June 30, 2007
As I write I’m between Taiwan and (South) Korea. By the end the week I will have interacted with many audiences in both countries. After running seminars in about 30 countries for 20 years, I am made painfully aware, once again, that:
1. Crippling anxiety lurks in every culture. There are people from all walks of life, everywhere, who are crippled with anxiety over very similar issues (children, the future, looming poverty, fidelity of a spouse, and so forth) despite language, culture, religion, and economic differences. Anxiety’s a killer, no matter who or where you are.
2. If a person does not, or will not, see whatever it is that is making his or her relationships unstable, there is not much likelihood change will occur. Denial is “helpful” everywhere.
3. A person who does not make others aware of what he or she wants, likes or dislikes, will quickly be submerged by the ‘loving’ agenda of another. People play ‘space-invaders’ in the name of ‘love’ everywhere.
4. Blame, shame, and guilt serve no enduring, useful purpose, no matter how effectively imposed. I am truly alarmed at how widely so-called leaders are “baptized” in their belief that applying blame, shame and guilt will offer hurting people lasting change.
June 28, 2007
“The man I am living has a son but when we moved in together I did not think he would be living with us and only see his mother every other weekend. His dad goes easy on him and that’s okay. When I try to say something I’m the bad guy! He told his dad and grandma that I am mean. I just don’t let him get away with stuff like his dad and others do. I have 3 children who know that I don’t let them get away with stuff. The man I am with does not see that his son is running his life. I have been going through this for three years. Please help.” (Edited for clarity)
Three years is a long time to be in a power-struggle with a boy! While you are not married to the father the child will always win. Actually, when you are married, too, your “power” over the father and the son will also be rather limited.
This said, you now occupy no legal position in the family and therefore the father has no motivation to hear what you are trying to say, or to see what it is you see in his son’s behavior.
Give up the struggle. Let the dad and grandma be the “good guys.” Become “silent guy” (regarding the child’s behavior) until you are legally empowered to play your part.
Before I am deluged with mail and told I am advocating for the child to have no boundaries, or advocating lawless behavior for the child, please note, it is not the child who has the issue.
The woman wants power (I am sure for “good” reasons) over the child which she simply does not have. The person who does have the power (the dad), is choosing not to use it!
Marriage might not change anything, but at least it will give dad some incentive to hear his wife about the child.
A legal contract DOES make a difference to a relationship. The woman’s status will change even if the boy’s behavior does not!
June 28, 2007
In further response to yesterday’s question from a mother and a son (13) who is ‘causing conflict in my new marriage.’ As quoted yesterday, the mother says, ‘I don’t think it has anything to do with his father. We’ve been divorced for eleven years. My son doesn’t see, or want to see, his dad at all. His dad doesn’t contact him so it is not that he wants us to get back together. The constant bickering is driving me insane,’ and ‘I’m at a point were I will pack my bags and leave.’
That a child does not see the “other” parent, or declares this is not something he or she wants to do – does not mean the absence of the other parent is not (partially) driving the child’s unwanted behavior. I’d suggest this boy has little or no idea why he is doing what he is doing, and that a professional could help him discover new and helpful ways to behave.
This is a “new” marriage for the mother; therefore it is also a new family arrangement for the boy. He’s occupying a new place in relation to his mother, which is enough reason for difficulty in itself. The least helpful action the mother could do is pack her bags and leave the very situation she helped create!
June 28, 2007
“My son (13) is giving me problems and causing conflict in my new marriage. He treats my second husband like dirt and back chats us and blames us when he is at fault. He has reassured me that he loves my new husband but can’t help or prevent what he says. My son says that he knows what he says to us is wrong but he can’t stop himself. I don’t think it has anything to do with his father. We’ve been divorced for eleven years. My son doesn’t see, or want to see, his dad at all. His dad doesn’t contact him so it is not that he wants us to get back together. The constant bickering is driving me insane. I don’t know what to do anymore. I?m at a point were I will pack my bags and leave. Both of them know how I feel as I’ve spoken to the separately and together. Please do you have any advice for me? I’m desperate.” (Letter edited)
Rod replies: Your son’s behavior deserves professional attention. Please seek face-to-face help for the whole family so each of you might have the opportunity to speak your mind in the presence of a trained professional.
June 24, 2007
“I am an only son with a good network of uncles and aunts. After my marriage my wife has become quite disillusioned with all my relatives. There were instances where she was not treated the way she expected to be treated when we visited them. Now they want to visit us at our home and my wife is creating havoc and does not want to have them visit. I have told her that it is just a question of 2 or 3 weeks and that we will treat them as guests and move on. She fails to understand this and is forcing me to tell them not to come! What do I do?”
