Relationships in Families
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Dr Phil Palmer MBACP (Accred) UKRCP Reg
3rd April, 20130 Comments
It is so very hard to be objective about what is going on within our own family as we are caught up in the middle of it. Trying to think about the various roles people play may seem straight forward, yet we adopt so many roles and some are more subtle then others. What roles do you play? Are you the person who rushes to bring solace whenever someone is upset? Do you perhaps provide leadership and expect everyone to follow what you say? If you are experiencing difficulty with relationships in your family, chances are this is caused by a clash in roles and the resulting confusion is hard to adapt to.
Relationships within families are made more complex by the fact that often several people are involved and the way family members react may have more to do with other relationships within the family than with you. Living together creates special complimentary ways of being where family members take on specific roles. Together these roles create a family culture. As children grow up within a family, so they will inevitably shift some of their roles and this creates a natural tension within the family. The more flexible a family culture is, the better able it is to accept and adapt to these changes.
Research has shown time and again that we all possess a need to form close attachments with others. We are innately social and instinctively seek out contact with others and build new relationships. This does not mean that we always find it easy to create a relationship or to maintain it, yet in spite of the fact we often feel we have missed out on something that others have learned, it is more likely that the difficulties we experience are because we have lost touch with our own instinctive nature.
When thinking about how to improve our relationships it is of help to consider them in a wider context. Research into those relationships that have withstood the tests of time shows there are a few key qualities common to them. The first is accepting differences, learning to accept each other as we find them. Trying to change someone into how you want them to be will cause them anxiety and inhibits honest and open talking. Tension builds up and this may often appear to explode somewhere seemingly unrelated. Accepting differences between you is not always easy, especially if they are profound, and requires work, but by openly acknowledging what is happening will allow you both to work together towards acceptance of each other.
Many people enter relationships looking to fill something missing in their lives. An example might be: wanting to be praised and appreciated by someone in order to feel good about ourselves. Yet if we become dependent upon them for this, then they will experience this as a burden which over time will cause them to withdraw. It is not possible for other people to solve our problems for us, or to meet all of our needs all of the time. We are ourselves individuals and need to look after ourselves rather than expecting others to do that for us.
Even in the best of relationships, things do go wrong. All of us live with regrets over things we have said or done, and we all have experienced hurt at the receiving end. Sometimes the hurt is so deep, the resentment so profound that we find we cannot let go of what has been done. When a relationship starts accumulating hurt from the past, you are prevented from living in the present. Instead of focusing upon what can be achieved the focus has shifted to what wasn’t achieved. Sometimes, instead of living in the past, we live in hope that things may change in the future. This too takes us away from the here and now, and the way we respond is no longer informed by what is happening now but by the future or the past.
In all relationships a key quality in those that last is an ability to negotiate effectively. This is of particular relevance to families where the pulls and strains of the various members seem to stretch the relationships within it. Successful negotiation is built upon a solid foundation where we have thought through and are clear firstly what we need to achieve for ourselves in the negotiation and an open availability to the needs of others. All relationships make compromises but to remain strong no one person in the family should be left having to make all the accommodation for the rest.
As individuals we all make choices and the final key attribute to successful relationships is that they adapt themselves to those choices. We all have a right to decide the direction we wish to go in and respecting that right in those we love helps us to adapt our relationship with them and support them. We are often tempted into believing we know what is best for them and with the best of intentions may wish to push them into changing their mind. Yet very rarely will this help as the positions you both adopt become entrenched. Learning to accept we cannot protect the people we love from their own choices and their own learning can be so hard, yet helps us to appreciate that what they really need from us is being there when they reach for us.
If you are experiencing difficulty in your family then ask yourself why are the members of your family reacting as they do? Try to see from their perspective so that you can build as complete a picture as you can of what is going on. It may be very hard to put yourself in their shoes, especially if you are frustrated and angry, yet the more you can achieve this the better able you will be to allay their worries and allow them to see your point of view.
Ask yourself what it is you are wishing to achieve and what is motivating the way you are behaving. It may be that your family had their own plan for you or they have their own anxieties about your choices. The more we can understand the better position we will be in to negotiate a successful way forward.
You may feel you have been out of touch with your ability to make successful relationships for so long that you wonder whether you ever had the skill. Most people, however, are able to recover their innate ability once they are focused and determined to work on their relationships. If however, you find the situation too upsetting or the positions too entrenched then counselling may help you to clarify what is going on and help you find a way to deal with it.
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