by: Aaron Shaner, LAMFT, LAPC
Just this weekend it occurred to me that my wife’s job as an educator starts up again in just a few weeks. As summer comes to an end, I was reflecting on the fact that for many the life cycle of their family renews each year during the month of August, not January. For many students, this might be advancing to another grade, or maybe starting a new school, or maybe even leaving home for college. For parents, however, the realization that another year has come and gone only serves to promote a mixture of anxiety, aging and excitement.
The beginning of each new school year is a great opportunity because it’s like a built in do-over for families for at least the next twelve years – a new chance for your kids to get the grades they want or make the team they’re practicing for, a new commitment toward success in your job, or a stronger relationship with your spouse. It’s a great time to renew your family relationships. Each year your family has a new opportunity to simplify the family schedule, make time together a priority, and stay in better communication.
Over the years, I have often observed that families who cope well in a turbulent environment tend to have similar characteristics. On the other hand, families who are in need of guidance through these turbulent situations seem to benefit from adopting practices of those families who tend to be more resilient during times of stress. The following “family best practices” help to strengthen your family and make it more resilient.
In this edition, we will explore four of the twelve family traits that can help build stronger relationships.
True and Tenacious
Being True and Tenacious is defined by the way we pursue of integrity, both in our own life and in our relationships with others. Integrity is not always easy to maintain, therefore we need to implement Tenacity, or persistence, in our relationships in order to be successful with good character over time. Integrity is what allows us to ask for forgiveness when we’ve wronged a family member, and it requires tenacity to continue to pursue honesty in relationship with our spouse and kids.Think of True and Tenacious as the foundation, constantly at work behind the scenes.
Practicing Tranquility is about being approachable in all circumstances. Every individual has moments of stress and anger, but developing an inner peace allows family members to approach each other in these times of tension. Implementing self-control and being able to make good family decisions when outside stressors attempt to infiltrate your thoughts and actions, increases your ability to stay tranquil with your spouse and kids. If your children can approach you even when life is difficult it sends a powerful message to them about your investment in the family.
The act of Transparency goes hand in hand with Tranquility. Transparency allows us to be open about our short comings, express the challenges we face, and how these tensions affect our mood. In the counseling world, we call this vulnerability. Transparency is what shows our family and others that we are not perfect and that we are not afraid to ask for help. This openness creates strong bonds in our family relationships and encourages tranquility in others.
Finally, I want to end this installment on strong families with our response to the transparency of others. Tenderness is the ability to understand someone else’s struggle. Another word for this is empathy. Transparency and Tenderness go together to help build fulfilling relationships. In her book, “I Thought It Was Just Me But It Wasn’t,” Dr. Brene´ Brown states that the two most powerful word’s in the English language are, “me too…” When we are able to empathize with our spouse and kids, we are creating an environment that is accepting of transparency within our family.
As you and your family enter into a new school year, I hope that it also gives you the chance to renew or even rebuild your family relationships so that they can be strong and enduring. In the next article I will discuss four more traits of strong families: Time, Talk, Touch, and Tributes.
by: Aaron Shaner, LAMFT, LAPC
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to cut down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” When we take time to carefully hone our tools and skills, that allows us to be more productive as we attack life’s challenges. Having sharp tools is not the only important element, you first need to have the right tools.
I always enjoy seeing my woodworking projects transform into beautiful pieces of furniture. Using effective tools allows the wood to be cut or shaped smoothly. Having the right gauges, saws or chisels makes for less guesswork and adjustment later. While learning this hobby, I have often heard my father-in-law say that the job is made easier when you have the right tools. The same careful preparation and equipping is also crucial to having a successful marriage.
Longer days, warmer temperatures, flowers in bloom. Spring is in the air — and with spring comes the sound of wedding bells and “I dos.” Maybe you or someone you know will be tying the knot this spring and you have witnessed the optimism and excitement that they have about the future.
Most people enter marriage with a glass is always full outlook on the future of their relationship. Scientists who do research on why people fall in love have long been interested in the romantic phenomena that fuels this type of optimism. When we fall head over heals for someone, we feel better about ourselves, are more confident about the future and are excusing of the faults in those to whom we’re attracted. This sense of love and optimism is literally changing one’s brain chemistry to such a level that it changes the way they see the world.
However, as you may know, these effects are not long lasting. Mortgage payments, student loans, new babies, stress at work and sexual difficulties can kill the fire quickly!
Many people in new marriages are surprised by the consequences these stressors have on their relationship. Being newly married is challenging at times, but those who are on the road to marriage this spring or summer are not without help. Seeking the aid of a good pre-marriage counselor can help couples sharpen their relationship tools and develop the skills needed to help their marriage last. As a clinician who works with both pre-marriage and marriage clients, here are some topics that I ask couples to talk through as they prepare for this new season of life.
Money management is the number one issue that people cite for stress in their marriage. Much of this stress can be reduced with proper habits and communication. Disclosing vital information to your future spouse about income, debts and other financial obligations can help you discover creative strategies for money management as you enter this new partnership. Also, discuss spending preferences such as for education and personal habits, and long-term financial goals.
Family of origin
Our family of origin instilled in all of us rules, many of which were unspoken, that we bring into our relationship which affect our future family. Ideas such as how your family spent free time, how they observed holidays and ways in which your parents used discipline are some examples of the “language of relationship” we bring to marriage. Being aware of these customs can help you and your spouse negotiate habits to keep and habits to modify or adjust.
Preparing for marriage deserves a conversation about sex that is more than just the birds and the bees talk. Like other family of origin issues, you have inherited a position on human sexuality that was influenced by your upbringing. In good ways and bad, knowledge about sex is pervasive in our culture, and still many new couples come to marriage with false or misguided information about the sexual aspect of a relationship. Personal insecurities that you are not willing to address will only be magnified in an intimate relationship. By honestly addressing these issues with a professional, you can better prepare yourself for a more fulfilling intimate relationship.
I have often told my clients, it takes two healthy individuals to have a healthy marriage. How well do you know your own personality, much less the personality of your future spouse? We often underestimate how our personality is going to have an effect on future relationships. Exploring this and other areas can help you be the best-equipped version of you in this new relationship.
Marriage is an exciting and wonderful journey that will allow you to grow as a person in ways you may not yet realize. However, the challenges in marriage that produce personal growth can trip us up if we aren’t prepared for them. Seeking the counsel of a good pre-marriage counselor can set you or your loved ones on the path towards a bright future.