Communication, Hard Work and Connection

I woke up this morning with an interesting thought about marriage and family relationships. So many people I know have healthy, loving relationships for years and years, but then something happens and suddenly their relationships take a nosedive. It is almost as if there is no investment value in the previous years of the relationship worth fighting for. It made me really start thinking seriously about the reasons why.

I did a little research and I found that on average, even after seven to ten years of happiness, as little as one month of hardship can destroy everything. This was painful for me to read on so many levels. It seemed like such a waste. I personally believe we are our relationships. They define us in many ways.

As a husband and father, I really try to remain vigilant so that my core family relationships are strong. As a businessman, I am keenly aware that networking and relationships are the glue that holds any organization together. Finally, as a leader, coach, and mentor, I want to help others see what I am seeing with the hope that they might learn vicariously and thus avoid a few pitfalls.

So, what are the leading causes of relationship breakdown and, in essence, the pitfalls we must maneuver around? I can sum them all up with the word VALUES, but we will focus on two causes today. I also offer, in somewhat more specific terms, that within these two areas it is our failure to trust, to be respectful, and to be willing to work hard that sack us in our relationships. Let’s dig into the real issues relating to these pitfalls.

Money

Some say the root of all evil is the love of money, which may be true, but when it comes to relationships I see financial hardship as one of the chief booby traps just waiting to ensnare us. It seems like the number one argument between couples regardless of age, gender, and background is over what couples do with money. Do you find yourself annoyed and even angry that your spouse or significant other is spending too much money or maybe he/she is hoarding it so that you can’t spend much at all? Do you have resentment when you are asked about what you spend money on? Do you feel anxiety when you ask your spouse what he/she spends money on?

This pitfall is a killer because it hits hard on both trust and respect … key VALUES. The question you must ask yourself is, “Do I trust his/her judgment and do I respect his/her needs?” The answer is usually a resounding NO in many cases because we have been taught that money is so important in life that it must be guarded at all costs against loss. (This is ironic since the purpose of tender is to be spent on needed items). Pause for a minute to consider what the world might be like if we just understood and respected the perspectives of our loved ones regarding money. THAT is huge!

Let me just say that if this is a point of contention in good times, then you must take a moment to recognize how your relationships will be affected in hard times. Beware of the following pitfalls when money gets tight: blaming, hoarding, abusing, mistrust, anger, and even despair. Now ask yourself, “What is the universal treatment for money problems?” Well, making more money might be the first option, but if times are truly hard then communication about living within the means of the available income is the best answer. In short, budgeting and sacrifice (two painful concepts in America). Bear in mind that this should not be one conversation. It needs to be a habitual discussion with facts, figures, and patience.

Money isn’t a problem just for couples. What about teenagers who need money for everything? They need clothes, food, entertainment, and all of that costs money. As a parent, I am continually seeing events and opportunities pop up that all hit me in the wallet. Does that sound familiar? Parents might not have unlimited funds for these things, which leads to begging, disappointment, mistrust, and even theft by the child.

Trust and respect are essential here, but the willingness to work really becomes an important value for parents raising teens. Let’s face it, teenager or not, if a person has a choice between 1) working hard to get paid and then going out to have fun versus 2) going out to have fun without the hard work, the former loses to the latter every time. So if we know our teenagers are likely to beg and plead (which lowers self-esteem) and then face disappointment and frustration (which leads to mistrust and anger) then what can we do?

Communication is always the best first step.

Without giving a painful lecture, a good parent/child relationship needs established boundaries, two-way negotiations, and trust. I also submit that teaching teens about problem solving is very helpful with regard to money, and their contributions to chores or even a part-time job can really help.

Once the initial conversation is complete, we should plan to revisit the situation to talk about progress. Oftentimes, the plans we make will need some fine-tuning so don’t assume the matter is closed. In the end, a good relationship must have a combination of fair and reasonable conversation, planning, and follow through. This work, based in trust, will build mutual respect. It takes effort, but it really pays big dividends if used properly.

Let’s move on to the second part of my theory.

The Connection

I remember as a young boy seeing good friends squabble and even fight but then later that same day they were playing as if nothing happened. I have seen parents, adult friends, and relatives fight and then never let it go. I suppose we might chalk that up to a lack of frontal lobe development in children and an overdeveloped capacity for holding a grudge in adults.

