Healthy Families 1.9: Do What Works

Do What Works

Today we reach #10 in our exploration of the 12 competencies of healthy families: What creates a positive emotional climate takes precedence over what “should” be done or what is “right.”

Having a list of rules to follow can give us comfort when we’re afraid that we don’t know how to do something, and that our ignorance will result in pain for ourselves or others. Rigid rules in intimate relationships, however, can turn into expectations, and expectations can smother a relationship faster than I can finish this sentence.

Ferret Out Your “Supposed To’s”

As children, we come to understand what is acceptable and expected by the consequences we receive for this or that behavior. Sometimes families are clear about their rules: “Finish everything on your plate.” “Don’t say anything if you can’t be nice.”

Other times, family rules aren’t directly spoken, and may even be different for different members of the family. “It’s not okay to be sad (or angry, or fearful, or ____________).” “Children are to be seen and not heard.””Boy’s don’t cry.” “Girls are just emotional.”

For relationships to thrive, we have to be more than rule-followers; we have to think beyond the boxes of “supposed to’s.” Ferreting out our “supposed to’s” is an important but tricky exercise, because the unconscious rules we live by feel so natural, so obvious. “That’s how it’s supposed to be done because that’s how we did it in our family.” Or, “That isn’t right because my mom did it another way.” Or, “This is how it should be done because that’s the way the Jones’s do it.”

What Do You Think

Consider your gut-level response to the following concepts:

  • Men/Husbands:_____________________________________________________
  • Women/Wives:____________________________________________________
  • Children:________________________________________________________
  • Money:__________________________________________________________
  • In-Laws:_________________________________________________________
  • Parents:_________________________________________________________
  • Marriage:________________________________________________________
  • Feelings:________________________________________________________
  • Fighting:________________________________________________________
  • Domestic tasks:__________________________________________________
  • Work:__________________________________________________________
  • Education:_______________________________________________________
  • Character:_______________________________________________________
  • Intelligence:______________________________________________________

Now consider how you came by your ideas about these matters. Where you and your partner differ, share your stories about how you came to think as you do about these subjects, and don’t try to get your partner to think like you do. Neither of you is right or wrong. Remember: we’re trying to find what works…what’s right for your family.

Where you and your partner differ on these matters, you have an opportunity to craft new “rules” for your own relationship. It’s okay to start from scratch. Flexibility can allow your relationship to bend without breaking, and when you find what works, great! Then be willing to go back to the drawing board if a solution you find now ends up not working so well in the future.

Survey Says…!

That said, there is much research that helps us understand what tends to work in long-term relationships. See, for example, the series in this blog titled, “Healthy Relationships…”. Still, if you adhere to guidelines, such as these competencies, like rules rather than tools, you can suck the life right out of your relationships with demandingness and/or condescension. Doing relationship well is an art, not an exact science. Loving well takes creativity, not rigidity.

A Blank Canvas

When two people get together and form a new family, they serve their relationship well when they commit to the task of forming a brand new entity, recognizing that they’ll have to make their own rules as they go along. Going into the relationship understanding the need to scrap everything each partner has known about relationship so that they can start fresh can be daunting, but taking time to figure out what works, rather than what each has been conditioned to believe is right, can be freeing, too. You don’t have to do it like anyone before you or around you! The canvas is blank; create the relationship you want!



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