Mark and Arian are committed to improving their relationship. They have spent a couple of weeks sticking to their practice of reflecting, validating and exploring, and as a result, are feeling a little more confident. They can take a step back when their own emotions arise. So far, the topics they’ve had to handle in this way haven’t been very emotionally charged. They both know that’s helpful at this point on their journey to keep moving forward. But, with a teenage son who pushes boundaries, some parenting conflicts have arisen. How will Mark and Arian put their new communication skills to use?
We donʼt like it how it is, but we also struggle with the fear of change.
They are willing but apprehensive. Arian is aware that she is holding back a lot. There is so much she wants to tell Mark but doesnʼt know how to, for fear that he might retract, try to fix her problem or just not hear what she is trying to tell him. She’s also fearful that she will get so emotional about the issue that she will chase him away.
Mark is in a similar place. He has noticed how much Arian is keeping a distance, which feels unusual. Sometimes he’s grateful for her effort to stay neutral, but sometimes he is concerned that she is drifting away. He has no idea what to do about it, so he does what he usually does: gets on with work.
Not addressing small things can create avalanches of emotion.
Despite the apparent peace in Mark & Arians home, Jamesʼ behaviour begins to rub Mark the wrong way more and more often. His son seems to treat the place like a hotel. He doesnʼt check in with his dad much and retreats to his room whenever dinner is finished. Mark doesnʼt even know why this annoys him so much, but it does. So, when James asks if he can stay over at a friendʼs place for two nights to help with organising a big party, Mark refuses, and a fight breaks out, leaving them both seething with anger. James leaves the house, slamming the door behind him, and leaving Mark feeling a mix of fury and helplessness.
When Arian comes home later that day, Markʼs immediate emotions have settled down a bit. He tells her how the events unfolded, and meets her reproachful look. Arian is torn between rushing off to talk to James and lashing out at Mark, who she feels, messed up big time as the so-called ‘adult’ in this matter.
Putting their lessons to the test.
“Give me a moment.” Arian has learned an essential skill: when her emotions run high, she needs to create space first. Usually, doing something mundane helps her get out of the acute state of intense anxiety, anger or helplessness she seems to find herself in so often lately.
They agree to conserve their hard-earned relationship peace and talk about it in a couple of hours when both have had some time and might be calmer.
What fuels our opinions?
What Mark and Arian are faced with is just one of the many scenarios in which they need to apply the negotiation skills that few people learn about as they grow up.
The basics apply: first, it is important to feel heard before anyone is open to moving from their position. Mark and Arian need to agree on who should share their point of view first.
Arian needs to apply her learned skills of active listening for both of them to be able to understand what fuelled Markʼs decision. This is usually rational reasoning about the current situation that gets overshadowed by emotional experiences from the past. Mark was already unhappy with James but failed to address this in time. He also might be jealous about his sonʼs ability to go out and have parties at an age when he, himself, was alone at school defending himself from bullies. Coming from a conservative family, where having fun was secondary to getting the work done, might also be influencing Mark’s reaction. Mark may not yet have the emotional honesty to acknowledge these feelings.
Arian, who lost her mum, is much more concerned with not hurting James than ‘normalʼ. She wants to keep the peace, tending to let him get away with not doing his chores. Arian also doesn’t give him clear enough guidelines and boundaries which, incidentally, makes the teenager angrier than she knows.
Negotiating Resolutions Together
Once they spend some time trying to understand what fuels their emotional stance on this parenting conflict, they can look at what may be ‘reasonable’. What might influence the decision if James can go or not? Where is he going, and who are the people he’s going with? Will he be safe? Could there be drugs or alcohol involved? Do they have a system in place that helps James feel supported, and puts them at ease? Has he ‘earned’ the privilege to have fun for two days? Does he need to ‘earn’ this? Is it reasonable to link his behaviour in other areas of their lives to this request? Now that Mark said ‘no’ is it reasonable to renegotiate?
Mark and Arian have a long discussion ahead of them. They begin to notice how the lack of time spent on these crucial conversations has led to a backlog of unsolved issues that they are only just beginning to understand.
This process is the start of a journey during which they finally get to know each other. Interesting facts about emotional experiences emerge hand in hand with the exploration around what shapes each oneʼs opinions on what is the right and wrong answer to all the questions above.
If you long to be able to have meaningful and productive conversations with your partner, and you donʼt know how to get there, book in for a free 45-minute check-in-session with us.