse, never been married or experienced divorce, the emotional pain from the loss of previous relationship bears down on the new marriage.
  3. Being a step-parent is all the work of parenting, with very little of the joy.
  4. All the hard stuff of a traditional marriage is still there too.

It sounds like a bummer. Creating a blended family is infinitely more difficult than a traditional family. However, a very wise grandma once said, “it will work if you want it to work”. She wasn’t a scholar or a counselor. She was a woman who successfully blended a family of 8 kids in the midst of complete chaos. There is a different set of expectations that comes with blending families, but the one unchangeable expectation is that it takes two parents who are committed to making it work.

  1. Be flexible. In all things. Your family won’t look like anyone else’s. Learn to be ok with that.
  2. Be patient. It takes 4-7 years to create a new normal for blended families.
  3. Be a learner. Choose to learn more about the art of blending families and potentially see a counselor that specializes in the complexities of blended families. There is a series of books Ron L Deal that specifically addresses blended family issues. You can find them on Amazon.com.

Books/DVDs Resources:

Three Elephants

Three Elephants

Imagine…. Three elephants escape from a circus, run down the street into a neighborhood. Each one of the elephants runs into a house.

Couple #1 comes home from work and see the door is busted open, the furniture is smashed, the elephant’s head is in the kitchen eating all the groceries and the back of the elephant is in the bedroom pooping on the bedspread. This couple has a rule at their house: “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”. The husband looks around & can’t identify anything nice to say about the situation. The wife looks around and sniffs…. she also can’t find anything nice to say. They smile at each other and bear it. He is glad that nothing is said. She is glad it didn’t break out into a fight. And they learn to live with the elephant.

Couple #2 comes home and sees the elephant destroying the kitchen, leaving poop in the bedroom. And their communication goal is to make observations and state their opinions. The husband responds to the situation: “YOU are a stupid idiot for leaving the door open and inviting an elephant to walk in”. The wife defends: “YOU are an even bigger idiot if you can’t see the elephant broke down the door.” He replies, “that is just like you, and your mother.” They have so many problems worse than the elephant that they don’t give it any more attention. And they learn to live around the elephant.

Couple #3 come home and find an elephant has destroyed their front door, eaten their food and made a mess in the bedroom. And their goal is satisfaction. The husband takes inventory and he is not satisfied. He turns to his wife, and says, “Honey, when there is an elephant in the house, I am not happy (I am angry). The door is broken, the food is gone and that bedspread that grandma made us is destroyed. I would like the elephant out of here and everything restored. Would you please call the circus and have them bring a truck and a lot of money?” A couple weeks later, they come home from work and the carpet has been cleaned, the bedspread has been replaced and the door has been repaired. The cupboards were once again full of groceries. And the husband turns to his wife and smiles, “remember when there was an elephant in here? Thanks for making the call to get that taken care of and doing the work to restore the house. I really appreciate that. I feel happy and that meant a lot to me. Would you accept my hug and a kiss?”

When an individual or a couple perceives that something is not right, they have a CHOICE in how to respond to the undesired situation.

  • The first couple chose to be passive. They didn’t fight, but the problem remained.
  • The second couple chose aggression. They blamed each other and the problem remained.
  • The third couple used assertive communication that addressed the issue head on and created a game plan that resolved the issue. Assertive interactions respectfully communicate “This is what I’ve got & this is what I want” without laying blame on anyone else. Spouses that respect and care for one another will respond with a helpful attitude.

Change the way your love works by changing the way you communicate.

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Workshops:
We know from decades of experience that some skills are best explained in group settings in a fun and educational environment, while personal topics still remain private.

Total Costs: $35/assessment $50/week (8 week date nights $435/couple)


Blended Couple:
This workshop is best for couples that have blended families involved in your marriage.