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Did you know that when you fight, your fights always follow the same pattern? What you fight about with your mate or your child may change from year to year, but the way the fight unfolds remains the same.

Take for example Marge and Bill. No matter what they fight about, Bill takes the mild-mannered, logical position while Marge becomes furious and raves like a maniac. The more calm Bill becomes, the more hysterical Marge acts. The pattern is always the same.

On Tuesday, this couple fought because Bill didn’t get home until 6:40, when he usually arrives by 6:00.

As soon as Bill came in the door, Marge expected an explanation.

Bill explained that his boss had wanted to see him just as he was walking out the door, and he couldn’t get away.

At this explanation, Marge became angrier and insisted that Bill should have excused himself to call her. After all, most people live on some sort of time schedule, even the boss.

Bill countered by telling Marge in a reasonable tone that she didn’t understand the corporate world; and most people in his position don’t leave the office until 6:30. To call home hadn’t seemed necessary because it wasn’t as if he was being delayed until 10 at night.

Angrier still, Marge pointed out that she had taken time out of her life to go to the grocery store and make a nice meal for him, which was now ruined. Why was his time more important than her time? She also recounted all the other times Bill had chosen his work over her – like when he went out of town on business when their first child was due.

At the end of the argument, which lasted most of the evening, Bill felt persecuted and believed Marge was completely unreasonable. Marge felt that she didn’t count and once again Bill’s work had come first.

If Marge and Bill would take a moment to see that the pattern is always the same – Bill gets logical and Marge gets hysterical, and they rarely resolve their differences – they could change the pattern.

Instead of defending his actions, Bill could focus on Marge’s feelings. He could acknowledge that she had to wait and hold dinner and that it would have been more thoughtful for him to call. Bill should give no explanation or rationale for his decision to stay and talk with the boss.

Marge could change the pattern by stating her position and then restating it and not allowing herself to become hysterical.

The problem is, neither Bill nor Marge would get to feel misunderstood and persecuted. And who would express Bill’s anger for him if Marge became more controlled? And what about their familiar routine? What would they do if they were not fighting?

That’s why it’s so hard to give up your fight pattern.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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Planning to remarry next year? Before you book the caterer and the band, best have some straightforward talks about your future married life.

One man I know is ready to take the plunge. Two problems loom large however. He’s a neatnick and she’s a slob. He reports that she’s trying to be more tidy – hanging up clothes and shutting bureau drawers. But her nonchalant attitude over putting things away is going to be a stumbling block to closeness.

Another issue. He has a thriving business and is well off financially. She has little financial worth. Although ready to say “I do,” he’s not ready to share all his money. Should he have his business evaluated and work out a prenuptial agreement? Or should he just tie the knot and hope they live happily ever after?

Another couple face a different dilemma. She has a teenage daughter. When her boyfriend tries to tell this girl what to do, the mother finds herself feeling resentful. She wants to marry but doesn’t want her new husband involved with parenting. What will this man do when this child gives him trouble, leaves her messes around, demands to be driven somewhere?

Couple number three are trying to work out a different sort of problem. He has two children and a nice home that is almost paid for. She has two children and rents her home. When they marry and move into his home, she wants her name on the house title. He’s reluctant to put her name on the deed. His reasoning: the house is his children’s   inheritance. If he dies before they’re raised, the money has been ear -marked for their education. Because he has an ongoing medical problem, life insurance is out of the question.

When planning to remarry – if you really want the marriage to work – write down all concerns.

Here’s a list to get you started.

Where will you live? Is the type of house important? What about the school district? I’m working with a woman who is determined to live in a particular school district. Except her fiancee doesn’t feel comfortable in that area of town.

Who will do the cooking, grocery shopping, repairs? Just because your ex-wife did the cooking each night, it doesn’t mean your new wife enjoys the kitchen.

How will you budget your money? Will everything go into one account? How will you decide who gets to spend what? Even when couples decide to split expenses, resentments arise because one mate frequently has more spendable income.

If someone is coming into the marriage with a home and a savings account, are things to be shared from the get-go? Older men frequently marry younger women. The man has the money, the woman has the looks. The man wants her to sign off on his money, but he gets to enjoy a young wife. What’s fair?

If one of you has children, and 60% of couples who remarry do, consider the following:

– Who will physically take care of the children? I’ve seen too many couples in therapy where the wife is resentful because her husband expects her to do most of the work with his young children.

-Are your ideas of disciplining similar? If one of you is laid-back and the other somewhat demanding, problems will occur. Negotiate now.

