Most people desire a healthy relationship, yet many find this hard to achieve. One problem with relationships is that both parties bring their past into the relationship. Jack may think that he is married to Jill, but he doesn’t realize that Jill has brought her past with her. Not only are there Jack and Jill in the home, but Jacks parents, siblings, and possibly even his grandparents, aunts and uncles. Jill has brought with her the same complement of relatives. Their household is crowded even before the first child is born. Thoughts of “why do you always do things that way” and “this is the way my mom or dad did it,” influence the relationship from the start. It is a challenge for the new couple to become adults, interacting in an adult-to-adult mode, rather than one becoming the parent and the other the child.
As a counselor, I often meet with couples who are acting out the role of parent/child. Their interaction becomes an unhappy dance. I know this is happening when they come with comments about “he won’t help,” “she is always nagging,” “he talks to me like I’m a child,” “she thinks she’s the boss and always tells me what to do.” The presenting problems may be more serious, such as mental illness or substance abuse, but it soon becomes evident that poor communication, and failure to achieve adult-to-adult communication is the real problem.
When this is the situation, therapy consists of teaching the couple to use “I messages” and assertive communication when sharing their needs and thoughts. When the other member of the couple begins finding fault, it’s important to listen and understand what is being said, rather than to argue. You may want to repeat back what the person said, “I understand that you are upset because you want me to be more active in child care,” or to listen carefully until your partner is finished talking, even to repeat what they said to check that you understood correctly, and then say “thank you for sharing.” You are not dependant on waiting for the other one to change the dance, but when you begin making changes in yourself, your partner will also begin changing.

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