Posts Tagged ‘conflict’

Blending Families – what you should know

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog

While the divorce rate dropped 18% between 2008 and 2016 and is currently around 32%, divorced individuals meeting new partners continue to come together with their children and attempt to “blend” families. Though best intention may be at the heart of the desire to bring two families together, successful outcomes seem few and far between (with more anecdotal than hard research data available). As a therapist who does work in the area of grief and bereavement and has a blended family, I feel the complications in trying to unite two families are mostly tied to themes of loss.

The potential pitfalls that blended families will have to navigate are complex. Here are the top 10:

  1. Conflict over differing boundaries – what is and isn’t okay in each family.
  2. Confusion and anger about differing rules and consequences.
  3. Loss related to the definitive ending of a child’s original family constellation is triggered (children usually hold out hope that biological parents may unite).
  4. For children to embrace a stepparent may feel like a violation of loyalty to the child’s biological parent.
  5. For children whose parents have been divorced for some time, the introduction of a new spouse may feel like another loss and bring up fear that they will be loved less (children tend to think of love as finite). Anxiety and depression may manifest.
  6. Sharing of one’s home, personal belongings, community space, bedroom may trigger anger and further feelings of loss for children.
  7. Children may feel pulled in many ways in terms of their role as they go back and forth between biological parents and try to navigate different households.
  8. Parents may struggle to form attachments with their step children and stepchildren may struggle to form attachments with their stepparents.
  9. Relationships with ex-wives and ex-husband’s take on another degree of complexity for adults that affect the children.
  10. Financial equity of all children may be especially difficult when ex- spouses are involved.

My goal in highlighting these difficulties is not to deter people from attempting to blend families. The blending of families can benefit children in many positive ways and provide stability and a healthy environment that was previously missing from their lives. However, what most families fail to do is enter counseling prior to blending in an effort to anticipate and resolve many of the issues above, which may be further complicated by children’s ages, ethnicity, and cultural and religious factors. Instead, couples forge ahead hoping that love and patience will be enough.

Hopefully, this blog will help adults have a deeper understanding of the potential issues that may arise. If you’re contemplating blending your family, I encourage you to work with a mental health professional who has experience in this area and who can help guide you and your loved ones in a way that will support the best possible outcome for everybody. Anticipating issues, talking them through, and figuring how to handle them before they arise is key.

Reference: University of Maryland; The Coming Divorce Decline, Philip Cowen, https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/h2sk6/

Can your Love Relationship be Saved?

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog

Couples - trackDoes it feel like you and your partner are competitors instead of allies? Have the small kindnesses vanished from your daily interactions? Are you walking on egg shells for fear of saying something that will cause conflict, anger, or hurt? Do you avoid each other more than seek one another out?

When couples come for counseling because their relationship is in trouble, as a therapist my main goal is to watch for and understand the patterns that inevitably show up in a couple’s interactions, so together we can understand what is going wrong despite their best efforts. It is incredibly helpful to examine arguments because they are never about what they appear to be. That bears repeating: while couples get caught up in the details, the argument is almost never about what it appears to be. There is an important theme playing out as that conflict and BOTH partners are engaged in the dance that fuels it. Identifying the theme is the critical factor.

I believe we are always doing our best in the moment with the tools we have, but many of us didn’t witness healthy relationships in our parents’ interactions, and our awareness and skills need improvement. To be emotionally close to someone as we are in the early days or years of a relationship is a magical thing. To be in conflict with the person who we deeply love causes us immense anxiety, pain, and sadness—so why would we purposely inflict those feelings on ourselves if we knew how to avoid them.

Love relationships are amazing structures that can teach us about what we didn’t get growing up. We need to figure out what that is or we’re destined to seek it, unconsciously, in this relationship, and the next, and the next—usually in ways that leave us feeling alone, misunderstood, and end up sabotaging the partnership.

The First Step

Effective counseling requires that couples come out of their corners in the boxing ring and embrace a new position with regard to the relationship—a united front of honesty, curiosity, and collaboration. Yes, I know … much more difficult than it sounds. That’s why an objective and caring intermediary—pastor, therapist or counselor—can be vital. When couples are trying to fix their problems from a place of fear—which is the source of all conflict—solutions are extremely difficult to recognize. I support clients to identify that fear and investigate it with deep compassion.

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” ~ Einstein

How Healthy is your Romantic Relationship?

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog

Holding hands v2

It’s often difficult to gauge the healthiness of our love relationships. This is understandable when we consider how many of us grew up with parents who didn’t model caring behavior or who had little knowledge of positive or productive ways of dealing with problems and the natural conflict that arises when two people commit to live together. Having trouble in a relationship is actually to be expected. And it’s an indicator that something is going right. Yes, it really is! Conflict provides an opportunity to become aware of an area of need in our own personal growth.

Our intuition tells us that something is not right in our relationships. Keep in mind that blaming (oneself or one’s partner) serves no purpose and actually prevents us from moving forward. We may have fallen into patterns of disconnecting from one another when conflict arises by using silence, criticism or anger. If we feel sad more often than happy with our significant other, this is a sure sign that something is amiss, and we may need support looking at the relationship with the help of an objective party.

Below are some elements operating in healthy romantic relationships. I invite you to reflect on your relationship and consider whether these principles are characteristic, most of the time, of your interactions with your mate. If you feel these traits don’t describe the way you and your partner relate, you may want to discuss your thoughts and feelings, either with your partner or with a therapist.

Kindness – Do you and your partner treat one another in a gentle and considerate manner?

Trust – Do you and your partner feel that you can be vulnerable with one another and speak honestly about your feelings for each other and the relationship? Do you feel you “have one another’s backs” when difficult situations arise?

Respect – Do you and your partner feel equally important and valued in the relationship? When either of you expresses the need for a limit or boundary, is it respected?

Safety – Does it feel safe for you and your partner to experience conflict with one another and disagree?

Sexuality – Do you and your partner enjoy being intimate with one another and able to communicate your preferences or difficulties around sexual relations?

Fun – Do you and your partner enjoy your time together and find things to laugh about? Are there fun activities you share that bring you closer and make you laugh at one another and together?

Differentiation – Do you and your partner maintain a healthy sense of individuality and the ability to continue activities and engage in friendships that were meaningful before the relationship began?

Keep in mind that the principles above can never be operating in every moment of a relationship. The sense of connectedness and belonging a romantic relationship brings us is extremely powerful, and we are going to have difficulty maintaining a connection all the time. While love is the most profound emotion we experience as human beings, our ability to create and sustain a healthy relationship is something almost all of us need to learn. As difficulty arises, embrace this challenge and know it provides an opportunity to take responsibility and figure out where we may need to do some work on ourselves.