Cutting off from either of your extended families will be of little or no benefit to your new marriage. I’d suggest you encourage your wife to talk to your (now also her) relatives about what it is that has upset her and to face her issues with the (her) family herself. Now that you are married it is not “your family” or “her family” but the families you both share. Refuse to play “piggy in the middle.” Get out of her way, let her handle her family issues herself.
June 24, 2007
“I am so sad. It is so difficult to be second-guessed. My husband tells me not to worry about it yet I can’t help but feel displaced whenever my in-laws decide to take my role (with my children) or want to criticize me. I cannot win under any circumstance. Please help me learn how to be satisfied with myself.”
It is not about “winning” as much as it is clearly defining yourself (to your husband and in-laws). Unless invasive people (people with poor boundaries) hear a clear statement regarding your boundaries, they will invade your life and family, and their invasions will grow progressively stronger.
Your husband, is appears, is unable (unwilling) to assist you. He apparently wants to avoid necessary confrontation required to clearly separate his “new” family (primary responsibility) from what was his family (secondary responsibility).
Being more satisfied with yourself will emerge from within many aspects of your life as you make your voice known to your children, husband and in-laws. These encounters of self-definition need not be negative to be effective. Using playfulness is a good place to start. Thereafter, you might need to be more assertive if you are going to be heard. It takes a life-time to be heard, I’d suggest you start voicing your thoughts and feelings as soon as possible.
June 24, 2007
Sometimes, for whatever reason, the atmosphere in a family (business, school, church) can become tense, even threatening. When deceit is tolerated, necessary conflicts are avoided, and when people are regarded as possessions, rather than as separate, unique, and valued people, the accompanying stresses can give rise to aggressive and passive-aggressive behaviors of avoidance and sabotage. At best, under such circumstances, life can feel like a tiring game of hide and seek. Alleviate some of the intensity (given there is no infidelity or gross misbehaviors occurring) by:
1. Talking about the matters that are the most difficult to talk about. Let the strongest person, the one who is most aware of the need to clear the air, call attention to the need to talk about the very fact that matters are difficult to discuss.
2. Talking about your own behavior and not about the behavior of others.
3. Taking responsibility for your part in the difficulties.
4. Being willing to live with a degree of helpful compromise.
5. Forgiving others without requiring others to beg for forgiveness.
(posted in Taiwan)
June 18, 2007
“I really admired a man I worked with and we became friends. We exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. We’d call each other and send messages. We became very good friends. I was going to Johannesburg to visit friends so I got him a gift to express my gratitude. I told him that I had a gift for him. He insisted we meet for lunch that weekend so I tried to accommodate him. When in Johannesburg I called him to let him know I had arrived. He sounded excited but told me he had to go Mpumalanga. When I called I felt like he was avoiding me. So later that day I tried calling him his phone was on voice mail for the rest of the weekend. I was so upset because he suggested that we meet and have lunch. Ever since then he has been different. He avoids my calls, he doesn’t even reply to my messages. It is hurtful because I trusted him and he was a really good friend. I have even suggested we go for weekend just us two he doesn’t respond. What would you suggest I do?” (Letter shortened)
Rod’s reply: You are working too hard. I’d suggest the man is not worth your efforts and is probably hiding something significant from you.
June 18, 2007
“I feel lost. My husband and I have been married for 4 years. Everything was great. Good sex life, good communication, and we have an 11-month-old baby. I am three months pregnant. I went to visit my parents for 10 days and came back and my husband told me he thought of me as only a friend. I am shocked. I never saw it coming. He says he doesn’t want to be with any other women in a serious relationship again. He says I did nothing wrong. I am 24. I built my whole life around him. I am very depressed. My mom wants me to take the baby to stay with her. I am hoping therapy will help him but it may not make him love me again. I just want to kiss him and hug him and tell him I love him. I don’t know what to do. I am so depressed.” (cut for space)
This is a relationship worth fighting for. The children need their dad and you need your husband. The man needs a short course in growing up and living up to with the commitments he has already made. I trust he will read this and face his family and be the man he is called to be. Love is not ONLY a feeling, and sometimes you have to do the hard work of love for the feelings to return.
June 17, 2007
My mother (64) and my father (63) have been at each other for years about an event in their marriage that nearly ended it. Sometimes it seems to get heated and sometimes it seems to be playful. I think my dad had an affair but it is not something either has talked about. I feel like I should try to uncover what this upset was all about as a way of securing these things do not occur in my own marriage. What do you think? (Letter condensed)
Some people need their conflicts....
I think you ought to leave your parents to fight their own well-worn battles. People need their “old” conflicts, and it seems from the tone of what you have said, that their conflict is part of their glue, their mutual culture, and the ongoing conversation that help keep them going.
Uncovering your parents’ issues in the belief it will secure stability in your own marriage is to bark up the wrong tree.
Focus on being committed to your emotional health, your covenant relationship, and your long-term individual goals as a person and shared long-term goals as a couple, and your marriage will probably be most satisfying.