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Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

The critical parent versus the rebellious child: overcoming marital games.

I see a couple in therapy who fight about orange juice. Here’s the way the scenario goes. He says, “Will you stop and get some orange juice for tomorrow morning?” She says, “Sure.”

That night as they are getting into bed, he says, “Did you get my orange juice?” She says, “I forgot. I got too busy. Besides, if it is so important, pick up your own juice.” His response, “I would if you hadn’t told me you were going to get it.”

She then turns the light out in the bedroom and the two of them lie there feeling frustrated and misunderstood. He thinks to himself, “After all I do for her, and I can’t even count on her for juice.” She thinks to herself, “Why can’t he get his own juice if it’s so important?” How often does this type of situation occur? About once or twice a month.

How can they get out of this game? He could decide that he will always be responsible for getting his own juice or she could decide to keep him supplied with juice.

Why won’t they stop playing? Because each of them gets a payoff from this game. Long ago they established a relationship in which he takes the role of the Critical Parent and she plays the role of the Rebellious Child. The juice is simply the excuse for him to act indignant.

In adolescence, this fellow made a decision that most people are incompetent. The juice script allows him to play out his original decision about people: she’s so incompetent she can’t even remember my orange juice.

She, on the other hand, made a decision that men are fools based on the fact that her father was usually drunk and acted foolish. To prove out her decision, she “forgets” the juice and watches her husband act like a fool over a little juice.

Another couple that I see played the same game around vacations, although in there situation she plays the Critical Parent and he plays the Rebellious Child.

Each year about January, he starts talking up a vacation. She responds to his enthusiasm by going to the internet, reading up on vacation spots, and making plans. Come May, he announces that they don’t have enough money for a vacation. She responds with indignation and outrage.

They both operate from the old script that men are supposed to financially take care of women. Neither question the availability of money until feelings are riding high about the upcoming vacation.

The other thing that supports this game is that as a young child this man lost his father. For years he walked around feeling gypped and inadequate. Not being able to provide a vacation for his family helps him re-experience these old familiar feelings.

Here are a few more examples of how one spouse plays Critical Parent and the other plays Rebellious Child:
• When he’s late she gives him lectures on discounting her feelings about being on time.
• She uses his car and leaves the gas tank empty. He writes her nasty notes on the bathroom mirror.
• He wants to keep a running balance in the check book and she doesn’t write down the amounts.
If you recognize yourself, well . . . you’re halfway to giving up your part of the game. The other half is changing your behavior.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” (a middle grade read) as well as, “The Parent Teacher Guide.” www.doriswildhelmering.com.

 

 

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A Passive Taker is a person who floats along in life with seemingly little purpose and few goals. He does not focus on what he wants, likes or dislikes. Nor does he focus on his mate’s wants, likes or dislikes. His lot in life is to accept what’s happening to him at the time.

Most people see the Passive Taker as a nice guy. He rarely gets angry. He can pretty much be counted on to go along with anything. He makes few decisions for himself.

For example, Passive Taker and his wife are at a restaurant. As they are ordering, the waiter asks Passive Taker what kind of salad dressing he would like. Passive Taker looks at his wife to choose his salad dressing. I use the pronoun he because most Passive Takers are men, although occasionally a woman will fall into this category.

As children, Passive Takers were taught to expect others to take care of them. They in turn were expected to do what they were told. With their wants and needs consistently being met, they didn’t learn to plan ahead or think about what they wanted, nor did they learn to focus on anyone else’s needs. Like the Caretaker, they are a product of their upbringing.

Passive Takers do not initiate or organize in their relationship. They complacently go along with the program, but they rarely take charge or plan it. They are willing to help out, but chores must be assigned. They do not compliment their mate, nor do they criticize.

I want to emphasize that a Passive Taker does not think in the same way that other people think. He does not come home and think, “I’m going to watch a football game tonight.” He simply comes home, switches on the television, sees that a football game is in progress, and settles in to watch it.

What his wife and children happen to be doing at the time does not cross his mind. He simply does not think about what other people are doing or how others are feeling.