Whatever the reason, I am certain of one thing; my observations indicate that the connection is critical to the level of forgiveness. For example, I have had arguments with my oldest and dearest friends as an adult and, even if I am steaming mad, I usually forgive and let it go. It is largely in part to the connection I have with them. Why is it so different with friends than it is with family? Surely, relatives are among the most important people in our lives, right?

It is the connection I believe. Maybe not the length of time the relationship has been in effect as much as the type of connection. With our wife/husband, that connection is so frequently built on total interdependence that we seem unwilling or perhaps unable to suffer even the simplest forms of discontent. Children/parents have a similar, and yet somewhat different, connection that is easily disrupted by disrespect brought on by newly discovered independence.

So if we know that the interdependence link between husbands and wives is unable to sustain repeated battering, what can we do? Do I really need to reemphasize communication? Of course I do. It is the beginning of all problem-solving efforts. We must also seek to continually strengthen that connection. Husbands must value their wives and their effort in and out of the home. Wives must reciprocate. Together they are charged with not only building a family and sustaining it but also maintaining it. Like putting gas and oil in a car and then getting the scheduled services done, we must invest time and effort into the marriage. This applies to other intimate relationships as well. Are we doing that? Could we do a little more? I know we can.

The change in teenagers is always tough on the family. I suppose one option is to just cut the teenager loose and let then fend for themselves, but this is always a hard road for teens and just as painful for adults. We have to work together to strengthen our relationships and that means allowing for growth.

We should start again with conversation. Do parents respect the choices of their teens? I would say not much at first. For at least eighteen years, mothers and fathers have been giving direction and commands to their kids, so with that kind of habit, it’s not easy to change. Conversely, teens are not used to asking their parents to understand their needs. They are used to being told what to do and obeying without a true vote in the matter or else being punished. I believe parents need to discuss the developing needs of the teenager and get “in tune” with them. Now, this is a lot harder than it sounds because, so often, parents have ignored or marginalized their children for years, to a point where they are strangers in many ways. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Communication can change it before rebellion takes over. The trick is to listen more and try to understand the teenager rather than dictate every step they will make under penalty of punishment.

If the teen realizes the effort of the parent is genuine, they will respond … albeit slowly. Be patient and work with them. Lastly, be sure to understand that they will make mistakes and push the boundaries. Don’t let it catch you off guard. Expect it.

We have the most unique connection with our friends. They seem to share the best of us with no real expectation. That connection is hard to break though not impossible.

Among these three groups, I think the single most critical relationship is the one between spouses followed by the parent-child relationship and lastly friends. Many will disagree on the order but, for the purpose of illustrating my point, consider who we truly invest most of our time with and what the quality of that time happens to be.

We give our friends (who might be quick to forgive and forget) our fun time, free time, laughing time, and hobby/interest time with no real fussing when things don’t work out. We love and respect these people. Ironically, friends have very little vested in us other than serving as a source of amusement or entertainment. There are a few exceptions but, for the most part, I believe this is universal.

We give our children homework time, chore time, and maybe a little sports/gaming time (on the weekend) with a considerable amount of fussing for their shortcomings. Do we respect the child? Do they respect us? If not, then the question is what way is best to build respect? It always starts with communication.

Finally, the spouse gets all of the stress from our problems to add to their problems. The spouse gets maybe one to two hours with us after the kids are in bed. They get the full force of our complaining, griping, venting, and a few times a week they get intimate time.

While we never allow others to disrespect our spouses, do we show them the respect they deserve? Do we understand their needs? Do we really know them as well as we should? I tend to think the answer is not as well as we could.

These are the reasons we tend to see great relationships in the family fall apart. My final admonition is this:

First, we must communicate with genuine love and respect. Second, we must dedicate time and effort (hard work) to building our relationships. Third, we must maintain those relationships with regular tune-ups and TLC in order to have reliable and strong connections. The alternative is failure, which has long-term consequences.

Curtiss Robinson is Owner and Director of Thriveworks in Conway, AR.

For more information on family and marital coaching in Conway, Arkansas, visit Conway Counseling, or call 501-404-9737.

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