I hope your week is going well. I've been pretty busy lately, which is why I haven't been lurking around these pages so much. I've been working with a lot of couples who have had crises or issues in their relationships and are wanting to make things better.
I've also been working with quite a few parents who are wanting to feel more comfortable in their role in the family - ie., being a parent to a teenager. The time of teenage years for families often brings up quite a few new things that parents need to start doing differently. The parenting approach that might have been OK in earlier years will no longer cut it and there can be several different reasons for this. And if there was ever a time that parents needed to be on the same page as each other, well this is one...(jump over here, to see why this might be important).
These two topics alone could and do take up miles and miles of screen space right across the blogosphere, so I'm not going to repeat it all here. Even though the couple and the parent/teen are different relationships within the family, and will therefore have a different focus when they come for therapy, there are also going to be some things in common that I'm curious about.
One thing that I'm always going to be very interested in is the strengths present in the relationship. And there are always strengths. What makes the relationship work, what are the good parts? Human nature being what it is, the parts that don't work will often attract our attention like some kind of shiny object - yet there is always good stuff happening too, that we are not seeing.
The other thing that is important in both these relationships - OK, ALL relationships, is a natural follow-on to the above. And that is to notice what the other person/s does well in the relationship, and tell them. What do they contribute, what are their relationship strengths? And if you tell them, they are then pretty likely to do more of it. It's one of those win - win situations. People often think this praise and encouragement stuff is only important when parents are trying to positively influence a child. Indeed, when I checked what other people were saying about this, there are a million sites saying how important it is to praise kids. And it is. But we can all benefit from told we are doing OK.
I know this stuff doesn't sound earth-shattering by any means - maybe it's fairly obvious, even a case of "ho hum, yes I know that." My experience is that sure, while a lot of people know the value of compliments and encouragement, it doesn't always follow that they are doing it. If we have a life-long experience of having had our faults and flaws pointed out to us, then it's probably going to be fairly ingrained, and it might be hard to notice the good stuff that others do and then point it out to them. If we are not use to receiving the good stuff, doing it for others may not come so readily.
But there is another reason we need to compliment, (and I've talked about the importance of this before, right here) or even if you can't always stretch to that, at least try to make positive comments. And that is, that it will make the relationship more durable, and more resilient to conflict. In fact there is some research that supports this. John Gottman from the University of Washington discovered some years ago, that 'successful' couples were those who had a ratio of roughly 5:1 positive to negative interactions (check this out here). In other words, the relationship can tolerate a degree of conflict and negativity if this 5:1 ratio is occurring. And although Gottman was referring to couples in particular, this will certainly have relevance for other close relationships also.
When I've discussed this with couples, they get the importance of this, plus when they start looking out for this, and trying to even up their own ratio, so that it comes in somewhere around 5:1, then they have experienced an overall improvement in their relationship. Now, I'm first to agree that this isn't about to cure major relationships issues - but along with the other things I've mentioned here today, it certainly has a part to play. But don't just take my word for it.....and try and do better than the glib examples below.
"Some occasional thoughts about families, relationships, and other things that distract us...."