Now let’s take the Passive Taker test. For every yes answer, give yourself one point. If you know you’re not a Passive Taker but you have a suspicion that the person you are living with is, take the test with him or her in mind.

You will help out if assigned a task, like setting the table or putting away the suitcases, but you rarely take the initiative and do these things yourself, or start a project on your own.

You are content doing almost anything, spend a good deal of your free time alone, live in your own world and do not have a need to interact with others.

You rarely ask your mate to do something for you. You make few demands.

You do not think in advance or plan ahead in your marriage. You do not shop more than a day or two ahead for birthdays, or call ahead for reservations, or think in terms of the future.

You are not attuned to the wants or feelings of your mate.

You rarely give compliments or pats on the back, nor do you “see” what your mate has done for you.

You are rarely critical of yourself or your mate.

You are viewed by the outside world as nice, easygoing and content.

You are often accused by your mate of being selfish and lazy and are told, “You just don’t care.”

You are non-competitive and prefer to let others take the lead.

If you have 8 or more yeses, you are definitely a Passive Taker. If you have 5, 6 or 7 yeses, you sometimes exhibit Passive Taker behaviors, but you do not operate from a Passive Taker frame of reference.

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The Corrector is a person whose main focus in life is to find the flaw and then point it out. Correctors think and know that there is a right way to fold socks, a right way to put dishes in the dishwasher, a right way to cut the grass, and a right way to catch a fish. And they are more than happy to tell you how to do it. Usually their advice is given with a lot of “shoulds” and “oughts”. They also have a habit of wagging their pointer finger as they give you this advice.

Most Correctors make between 20 and 30 critical comments a day. If you don’t believe me, and you suspect you’re a Corrector, count your critical comments. And if you’re living with someone else you suspect falls into this category, secretly count his or her negative comments.

If you tell Correctors you don’t like their advice, they defend themselves with, “I’m only trying to help you,” or “I’m only trying to make it easier for you”.

“How do people become Correctors?”
Usually one or both parents of Correctors were overly critical. Consequently, these children came to expect perfection not only of themselves but also of others.

Rarely are they satisfied with anyone’s performance. If they do 10 things right and one thing wrong, it’s what they do wrong that becomes the focus of their attention.

If you are a Corrector, you may have already recognized yourself. If you have any doubt, take the following test. Give yourself one point for every yes answer.

You are overly critical of yourself for things you did or didn’t do.

You are overly critical of your mate and quick to point out his or her flaws. Off the top of your head, you could easily name a number of tasks your mate does wrong.

You continually strive to be perfect and consider yourself a perfectionist.

You tend to define the world in terms of black and white, right and wrong, good and bad. Your thinking is often polarized. Once you have made a decision, you have trouble understanding or accepting the other person’s point of view.

You are selfish in giving compliments and often are accused of being sexually selfish.

You use anger, and various forms of anger such as put-downs, sarcasm, guilt or pouting, to intimidate and control your mate and to get your own way.

You enjoy telling your mate what to do, and you get a feeling of satisfaction when you explain how to do it.

You schedule “free-time” activities carefully to get the most out of your time and you rarely engage in spontaneous play.

You are well organized, efficient, and accomplish a good deal both at work and at home.

You think of yourself as someone who can be counted on, is loyal, and keeps his word.
If you have 8, 9 or 10 yeses, you are a Corrector. If you have 5, 6 or 7 yeses, you frequently nag and complain, but you do not operate from the Corrector frame of reference. However, you might consider knocking off those critical comments because criticism only invites others to pull away from you.

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Pouting closes off communication channels between parent and child.

Dear Pouting Parent,

Did you know that pouting closes off communication?

Pouting says I refuse to be close.

Pouting is a form of anger.

Parent, you can’t fix the problem when you pout.

It’s okay to be quiet and back off from your child when you’re ready to chew a nail because of his or her behavior. At the same time, answer your child when she tries to talk to you. If she tries to make small talk, understand that it is her way of saying, “Let’s be friends” and her attempt to get back in your good graces.

