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The official blog of familyWORKZ™

February 21, 2009

Relational Apraxia

Filed under: Couples,divorce — admin @ 2:26 am

Countless books have been written to help explain the enormously complex dynamics of relationships. Some popular thinkers emphasize the differences between sexes (think: Venus & Mars). Social researchers tend to focus more closely on communication and interaction styles. Big thinkers, sometimes called philosophers, often turn their attention to morality – right versus wrong, good versus bad. While still others satisfy themselves by thinking less about causes and prefer to offer shovelfuls of solutions.

While any and all of this information has its place and value, a pattern of interactional dynamics is often overlooked – which I refer to as “relational apraxia.”

Constructional apraxia is a neuropsychological term defined as an inability to physically or mentally combine parts of something into a coherent whole. It’s sometimes considered a disorder of gestalt, in that afflicted people can (metaphorically) see the trees but not the forest. When the concept of “apraxia” is applied to relationships, what is noticed is a tendency for one person in the relationship to be extremely sensitive to detail (tree-huggers), while the other person is more big picture oriented (forest-lovers). This difference of perception helps explain many moments of conflict. 

To help diagnose your preference, think of the following common occurrence. Children who are forced to grow up fast because of their circumstances (think parental alcoholism, divorce, abuse, general neglect, or parents that are just too busy and preoccupied) tend to become quite sensitive to the needs of OTHER people, while being extremely insensitive to their own needs. These people learn to see the big picture as a result of needing to make sense out of what doesn’t make sense. Such people become blind to the tree as a result of staring too long at the forest. Unfortunately, when this person realizes, consciously or otherwise, that their emotional or psychological needs are not being met, they can become quite unreasonable. Often, forest-lovers start fights abruptly and air their complaints in an “out of nowhere” fashion. Big picture people are like thunderstorms on a summer day. They zoom in from nowhere, blast everything in sight, and then vanish.

By contrast, children who are over-protected (think hover-mothers, nervous and scared parents, over-structured schedules, permissive parenting styles, and emotionally-dependent relationships) tend to become unusually sensitive to their OWN needs at the expense of understanding the needs of other people. These people love their tree and don’t see that their are other trees in the forest. These people love detail. In a conflict situation, tree-lovers can recite specific incidences of being wronged. They hold grudges and have ample evidence to back up their reasoning.

The notion of trees and forests can help people deal more effectively with difficult moments inside important relationships. It only takes one person to move toward the gestalt of seeing both the tree and the forest at the same time. Think of the situation during a moment of conflict when one person says to the other something like, “There isn’t a tree in sight in my forest.” This is gestalt thinking. This type of thinking is equivalent to giving the relationship a voice. Beware, seeing both the forest and the tree at the same time isn’t hard, but it is very tricky.

February 11, 2009

Power Play

Filed under: divorce — Tags: — admin @ 3:30 am

I’m going to go out on a limb here by suggesting that most of the tension inside divorce is fueled by a sustained imbalance of power. One person has more of something that the other person wants, prefers or desires. Hence, the struggle over power. 

For instance, if one person has won over the marital friends, this person retains greater social power. When one person has more money and controls the purse strings, this is financial power. When one person enjoys greater connection with the children, this is parental power. 

While power inside an important and meaningful role creates confidence, the lack of power creates doubt, insecurity, and fear. Further, too much power creates something extending unappealingly beyond confidence – arrogance. The lack of balance of power between ex-spouses creates more than just tension. When arrogance collides with fear, sometimes, what is produced is hate. This concept of hate, which is not an unfamiliar emotion within the fabric of the divorce process, takes time and psychic work. In this sense, hate doesn’t just happen, nor is it something that just is. Hate happens because one person wants to hate the other person. Obviously, this person likely has good reasons to rationalize their hatred. Yet, by hanging onto the hate, an imbalance of power surely will become the status quo. And, the status quo inside divorce is rarely beneficial to any party. Alternatively, it is the intentional recalibration of power that corrects the assymetry of post-marital hostility. This is not achieved easily. It requires gaining a new perspective, achieving an enhanced appreciation for personal balance, and the trusting that the complexity of a divorce relationships can be untied just a bit. Stated differently, difficult divorces only regain a simplicity and, thus, improved workability, if and when one party is willing to be strategically vulnerable. 