-If your mate makes more money, do you expect him to foot the bill for your child’s education? Maybe his plan is to use his savings to retire early. Is he willing to forgo his plan to pay your child’s tuition bills?

-What about having a child? If only one of you has children, it’s likely that the childless individual will want an heir.

Other considerations before tying the knot a second or third time:

  • How do you want to spend your weekends? If one of you likes to stay home and the other likes to be out and about, there will be conflicts.
  • How about vacations and retirement? If one of you is expanding your career and the other is slowing down, how do you intend to handle differences in play time?

If you can take the issues in this column, thoroughly talk them through, and come up with specific agreements, you will have lessened or eliminated future marital problems.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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When Mary walked into my office for her therapy appointment, she wasn’t a happy camper. When I asked her what was going on, she said she was furious at her daughter, Alice, who’s seven. In Mary’s evaluation, her daughter is extremely rebellious.

“How so?” I asked.

“If I try to hurry her up, she slows down.”

“If we tell her she can’t go outside to play, she runs out the door anyway. Or she’s supposed to stay in the backyard, but I find her at the neighbors down the street.

“This morning I had a baby sitter lined up. But Alice didn’t want to stay with the sitter. So I decided to let her come along to this appointment, with the stipulation that she would have to sit quietly in the waiting room.

“We were pulling out of the driveway when Alice realized she’d forgotten her book. I let her go back in the house but told her to hurry. Five minutes later I had to get out of the car and go get her. There she was in the kitchen fixing herself a glass of juice. I should have left her at home, but I didn’t.”

As Mary and I continued talking, we heard a little knock on my door and then it opened. There stood Alice. Mary looked at her daughter and said firmly, “You can’t come in here.” The daughter stepped back and it looked as though she was going to leave and close the door.

The mother then added, “I told you before we left the house that you’d have to wait for me in the waiting room.” With this comment, the little girl grinned ever so slightly and stepped into the room. It was evident to me that the power struggle was on.

As an observer, I suspect that if Mary hadn’t said anything more to her daughter after her first comment, but had immediately turned her attention back on the two of us talking, Alice would have closed the door and gone back into the waiting room. But when her mother gave her an additional warning, the little girl must have felt challenged and she reacted.

I saw a similar dynamic take place several days later when I was working with a mother and her adolescent daughter. They were seeing me because the mother was feeling more than annoyed at her daughter’s rebelliousness. The girl talks back, doesn’t come home on time, refuses to do her chores, and helps herself to her mother’s clothes whenever she wants.

During the session the daughter started twirling, lasso-style, a long chain she was wearing with a large polished stone attached to the end of it. The mother looked at her daughter and said, “Please stop that.” The daughter looked at her mother and continued to twirl the chain.

Again the mother said, “Stop,” but this time she said it with a little playful laugh.

At this point a noticeable grin came over the daughter’s face, she started swinging the necklace more vigorously, and the power struggle was on.

Children need to flex their rebellious muscle once in a while as a way to reach independence, and parents need to take on their children to teach them how to behave. Sometimes, however, we parents inadver­tently encourage our children to get into bigger power struggles than need be.

For example, it’s understandable why Mary told her daughter a second time not to come into my office. She already had to deal with several other issues that morning. Too, she was probably feeling anxious about how I perceived her as a parent, and she didn’t want her therapy time wasted.

But sometimes one firm no works better than two. If a parent says no and immediately turns her attention elsewhere, she closes off a power struggle by refusing to participate. One no doesn’t always work -rebellious children are tenacious – but sometimes it does.

In the second situation, the mother might have outsmarted her daughter and said nothing. I’m sure her daughter would have gotten tired of twirling. When children do something that is obviously designed to get them negative attention, sometimes it’s better not to give it to them.

Once the mother decided to confront her daughter, however, she needed to hang tough and stick with the confrontation. The Mother’s little laugh could certainly be interpreted as encouraging her daughter to be rebellious. Or it could signal her daughter that she wanted to stay friends with her. When you decide to take on a child’s rebelliousness, you must be willing to take the risk that a child is not going to like you.

If it seems that you’re struggling over every little issue with your child, it may help to keep the following in mind:

*One forceful no is sometimes better than two.

*Saying nothing, even when you don’t approve of what your child is doing, is sometimes the most effective response.

*When you find yourself in a power struggle, check to see if you’re doing anything to encourage it, like smiling or lecturing on and on.

