This is the first of a two-part series. Here are the first 3 tips.
Are the frequent collisions you experience with your family members God’s way of prompting you to get serious about your relationships? Here are some relational tips to consider in order to bring right into the family forum.
Our Families are Important
A good deal of study has been done on the dynamics of relationships, and much has been written about them. But too often we forget to bring those principles into our families. We somehow think that in the family we have a “bye” and that we don’t have to be on our toes relationally. After all, it is my family, and they will understand and give me extra latitude and grace. Hmmm… Somehow that sounds as if you have less love for your own family than you do for others.
If anything, it ought to be the other way around. Our families ought to be the places where we make the most effort to get it right. Families not only provide us with the most frequent opportunities for relational engagement, they also offer the most promise.
3 Relationship Tips for Starters
- Autonomy and Connection
All humans have a desire to be connected, to be attached. Yet connected can also mean “constrained” or “restricted” – and so we are aware that we also need to exercise our free will and be autonomous. People can rapidly become mired in the fetters of emotional dependency as they barter their freedom for promises of loyalty, which implies commitment to remain attached. We do this out of fear – fear that we will not get what we want from the “other.” So the ideal to strive for is a balance between the need to be connected and the need to be autonomous. Being completely autonomous is easy – hermits do that. But autonomy is only useful if one is connected with an “other” or with “others.”
- Recognize what the Relationship Is
This sounds so incredibly basic, but often getting back to basics untangles things. This is surprisingly often a root of relational standstill. When you experience a relational conflict within your family, start by asking yourself what the relationship is. Is this husband to wife, wife to husband, father to son, son to father, mother to son, or any of the other possible combinations? Different relationships have significant differences, whether of principles or of expectations. Yet we frequently behave according to expectations that are not appropriate to a particular relationship. Father, don’t talk to your 10-year-old boy as if he were your peer. Wife, if you talk to your husband as if you were his mom, you will experience some problems in principle and in expectations.
- Family Relationships Evolve and Develop
Family relationships cannot remain static because people grow. A lot of problems arise simply because people do not figure that into their expectations. Sometimes they sense a loss of a former structure and fight to get back to it. This could be due to having a purely static view of life, but it could also be for a more selfish motive, one that wants everything to stay put. Such an attitude seeks to order one’s world as predictably as possible and, at worst, seeks to reify others by making them into “things.” People often identify this trait with the word “controlling” and this does not allow the other to grow. In not allowing another to grow you are also denying their autonomy – their independence from you and their right to grow, not to mention the God-given metabolism that makes them grow. Living things grow – it is only dead things that stay put.
Consider the Relationships in Your Own Life
A) The bond between spouses is often problematic. But, at its best, the spousal bond should mature and increase in strength. Probably the best exercise is to ask yourself: “What should be happening?” Consider the growth in your marriage as you ask yourself questions such as: How do you increase the arenas in which you and your spouse have alliances? How do you pursue intimacy at a new level? How do you bring your personal and spiritual growth into the marriage forum?
B) It almost goes without saying that as a child matures your relationship to them as a parent changes. When you are in a conflict with a child, what vestiges of an earlier model are you defaulting to? How is an increasing respect for your child and their autonomy showing up in your thinking habits about them? How do you respect their autonomy at an entirely different level when they are on their own and no longer under your roof? Check yourself: Are there conflicts that arise between you because of your expectations that they will do what you tell them to?
C) How is your relationship to your sibling growing as you both mature? For example, now that you are not arguing over the TV remote or the last cookie, are you embracing a growing respect for them? Let go of the old dynamics and pecking order. Instead, develop a sense of the value that is growing in this person, rather viewing them in an immature and probably selfishly constructed way.
Christian Counseling to Sort Out What You Don’t See
As a Christian counselor, I have learned that a lot of the problems one finds in families occur because people expect other family members to remain the same. Like many of the other basic dynamics described above, this may be difficult to see because you are so close to the situation. Discovering the “mistakes” in your relationships can be hard. A Christian counselor can be a safe face to help you see it and sort it out.
“Kangaroo fight ,” courtesy of odpictures, publicdomainpictures.net (CC Public Domain); “Family Multiplicity,” courtesy of Edward Webb, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0);