One word of caution. Remember that the person who cares the most has the least amount of power. Notwithstanding, only when someone is willing to go back to SQUARE ONE that the family stands a chance of enjoying of restructured peace.

February 8, 2009

Loyalty Logic

Filed under: Couples,Families,parenting — Tags: — admin @ 10:46 am

What is invisible yet binds people together beyond reason and without question?  The answer to this riddle helps explain some of life’s most befuddling situations.

Throughout many facets of our lives, situations arise that leave us puzzled as to why people do what they do, rather than what they should be doing. Bewildered, we are often left shaking our heads and walking away from the situation not knowing how to make sense out of what doesn’t seem to make any sense. When this occurs, our minds rapidly and reflexively to turn one our favorite interpersonal tools – judgment. That is, since our minds are programmed to remain on task until the riddle is solved, somehow our minds must make sense out of nonsense. It is in this type of situation that judgment saves the day. It is judgment that allows our minds to relax, having come to some type of resolution, so that our lives can move forward. Unfortunately, our minds are not always right. The mind, once it has made up its mind, has a very bad habit of believing that it is right – always.

When a person begins to understand the roots of a riddle, it is then that the mind begins to expand and the person has a chance of gaining a new perspective. This new perspective may garner a more robust sense of balance, which then allows the person to make different choices and experience life with fresh win in its sails.

Then answer, of course, is loyalty. Loyalty lies buried beneath generations of personal influence and tradition. Loyalty is bundled with internalized expectations and social obligations. Once loyalty is appreciated as being a bone-deep commitment from which people must actively and persuasively pry themselves away from, then the mind stands a much better chance of make MORE sense out of what doesn’t make much sense at all.

February 7, 2009

Liquid Morality

Filed under: Couples,divorce,Individual,parenting — Tags: — admin @ 7:39 pm

Increasing one’s flexibility toward being concerned about issues beyond self requires expanding one’s perspective about the world, how one fits into the world, what one can offer the world, and what the world can offer right back. 

Stepping into our maturity requires learning how to balance self needs with the needs of others. When our background provides us love only through conditional channels, the lesson we learn is that the needs of others are more important than others (others>self). When our past babies us, protects us from all harm, and disallows us from facing hard times, the lesson learned is that the only thing that really counts is self, and the needs of other people takes a backseat (self>others). Alternatively, if life provides us a balance of protection and freedom, transparency and mystery, familiarity and spontaneity, the perspective we learn allows us to balance the needs of both self and others (self=others), which provides us sufficient resiliency to deal with life’s struggles and enough gumption to go out into the world and dazzle. 

Liquid morality involves the perspective that others are needed in order to develop self, and an authentic self is required to be available to satisfy the needs of others. This ebb and flow of self to others, others to self is what helps move us toward our true potential. In a sense, by being open to going with the flow of liquid morality what is gained is an opportunity to be more of who you really are and less of who you think you need to be.

February 6, 2009

State of Mind

Filed under: Couples,Individual — Tags: — admin @ 2:34 am

A “state” is a means to an end.  Put another way, the only way to get somewhere is to know, at least partially, where one is going.  When it comes to the mind, its job is to do precisely this – to know where you are going before you get there.  The problem is that sometimes our minds work too well.  This phenomenon of “knowing” can get in the way of “being” or “doing.”  

In this way, a “state of mind” is something that can interrupt our desire to connect with others. If our mind tells us that “we’re not good enough,” or “we’re not attractive enough,” or “don’t go over there, you’ll just get rejected again,” then it is likely that we will let our mind, which has made up its mind, guide our actions and control our destiny. 

If you are finding yourself trapped in a “state of mind,” then you may want to consider “getting out of your mind,” which implies moving back into your experience so that your mind has more information from which to make up its new mind. 

Another way of looking at this same thing is consider the phrase “balance in motion.” When we lose our balance in life, often times, we also stop moving – our motion stops and we become STUCK. To get unstuck, many people believe we should find our balance first and then we will start moving. What if this is wrong. What if getting unstuck in life is a lot like learning how to ride a bike. If your child asked you to teach him to ride his first bike, would you have him jump on the seat and sit there without moving for a week or so. This sounds pretty silly. But that is what many of us do with our life when it becomes stuck. 