At some point, discuss her infraction and what you would like to have happen differently in the future. For example, you might say, “I’m very disappointed in the way you acted when your friends were over. As an apology and a gesture of good will, I’d like you to take out the trash and shred that stack of papers in my office. Once you do these chores, I’ll put away my bad feelings, and we can be friends again.”

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When you look your partner in the eye while you communicate, you are less likely to spark a negative discussion.
Think about the last conversation you had with your partner. What do you recall about the way he or she looked? Did your partner raise his eyebrows, puff out his cheeks, look disbelieving and smile incredulously? Did his hair lie a bit differently than usual? Did your eyes ever meet? Did she have on lipstick? Was she wearing earrings? Were her eyes twinkling, or did she appear tired?

I see a lot of couples for marriage counseling, and one of the things I’m continually made aware of is that couples frequently do not look at each other when they are talking. In fact, they spend more time looking away and avoiding eye contact than actually looking at each other.

When I point this out to the couple, the partner who is not looking often becomes defensive and says, “I was thinking and that’s why I was looking away.” What he doesn’t realize, however, is how seldom he looks at his partner.

One reason a partner does not look at his mate when talking is that he is paying attention to something else. The radio or television is on, and he is half listening to a program. Or the children are fighting, and she is trying to hear what’s going on with the kids. Also, people speak only about 120 words a minute while we think at light speed in comparison. So it’s easy to become distracted, think of something else, half listen and not look.

In one study, a group of college students in a classroom purposely looked away from a visiting professor as he lectured. His speech soon became monotone, and he lost almost all facial expression. Then, at a predetermined time, all the students sat up and started looking at the lecturer. Within 30 seconds, his face became animated, his body posture changed, he started moving his arms about and his voice became stronger.

At another prearranged time, the students again stopped looking at the professor. Within minutes, he again lost his enthusiasm and started to drone.

When partners look at each other, they are less sarcastic and less likely to respond negatively. In addition, partners who learn to look at each other report feeling less annoyed and more concerned for their mate.

Why not look at your partner today when he or she is talking? Find out how much you’ve been missing.

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Don’t get caught in a cyclone of overspending – exercise some control in your life.

I’m seeing a couple in therapy who went on three vacations this past year — Hawaii, Colorado, and Florida — and they can’t pay their bills. They are maxed out on most of their credit cards, and they have gotten into the rut of using one card to pay another. She has student loans from years ago, and he owes his parents, his friends, his dentist, his doctor, and the plumber.

When I confronted them about their overspending and asked why they are now planning to go skiing, they both became indignant. She said they work hard, really hard, and they deserve it. He said he needs vacations because his job is so stressful.

I said they were creating more stress by adding to their bills. They said I was wrong and I didn’t understand.

I asked, “What if one of you loses his or her job?” His response, “We’ll get another.” She nodded in agreement.

I asked, “What about your doctor, and dentist, and the plumber? When will they get paid?”

She assured me they would get their money.

I said I doubted it because from my vantage point, I saw bankruptcy. Both of them shrugged, and I could see I was making no headway. Neither of them was going to stop spending.

How about you? Do you need to put the brakes on your spending? If so, there’s no time like now, today, immediately.

One of the best and first things to do: Figure out what you can afford to spend above and beyond your fixed expenses. Set a number, be it fifty, a thousand or two thousand a month. If you’re on the $50 plan and you want something that cost $100, this means you wait two months before purchasing the item.

A second tough task: Figure how much you are in debt with charge cards, home improvement loans, doctor bills, second mortgages, and loans from friends and relatives. Now figure out how many months or years it will take you to pay off these bills. If you’re in debt $11,000 and you can afford to pay off only $300 a month, it will take you more than three years to pay off this debt. An eye-opening exercise to be sure.

Now come up with a list of excuses you use for spending money, like those of the couple I discussed earlier. Here are some favorites:

I deserve it. I work hard.
We’ll go on a budget after we decorate the house.
My husband doesn’t watch what he spends, why should I?
Life is boring if you can’t shop or go on a vacation.
Hey, it’s on sale.