Your child is not going to like you very much when you take her on. At the same time, her negativism toward you won’t last forever. And confronting bad behavior is a necessary part of child rearing.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

 

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Marie threw a load of clothes into the washer and started it up. A few minutes before, Frank had stepped into the shower. As the washer filled with cold water, Frank was showered with very hot water. He stepped back from the shower nozzle and started banging on the wall. “I’m being scalded to death,” he bellowed. “Turn off that washer!”

Marie rushed to shut off the washer. Neither she or Frank had messed up. You might say it was just bad timing.

But some problems caused by bad timing can be prevented.

For example, you’re talking on the telephone and your husband asks you the whereabouts of the checkbook. You must now tell the party on the other end to wait while you talk to your husband. Or you can try to mouth the answer. Or you can grab a paper and pencil and write a note. No matter how you handle it, your mate’s timing is poor and he’s created a stressful situation for you.

Another example: As you are rushing out the door to go to work, your child asks you to sign a permission slip for school or announces this is her day to bring a snack. Had she brought up the issue the day before, it would not have been a big deal. But because of her faulty timing, your feathers are bound to be ruffled.

One woman says her husband’s “favorite trick” is to start talking finances right before bedtime. “Talking about bills and our money makes me feel anxious. Once he brings up the bills, I can’t fall asleep.”

Bad timing in the home also includes:

  • Making a telephone call right after your wife has told you dinner is ready.
  • Asking your parents for money or the car a few minutes after you’ve smarted
    off to them.
  • Starting an important conversation with someone who is engrossed in a movie
    or trying to balance the checkbook.
  • Yelling for your mate to come and look at something in the front yard when you
    have no idea where he is in the house or what he’s doing.
  • Expecting sex when you’ve been rude and just had a fight.
  • Telling your spouse you have no money as you pull in the movie parking lot.
  • Sweeping the floor when the rest of the family is in the car waiting to leave.
  • Talking about redecorating the family room when your husband has just told
    you he feels insecure about his job.

Remember, smooth relationships require sensitivity to what others are doing and feeling. So watch your timing.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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What happens if your adolescent or grown child starts dating someone you don’t like? As a parent, do you take the risk and say something? Or do you say nothing, hoping that the relationship will end?

If your child is in the throes of adolescence, it’s best to keep your negative remarks to a minimum. No matter how well founded or well meaning your comments are, they definitely will bring results that are directly opposite to what you want. This is known as the “Romeo and Juliet effect.” The harder parents try to keep their teen-ager from getting involved with a particular person, the more determined the child will be to get involved.

If your daughter is 17 and her new­found love is 22 and a loser, you certainly have every right and responsibility as a parent to discourage your daughter’s involvement. The best way to do this is to limit the time she spends with her boyfriend rather than repeatedly pointing out his flaws.

If your child is over 20, he or she may listen more to your objections. But it’s still risky business to lay out too many negatives. If the child proceeds with the relationship and winds up walking down the aisle, you can bet all those negatives will come back to haunt you.

I had one couple come to my office heartbroken. Their son was marrying a girl they were sure wasn’t good for him. In their eyes she was demanding, critical and controlling. They had warned their son of this woman’s flaws but he was refusing to listen. What were they to do?

The advice I gave was to start recognizing this woman’s good qualities. I also advised that they start building a relationship with her if they wanted to continue to see their son. They didn’t like my advice. Unfortunately, these parents continued to air their displeasure. The son married and moved away, the daughter-in-law is openly hostile, and the parents rarely see their son.

Another couple I saw for counseling faced a similar problem. Their 27-year-old son had fallen for a divorced woman of 34 who had three small children.

This certainly wasn’t their idea of happiness for their son. They worried about how he would be able to support the children and if he had what it took to step into a ready-made family. They were concerned that this woman was an opportunist who saw their son as a meal ticket. They also wondered if they would be able to accept her children as their grandchildren.

On the plus side, they liked the woman and the children and from what they had seen, they thought she was a good mother. So they decided to support their son and keep their objections to themselves.

I ran into this couple a few years later and learned that the marriage was working well. The factor that no one could have predicted: The son was sterile and couldn’t have children. So a built-in family was a gift to everyone.

It’s painful for parents when their child chooses someone that they wouldn’t choose. And it’s difficult to keep objections to oneself. At the same time, it’s a good idea for parents to soft-pedal their disapproval, switch the focus, and figure out what their child sees in the other person.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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I see a lot of couples for marriage counseling and although each couple has a unique set of problems, one thing stands out: Couples who are having problems often stop doing nice things for each other. It may be that when she went shopping she used to always buy him a little present – a tie, a travel coffee mug, a half-pound of English toffee. Now she goes and buys for the children and herself. But the treats for him have stopped.