Returning back to the bike example. If life is like this, then when we get stuck, the idea is that we have to move in order to find balance. This obviously takes some risk. After all, it is possible we can fall of the bike. But, you have to admit, at least when we fall we’re making new memories as opposed to repeating our old memories over and over – which is what it is like to be stuck in a state of mind.

February 5, 2009

Picture, Picture On The Wall

Filed under: Couples — Tags: — admin @ 9:14 pm

Much has been written about the differences between men and women. While certain differences are noticeably apparent, the truth informs us that we are all about 99% biologically the same. Therefore, perhaps that celebrated remaining one percent really does deserve all the attention it gets. 

One particularly important difference between the sexes, generally speaking, is that we look at pictures differently. That is, when it comes to relationships, when something goes wrong, men more predictably look at the BIG PICTURE and attribute their anger to a global sentiment about the relationship. Related to this men have a tendency to be more black and white – seeing the relationship as being reasonably okay or unreasonably out of balance. By contrast, women tend to be more attentive to the details of interpersonal interactions and attribute their anger to a particular event (or the PICTURE WITHIN THE PICTURE). 

Understanding this general difference may help to calm the rough waters when a fight a breaks out. Since one valuable key to stopping the fight is to see the fight from the other persons’ perspective, it is recommended that men look at the details and become more sensitive to “the little things,” while women man find the power to soothe a difficult time by “going global” and seeing what the man sees overall.

The moral of this blog is: there is likely more to the picture than you’re seeing.

February 3, 2009

Putting Your Foot Down

Filed under: Couples,Families — Tags: — admin @ 3:51 am

Learning how to put your foot down (standing up for something you believe in; for example, a principle) while holding your head up high (believing in yourself, clinging to competence and sustaining confidence) involves gumption – a form of psychic gasoline. 

Putting your foot down predictably, when someone does something that crosses a line, teaches people to take you seriously. It all starts with having a reasoned or emotionally honest opinion. Next, framing this opinion with a few choice words (such as, “I disagree,” or “That’s not my cup of tea,” or “We see things quite differently”). The key is to make your stance well known by living out loud with generous and kind-spirited intention. 

Staying open to feedback strengthens your reputation.

Connect to Communicate

Filed under: Couples,Families — Tags: — admin @ 3:45 am

Standing up for yourself without putting the other person down. This involves bravely and squarely standing on the shoulders of the relationship so to gain greater persepective. Once sufficiently elevated so that you gain a three-way perspective (your view, your partner’s view, and the view of the relationship), your next move is to connect with the other person by stepping into their emotional reality. Remember, without connection, communication is nearly impossible. 

Once connected, your next move is give voice to your internal experience. Be factual and emotionally honest. Weave into the story elements of your truth about what is missing. Nothing is wrong with explaining your sadness or showing your anger or revealing what scares you so much. Just remember to attach your truth with a dash of three-way perspective. When you give dimension to your most basic emotions, you are sending a direct invitation to the other person to reenter your life. This is how our greatest desire is met. This is the heart of intimacy – connecting in order to communicate.

What if you’re wrong?

Filed under: divorce — Tags: — admin @ 2:34 am

When life throws a curve ball our direction, the tendency is to flip the default switch and rapidly make sense out of the uncertainty of the moment. Since a “quick” decision is necessary – thanks to evolutionary reflexes – we heavily rely upon our learning history and biographical background to regain our balance. The problem with this strategy is that it relies upon old thinking and, by its very nature, roadblocks us from seeing the situation anew. In short, this tendency to throw the default switch almost guarantees that we will revisit a familiar time and experience a familiar emotional reality. 

But, what if you’re wrong?

What if the situation requires new thinking? In this type of situation, it is argued, the knowledge we possess is the culprit that prevents the development of a new way of thinking. What if the only way to grow is to choose to learn as opposed to judge? Can we rethink about a situation by choosing to think in a new way? 

The key to moving in this direction and experience an UNSTUCKNESS to your situation is to first ask yourself the simple and humbling question, “What if you’re wrong?” By doing so, you allow yourself the opportunity to rediscover the humanity of the person throwing the curve ball. 

Stated another way, when life throws the curve ball, instead of ducking or getting hit, use your common sense (which is defined as the combination of all senses) and catch the ball. Then, after contemplating such things as intention versus impact, certainty versus possibility, and destructive knowing versus compassionate tolerance, lob the ball back. See what happens next.

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