Friday, May 29, 2009
The Power of Togetherness (Harold’s response)
I like Joanne's response because for me it emphasizes the role of trust in exuding the "power of togetherness." I like the old adage that "if you can't say 'no' can you really say 'yes'?" In other words, having the freedom to express yourself whether you agree or disagree with your partner is paramount to building a trusting relationship. Conflict should not be the dividing force that it often is in intimate relationships. Understandably, couples want agreement rather than disagreement. But, what if disagreements actually make us stronger simply because they require us to integrate another perspective into our own (the essence of synergy).
Like Joanne, I too applaud Rob and Celia's ability to sit with the "no". For most relationships it is important to have a solid foundation of trust so that "no" isn't threatening. In the end, as we are able to deal with disagreements we demonstrate the power of togetherness.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
The Power of Togetherness (Joanne’s comment)
Yay, Rob! If there is any one skill I wish I could bottle and pour down the throats of my couples, it is the ability to say NO, especially when to say yes is to enable an unhealthy pattern to continue unchallenged. We think we are avoiding conflict when we give in to unreasonable requests (an extreme example would be, "Just give me the keys, I'm not that drunk"). But the conflict is already there -- two people have very different perspectives on what needs to happen next. I would go so far as to say we have a responsibility to speak our truth in times like this, regardless of whether or not our partner likes it. Fortunately, Celia and Rob have built sufficient trust that he can confront her (even if it feels difficult to do so) and she can hear him, and they can avoid an fight that would be unnecessary.
Monday, May 25, 2009
The Power of Togetherness
Celia has just asked Rob to
“wine and dine” her mother, without Celia present, to break the news to her
that Celia invited her father, Mom’s ex-husband, to the wedding, even though
Celia talking to Mom herself about this was the whole point of the weekend.
Rob was still stuck on chocolate
syrup – running to the market for chocolate syrup for coffee was the kind of
favor you did for your fiancée early on a Saturday morning. NOT taking her mother out to solve the family
problems, without said fiancée present.
That’s not doing a favor, Rob thought. That’s capitulating to the Gillespie family
His confusion must have been
evident because Celia backed down immediately. “OK. I get
it. Not a fair request.” She turned away from Rob, poured herself
a cup of coffee, and noticing that Rob didn’t have any yet, poured him
some. “I don’t know what I was
thinking, coming down here to do this now,” she said, rummaging through the
fridge for milk and something chocolatey.
“I can’t do this, Rob.”
Rob paused a long moment and
considered her. “I think you can,
Celia,” he said quietly. “You’re stronger than to run from this, for sure,” Rob
“How do you know that?” She sounded defeated. “I feel like running.”
Rob put down his coffee, gently
took Celia’s mug from her hand and set it down with his, and embraced her
again. She leaned heavily against
him and sighed. Rob just let her
lean, and found himself wondering again what his role was. He realized he didn’t have to define
that entirely for himself. He had
veto power over what Celia asked of him, but they could figure this out
“I won’t talk to your Mom for
you,” Rob said, still holding Celia.
“But I’ll help you in whatever way you want.”
Celia backed away from Rob, took
her coffee mug and leaned against the counter. “Thank you. I
really am grateful I’m not facing it alone.” She took a sip of coffee. “Just be with me whenever I talk to her.”
“I can do that. We can both take her out to breakfast,
if you want.”
“Good. I could use a stack of pancakes to fortify myself for this
lunacy,” she said.
“Fortify yourself for what
lunacy?” Rob heard from the other room.
Mrs. Gillespie, having heard that
last comment, walked into the kitchen in her bathrobe and looked at them
How do Rob and Celia handle this
Saturday, May 23, 2009
A Surprise Request (Joanne’s response)
So Celia, who decided to take a special weekend trip to face her mother on this issue, is now resisting the idea. I disagree with Harold's suggestion that Celia isn't "mature" enough to follow through -- I just think she is panicking in the face of a situation she has never addressed head on before. This has less to do with Rob's boundaries than with Celia's legitimate need to be soothed in a situation that is huge and scare for her. If Rob begins with "No," he risks engaging more defenses. If he begins along the lines of "What is going on that makes you think you can't handle this?" he is engaging Celia and can calm her down. He has done it before, and soon Celia will own her piece without Rob ever having to utter the word "no."