Next agenda item: What is the underlying reason you spend more than you can pay for? Do you use going to the mall and spending as a form of entertainment, a way to relax, or rid yourself of anxiety for a few hours? If so, discipline yourself. Allow yourself to go to a store only when you truly need something, not when you want something. For entertainment and relaxing, hit some tennis balls, try a walk with a friend, go to a movie, or read a book.

If spending makes you feel better, what feel-good substitute can you come up with? How about visiting an old friend, making a special dinner, doing your nails, or working out?

Next on your to-do list: Write out what you really need. Include those items you feel are essential. Maybe a new toaster is in order because last week your toaster died. But can’t you wait another few weeks for that toaster? And do you really need another pair of earrings, another jean jacket, and another sweater? How much do you really need?

If you’re a compulsive shopper, ask a friend to help you break this addiction. Write down everything you buy in a week, and give her your list. Writing the items down will make you more aware and more accountable for your spending. Or make a pact that you won’t go to any stores for six months. For groceries, ask someone else to do it. You in turn can watch their kids.

Remember the old advertisement, “Buy now and pay later”? Unfortunately it’s true.

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A real life story about cooperating in a relationship.

Betty and Stan, both in their mid-fifties have been married for eighteen years. Their children are raised. Betty works at her job about 45 hours a week. Stan works about 30 hours a week. Betty also does about 95% of the housework.

Last week after much discussion about the inequity of their relationship, Betty and Stan agreed that the two of them were going to dig in and get their house in shape. Stan would do the dusting and vacuuming, help fold laundry, grocery shop, and grill dinner. Betty would primarily work on the kitchen, the refrigerator, the floor. She would clean the bathrooms, do the laundry, pay bills, and balance the checkbook.

Within a half hour of starting to work, a friend of theirs stopped by and asked them to go to a big garage sale across town. Betty said she’d love to but they had agreed to get their place in shape. Stan looked at Betty and said, “You don’t mind if I go, do you?”

Betty responded by giving Stan a dirty look.

Stan challenged Betty and said, “What’s wrong now?” In order not to argue in front of Stan’s friend, Betty shrugged and the guys left.

Later in the day when Stan returned, the two of them talked. Betty said, “I’m giving notice. The maid is quitting. I am not taking all the responsibility in this house.”

She gave Stan a list of chores and suggested that he pick the ones he would be willing to do each week. She would do the remainder. Stan took the list, dramatically tucked it in his pocket, and said he’d do it all. Betty explained that she didn’t want him to do it all. But to no avail. He insisted he would do all the chores.

When Betty talked to me she wanted to know what she should do. I told her to take Stan up on his offer for several months. When he stopped doing the chores, next week or next month, she could re-open the subject of splitting the chores.

She said she was worried that if he did all the chores she would lose her value. Stan wouldn’t see her as important.

I said I didn’t know many men who stayed in a relationship because the wife was a good maid. But men did stay in relationships because of history, because they have children together, because of finances, for companionship, sex, and love. The other thing, if Betty continues to rescue Stan by doing almost everything, he will have little appreciation for what she does. She will continue to feel dissatisfied with the marriage and probably act accordingly.

Stan and Betty are not alone in their struggle over who does what around the house. It is estimated that husbands have 15 to 20 more hours of leisure time each week than their working wives. Further, in most families, husbands do 20% of the household chores and child care while women do 80% of the chores and child care. This disparity serves neither gender. The wife feels like a victim, sees her husband as a villain, and eventually closes off emotionally. Or, she turns into a very critical mate. The number two reason women divorce is because of a husband’s unwillingness to share chores.

To not only preserve your marriage but to have a healthy one, visit the issue of chores and child care. Divide them up on paper if necessary to make them equitable. If you have an uncooperative mate, do only those chores that must absolutely be done. Try hard not to focus on those that remain undone. It is not a woman’s job because she is a woman to take care of the house. It is the job of each person who lives in the house.

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