Jon recognized that his family was important, more so than money, but he couldn’t just sit back and do nothing especially when he was being left out of the decision-making process. Deb appreciated that Jon was a good provider, but struggled to involve her husband in all her decisions around the children because she felt he deprived the kids of the fun things kids should have when they are young. Both sides were able to communicate their needs clearly years ago when they started their family. Over the months then years, despite understanding what the other half needed, neither side could manage to respond to the other in a manner that left them getting what they wanted. Instead it left them with what they didn’t want, resentment and disconnection.
Both Jon and Deb were intelligent and competent people. They were able to identify what they wanted but weren’t getting and were getting but didn’t want. They were able to identify and express but not able to negotiate an adequate resolution as to avoid future bitterness and drifting apart. Why? What power prevented Jon and Deb from addressing the issues that they already knew were in the way of their intimacy? To learn the answer to these questions both Jon and Deb would have to look backward to attend to their present needs. Through the course of understanding the family history of both Jon and Deb, they were able to understand the power behind why they were choosing to drift apart.
Understanding Family History
Jon came from a family where performance was highly valued. He recalled how his grades and his prowess in Cross Country running got him the admiration of his Dad. His Dad had pushed him to perform. He reflected that if his Dad hadn’t pushed him so hard he may have never experienced the success in life that he had. He would look back at all the times he failed his Dad and recall the feeling of shame and rejection. In the end, while he would never describe his relationship with his Dad as close, he was thankful that he was well prepared for the harsh real world. Deb was a breath of fresh air to him, very supportive, never over-reacting to every little thing like other people from his past.
Deb grew up in a very modest family. Marrying Jon, a professional, was a step up for her from her humble blue collar family. While not at all wealthy, Deb was brought up with manners and enough etiquette along with her above average looks to be an attractive future mate for many men. She was intelligent and witty and often used her clever mind to keep everyone in the family happy, especially Mom and Dad. She often found herself going above and beyond to keep the peace around her house growing up. If it meant extra work for her it would be a small price to pay to avoid a family feud. Sometimes, no one would even knew that she would prevent fights by finishing up other people’s chores or fixing situations behind the scenes. She chose Jon for his strength, leadership, drive, and how he actually listened to her opinions in comparison to her family.
So what does their past have to do with their ability to grow closer today?
Jon and Deb were able to link their intimacy barriers to powerful experiences from their past. Jon saw how his drive to perform had two sides. A positive side that provided him with a chance to know his potential and feel good about himself, and the inverse side that reinforced: if you don’t perform, then you are not valuable or appreciated. In his mind he knew that there needed to be balance between driving and supporting his children but every time his wife made decisions about the kids without his input he felt undermined, unimportant and ignored. Worst of all, when things weren’t going well with the family he felt his worst fear coming true – the fear that he would do anything to avoid feeling like a failure as a husband and a father. Whenever the feeling of failing as a Father and a Husband was triggered, the downward spiral wasn’t far away. Over time Jon became able to recognize and appropriately respond to present-day triggers fueled by powerful past experiences. He is now able to absorb the normal stressors that relationships endure without bringing the power of the past into his present negotiations with his wife.
Deb was able to link her pattern of accommodation from her past to her current day habits of hiding information from her husband. She came to understand the way her family of origin had handled conflict. She recalled how she would do anything to avoid the family from getting into it and realized that she was doing the same thing with her husband regarding the kids. Having not had many extra privileges growing up, it was very important for her children to experience the best things that she hadn’t been able to. Her husband had always been so understanding before the children, so when they didn’t see eye-to-eye with the kids it just seemed easier to take care of it by herself. Deb came to appreciate that her upbringing brought out the best in her ability to nurture and care for others but she also was able to see how it caused her trouble today. Over time Deb became aware of how her desire to have had more as a child was driving her need to provide the children with more today. Furthermore, she became aware of her fear of conflict and became motivated to stay away from old patterns of secretly taking care of things behind he scenes without her husband’s input.
Both Jon and Deb were primarily concerned with the actions of their spouses when they first came in for help. They wanted communication tools so that they could try to change their partner. Ironically, the strength for the change they desired was found by each partner within themselves. Before Jon and Deb could benefit from any of the communication tools they would receive they would first have to learn why they wouldn’t work. Find the power, the origin, the source of the strength in the feeling being experienced and then it is possible to harness the forces that would keep you in patterns that smother intimacy.