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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Dear Mitch ~ Redefining Relationships

Dear Mitch,

I am writing on behalf of my younger sister, 44 years old, and her daughter, 23 years old; I hope you can help me with their rocky relationship. A main factor that is important in the drama is that my sister recently left her 25 year marriage. Teenagers when they married, in the last several years my sister has actively pursued an attitude of reinvention and rejuvenation towards her flagging marriage, possibly modeling our parents’ forty year commitment.

Her soon-to-be former husband initially portrayed the shocked and martyred lover, but as time has passed, he has acknowledged several of the issues affecting the relationship, such as his financial irresponsibility, unresolved and ignored medical issues, and a lack of resolution-based communication. My sister and he are building a new relationship; though physically and emotionally separate, it hopefully, recognizes their nearly thirty years of intimacy.

The problem: my niece is furious with my sister; she blames her for the dissolution of the marriage and defends her father as an innocent bystander. The main problem I would like to help my niece with: As my sister and her ex attempt to construct the future relationship of their family, separate but unified, how can I help her to see this new unit as a positive?

Thank you,

Fractured Family
Sonoma, CA

Dear Helpless,

Two kids were talking... One said, "I'm really worried. My dad and my mom work twelve hours a day to give me a great home and stuff. They clean, cook, everything! I'm really worried!"

The other kid replies, "What’re you worried about? You've got it made!"

The first kid says, "What if they try to escape?!"

~ ~ ~ ~
There’s some great things going on here!....
° Your family communicates with each other!
° Your niece feels she can communicate her feelings… With someone (you at least, apparently).
° Your sister and her “ex” can even consider a peaceful paradigm, versus the usual post-marriage endless-anger patterns!
° You’re willing to proactively reach out for ideas & help (hey, you wrote me!)
° This is an opportunity… To learn… Possibly to heal and grow!

So, looking at this opportunity, I wonder if you and your niece are in two different conversations together!

Our first reaction to any statement involving emotions… Is rarely grounded in “the real issue”! We respond based on which conversation we’re enrolled in!
• What EXACTLY does your niece say? What are her precise words that suggest “blaming” and “defending”?!
• Try asking, “What do you mean?” when you MOST think you know exactly what she’s saying! You may gain insight. You MAY be surprised by what she says next!
• You’re saying the parents are maintaining a semblance of their liaison… While your niece is angry about WHAT EXACTLY?

There’s almost an incongruity in her being so angry with her mother while her parents are making friends… Almost…

Is it that your niece doesn’t like any change?

Could she feel she’s not been “heard” – on her pain associated with whatever transpired during the years prior to the divorce… During the divorce, or simply due to the divorce?

Whether or not someone makes an effort to “hear” another, we need to check to ensure the other “feels heard”. There doesn’t have to be someone “wrong” for one person’s view on a relationship element or issues not agreeing with the other person’s outlook!

The children in a family have different needs (on some levels) than the parents do. While I’m not sure you need to take the role of “healer” or “counselor” here, some basic concepts might be brought to your sister and your niece…

° What about the pre-divorce family was valuable and important to each of them?
° Which of those elements can be re-created or retained?
° Which elements can be released so everyone can move on?
° Some of the changes that happened along with the divorce may have actually happened with the natural evolution of time. I wouldn’t be surprised if your niece misses some things that either never existed for her family, and/or disappeared per natural evolution!

Keep the lines of communication going with your niece... While maintaining a commitment to not harm her relationship with her parents.

And: Take care of yourself. You can’t “be there for others” if you’re not “there” for you!…


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Mitch Darnell, MA, OM
Relationship Coach & Wedding Officiant
Phone: 916/247.1655;

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