Thursday, May 21, 2009
A Surprise Request (Harold’s response)
Well, my first thought after hearing Celia's surprise request is that my friend Rob got set up--big time. Rob had been wondering his role in accompanying Celia to visit her mom. He wondered maybe he was there for moral support for a difficult conversation or maybe to take the edge off of the Celia's conversation with her mom if it got too tense. In general, he just assumed his presence there would be a calming presence.
The furtherest thing from his mind, however, is that Celia would dump this responsibility in his lap. Frankly, he can't oblige this request in my opinion. Celia has made great progress in dealing with her "dad factor"--including an emotionally mature decision to directly engage her mom about the issue. But, here she is at one of those moments of truth looking for Rob to rescue her from that decision.
Rob thought that his role on this visit might be to offer a little "male perspective." So, here is what I advise. (1) Affirm Celia in her decision to come and talk to her mom directly, (2) Decline the invitation to speak in Celia's stead, (3) Offer to be right there with Celia as she engages her mom on the issue, and (4) Stay ready to run "interference" if the conversation gets too emotionally charged.
In this way Rob shows his love and support for her while still allowing her maturation process to continue. In the end, this is the role in all intimate relationships (seriously dating, engaged, and married)--being there as a felt presence even during difficult periods.
Monday, May 18, 2009
A Surprise Request
who has been estranged from her father for several years, chose to respond to
his unexpected email by asking if he would be willing to attend her wedding as
a guest but alone, without his second wife and their daughter. She asked Rob to come with her to visit
her mother for the weekend, to break this news to her. After all, Mom was the one who took it
upon herself to inform Don about Celia’s engagement, without Celia’s
Rob and Celia had driven down from Columbus late last night
and, after a quick hello to her mother and sister, had gone to bed, Celia in
her old bedroom and Rob on the sofa.
Even though Celia had not yet heard back from Don as to whether he would
agree to come to the wedding alone, she wanted to tell her mother that she had
invited him and she did not want to do it by phone. Rob supported this choice wholeheartedly, because it was a
more gentle way of introducing the idea that Celia would hereafter be in touch
with her father on a regular basis, whether he attended the wedding or
When Rob awoke early Saturday morning, he listened to the
chorus of birds outside the open living room window and tried to figure out
what his role was here. Support
for Celia, one, he thought; a voice of reason, two; and frankly, Celia’s mom
really liked Rob. He wasn’t sure
why, beyond that he was male and this family of women desperately needed an
infusion of male perspective. It
seemed to balance things out somehow.
He walked quietly into the kitchen to begin the coffee, a
routine he had started when he had visited after Christmas for almost a
week. They liked it when the
coffee was started. Rob wondered
if Celia’s father had been the coffee-starter when he had lived here. In the last two weeks Celia had
opened up about her father as never before, talking about summer evenings spent
at the community pool, eating popsicles; and his crossword puzzles he did with
his coffee in the morning, asking the family for help and pretending that they
did. He also had a temper, and
when he didn’t get his way he could be a beast. He had never laid a hand on any of them, but Mom, his
primary target, had been afraid of him.
For a long time, Celia had admitted to him recently, the
temper and yelling at Mom had been her dominant memory and experience of
Don. After receiving his very
human and normal-sounding email, Celia began to wonder about Mom’s role in
their marital dysfunction. Perhaps
it was more complex than she could have understood at age twelve, when Don
left. She further admitted that
while she had missed her father terribly after he left, none of them missed
that walking-on-eggshells feeling that they could set him off at any
Rob sorted through the mugs in the cupboard and lined up on
the counter the few that had neither teddy bears nor warm thoughts-of-the-day
on them. Maybe I’ll make breakfast
for everyone, he thought, as Celia came down the stairs and into the
She hugged and kissed him, and he did so in return.
“Rob. Would you
do me a favor?” Celia asked.
“Of course,” he said, imagining a run to the market for
chocolate syrup for her coffee.
“Will you tell Mom that I invited Don to the wedding?
Without me? I mean, take her out
to breakfast yourself and, you know, wine and dine her like you do…”
does Rob respond?
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Can you handle it? (Harold’s response)
Last weekend I conducted a communications workshop that I developed called SHIFT, Sharing Healthy Insights Feelings and Testimonies. One of the primary points of the workshop was to convey the complexity of communication. Those of us who do counseling often hear "communication" as the #1 reported problem. But, as the narratives unfold what we hear is a litany of issues that mostly originate in the family of origin--issues about feeling wanted, needed, rejected, guilty, etc. My goal is to have people leave the workshop with a sense of how much our emotional core impacts our communication transactions, especially in intimate relationships. Communication is to a large degree about emotional attachment.