He, on the other hand, used to stop by the grocery store on the way home from work and bring her strawberries. He also used to make a point of bringing home his company’s newsletter for her to read. Now he does neither.

Here’s one technique that I’ve been suggesting to couples which brings quick, positive results and good feelings.

Get a large note pad and draw a line down the middle of the page. Write your name on one side and your mate’s on the other. Every day each of you should do three nice things for the other and write them on the paper. Your list for several days may look like this:

Joan     11/1 Brought him coffee, picked up his cleaning, told him his haircut looked good

Jim       11/1 Got her popcorn at the show, told her “I love you”, helped her wash windows

Joan     11/2 Bought food for his hunting trip, bought him new wool socks, fixed him breakfast

Jim       11/2 Gave her a back rub, made a fire when she asked, made her coffee

Joan     11/3 Sent him a card, had a key made for his locker, made him a cherry pie

Jim       11/3 Made dinner and cleaned up, listened to her about a job problem, told her the house looked nice

Joan     11/4 Complimented him on his tie, said “I love you”, sewed a button on his shirt

Jim       11/4 Sent her a card, picked up milk, bought her doughnuts

The trick to this technique is to keep doing it even if you’re annoyed at your mate. And keep it in a place where you can both see it – on the kitchen counter, on the dining room table. If you have children, let them see your list. It’s good for them to know that Mom and Dad do nice things for each other.

Every couple who has used this technique has reported good results. Try it for a month. I guarantee, it works.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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What do you do when your daughter is overweight?

One mother confessed that when she looks at her overweight daughter, she sees her as a failure. And then she translates her daughter’s failure into her own failure.

“I try to hide my disappointment and discontent with the way she looks,” said the mother,” but it’s always there. I also make subtle comments, which really aren’t so subtle. In the past I’ve said, “I heard about a great diet book. Should I buy it for you?

“I’ve also said, ‘It’s a great day; let’s go for a walk.’ What I’m really saying is, “You need some exercise.’ The worst comment was when I said, “Why, you have a double chin just like me.’

“When I look at her, I think she’s lazy. She has no pride. I wonder where I went wrong.”

Another woman said that it drives her crazy to watch her daughter eat. “I want to say, ‘Stop eating that roll and butter. Get control of yourself. Don’t you have any respect for yourself?’ I don’t dare say anything because in the past I have and it just makes her mad and not want to be with me.”

“I never stop bugging my daughter,” said another woman. “I’m always coming up with a plan. I take her articles and books on weight loss. Last year I enrolled her in a weight-loss program and she lost 50 pounds. Then she gained it all back. My next plan was humiliation. I told her I loved her, but the world hated fat people. This month I’ve offered to pay for her to enroll at a gym. Does all this do her any good? It doesn’t seem to help her, but it helps me.

“My daughter is 70 pounds overweight and seems to be on her way up,” moaned another mom. “She eats all the time. Her room is full of candy wrappers. I’m thin, and I just don’t get it. Nothing I say to her has an impact. She’s sweet and a successful high school student. She plays in the band and has lots of friends. I know she’s unhappy with her weight, but she can’t seem to get control of it.”

Yet another mother said, “The worst time for me is when I have to introduce my daughter, who is at least 90 pounds overweight, to someone she’s never met. I cringe. I think that the person must be thinking how ugly she is. I smile and am chatty and act like everything is fine, but on the inside I feel terrible and know it’s not fine. I feel bad for my daughter and bad for me.”

If you are a mother having bad feelings about an overweight daughter, you know that your daughter also is struggling with feelings about her weight. The best course of action is to ask her directly, “Is there anything I can do to help you with your weight? Or would you rather I said nothing?”

Some daughters will ask to be bugged a bit. They want their mothers to bring them diet programs and suggestions. This keeps the problem out in the open as opposed to pretending there isn’t a problem. Other daughters will ask that their mother not push food or tempt them with homemade cakes and cookies.

Some daughters do not want their mothers to say anything about their weight problem. They already know they have one, and they’ve already tried any number of diets and exercise programs.

If you truly want to be helpful to your overweight daughter, ask her what she wants from you. And then have the strength and courage to give her what she asks for.

To take care of your own feelings about her weight, confide in a favorite friend from time to time. Too, you might want to get a bit philosophical and ask yourself, “Why did I bring this child into the world?”

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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