As I think about Celia's amazing epiphany, I couldn't help but see the impact of the family of origin issues in the way she has/has not communicated with her parents and Rob over these past months. Celia's growth is very evident as she has been able to see the influence of her parent's dynamic on her own loyalties. As Joanne so aptly put, Celia is getting insight into the reality of her mom (rather than an imputed figure of her mom). By getting this clearer sense she then can better understand the reality of her dad (rather than an imaginary one). By seeing things clearer, Celia is getting better at assessing what she can handle. I would encourage her though to avoid the projections that she sometimes makes. I think she should talk with her mom to see how she really feels rather than making these assumptions. With her new insight firmly tucked away, I'm sure Celia can handle that. And, these steps are big leaps towards improving her own emotional health and communication prowess.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Can You Handle It? (Joanne’s response)
What a shift in Celia. She has been bound by unconscious loyalty to her mother for years. In divorce situations, children often take the side of the parent who has been most obviously injured, so it was easy to blame Don, her father, for their troubles. Now that Celia has her own adult experience of her mother, she can more easily empathize with Don and understand that her parents' divorce was more complex than she could have understood as a child or teen. Pulling out of a black-and-white blaming stance into a grayer, perhaps-they-did-the-best-they-could perspective, is the first step to Celia discovering new, balanced relationships with both parents. As Harold has noted in previous posts, the vitality of her impending marriage will be impacted by her ability to mature in her relationships with her own family.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Can you handle it?
Celia reread the unexpected email she received this morning.
“Hi, Cele. Your mom told me you got engaged to a nice boy you met at Ohio State. I am happy for you and hope to meet him soon. I know you have been avoiding me for the last few years, but please know Jeanne and I would love to attend your wedding and bring Charity. She’s five years old now. I wouldn’t want the past to keep us apart during an important milestone like this. But it’s up to you. Love, Dad.”
“Dear Don,” she began.
Celia decided to avoid the issue of Mom’s indiscretion altogether. What was the point? Neither did she have to decide now whether or not to invite Don or his family to the wedding. All this was about was reestablishing contact, even though she hadn’t initiated it herself.
“I had not yet decided if I was going to let you know about my engagement, but thank you for your good wishes.” That was a good start; sufficiently formal but polite. Should she say anything about the nice boy? No, that was none of Don’s business, yet.
Yet? Celia panicked that she was sliding down that proverbial slippery slope into… what? Was there a conversation about Rob and why she loved him in her future with Don? Hold steady, Cele, she told herself. You are in control here.
As Celia read the next phrase, she was angered again. How dare Don suggest that the problem here was that Celia was “avoiding” him, and acting the big man, stepping out and building a bridge to her? How quickly he had forgotten, apparently, that he was the one who left them, and had reinvented himself with a new family in the years since.
Of one thing she was certain: No way would she invite Jeanne and Charity to her wedding. Mom wouldn’t be able to handle it, and then on the one day Celia really needed it to be about her, it would be about Mom and her drama. I’m probably enabling Mom here, again, Celia thought. For a brief moment an image of herself asking Mom to set the drama aside, just for one day, popped into her mind.
I can handle Don just fine, Celia realized. Mom can’t handle Don, and I can’t handle that Mom can’t handle Don. Suddenly insight upon insight began flowing: Avoiding Don all these years has always been about being loyal to Mom. I didn’t want to hear about it from her. But I’m an adult now! I don’t have to tell my mother every time I talk to my father. I don’t have to feel guilty about it!
Then, the most devastating realization of all: Mom is overwhelming. Celia wished Don had handled it differently at the time, but a small part of her began to understand why he left.
“But you abandoned Catherine and me, too,” Celia said out loud to her laptop, and her heart sank. She wondered if it was too late to talk elopement again.
What does Celia ultimately decide?
Friday, May 08, 2009
Taking Charge (Joanne’s response)
I love the idea of declining an invitation to an argument. While there are definitely some fights that must be fought, the majority are not necessary. When you have that "here we go again" feeling as an argument heats up, ask yourself if another argument is going to solve anything. If not, consciously choose a different route, as Celia did here. Change the situation instead. In interpersonal situations, we have much more power than we think we do. Celia's frustration came out of her helplessness, and once she decided she wasn't helpless she had resources. All Celia really has to do is state her feelings, which she did so well with her mother in this email. Simply doing the same with Don may be the beginning of healing; if not for the relationship, then certainly for Celia.
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