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The Parents’ Drinking Problem, Guest Post by Pearl Mattenson

In couples, Family, Parenting, Realtionship on December 1, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Pearl Mattenson, PCC, ORSCC

He comes home from a long weekend at a friend’s house. He is a senior in high school. At 17, he is able to drive his dad’s car, which he had borrowed for the weekend. Walking in the door, he gives his mom a hug and helps her out with a project.  They catch up on the events of the past few days. His mom asks,

“So was there drinking going on?”

“Yeah”

“Did you drink?”

“No”

Several hours later the mom happens upon her son’s Facebook page left open on her computer. She learns he had been drinking beer. She learns he threw up.

——————

I am so tempted to end this story here and ask: How would you handle this?

But I will share with you what his parents did. Some of these things happened immediately. Other reactions happened in the days following the revelation as they considered their response and reached out to others for advice.

  • They calmly sat him down and asked for a full accounting of the truth, “The whole truth this time.” They asked him what he was thinking when he made the choice to drink. “These were my best friends. I had never drunk beer before. I thought they wouldn’t let me get into trouble or make a fool of myself.” They tell him that if he had to drink, that was actually good thinking.
  • They asked him why he lied. “Because I was so scared of how mad you would get.” They told him they were far more upset about his lying than about his drinking. They expect him to test the boundaries every once in awhile. And they know that there are likely to be many more occasions in the future when he might find himself in a difficult situation. “We need to know that you can tell us what is happening so we can be there for you.”
  • They asked him what he will do in the future when in the presence of drinking. “I think I won’t drink. It wasn’t a good experience. I feel comfortable saying I am the designated driver or the designated sober guy.”
  • They told him that for the next 30 days he can’t drive the car alone. They also banned the home of the friend who hosted the drinking. They asked their son if he felt this was a fair set of consequences. “Yeah, it is.”

Your turn: What did they get right? What troubles you? What should guide a parent’s response in circumstances like these?

To find our more about Pearl Mattenson and her work, visit her website: http://pearlmattenson.com/

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Shift Happens: Guest Post by Janet Frood

In couples, Dialogue, Family, Realtionship on November 30, 2010 at 2:14 am
Janet Frood,

Janet Frood, CPP, ORSCC, PCC

It’s official.  Our daughter has moved away to start University.  In one day our family system shifted from four to three — at least those of us living at home.  It’s making me think on a very personal level about system theory and patterns that we witness in teams experiencing change.

System theory says that every time someone leaves or joins a system (family, team or group) that the organic nature of the system changes.  There is an automatic adjustment and recalibration.  Often times the changes happen at an unconscious level.  If the system needs certain roles or relies on certain skills, inevitably those remaining on the team will step into unoccupied roles.  This assures the continuity of the system (functional and emotional).

In families, just like in teams, each person plays a formal role.  In this case our daughter is the oldest child.  As the oldest child, she has played certain roles in all of our lives.  She’s been the responsible one assuring that tasks get done on time and according to plan.  She’s also the tradition holder assuring that holidays unfold with certain reliable ceremony.  She values relationships and always spent time with each of us individually.

In our family system we have two nested systems – two parents and two kids. As parents, we are still parents of two yet the way we’ll interact with them has now changed.  It’s like we have become a virtual team as one of our members will only be connected virtually through Skype, text, FB and phone calls.  The home team of three will shift and change.  We’ll create new patterns and routines that will work for our dynamic.

When family systems change, just like with teams, it’s important to talk about the obvious changes – the ones you can anticipate.  When one member is gone and their strengths and skills leave with them, it’s important to plan for how you’ll mange the changes.  Speaking about the changes is important so that there are no assumptions.  In our case we had a gender balance – two males and two females.  Now, I’m the only female.  Who knows what that means for our family dynamic.  Who will watch the reality dance shows with me?

It’s also important to pay attention to the subtle signals that will emerge; the things that people are experiencing and not talking about.  Our son is already demonstrating more of a need to be close to us and hug us.  As Mom I know he’s giving us the hugs that were reserved for his sister.   It seems that by being the “only child” he’s already taking the opportunity to be seen and heard more as he often followed his sisters’ lead.  This phenomenon is common on teams where people will quietly assume new informal roles held by a former colleague.  If the system needs nurturing then others will start to demonstrate it in new ways.  That’s exactly what our little system is already doing.

It’s a fascinating time.  There are lots of adjustments ahead.  However, I hold a sense of confidence in knowing that we’ll calibrate to find a new balance and still be connected with each other – just in new and different ways.

For more information about Janet Frood and her work, please visit her website:  http://horizonleadership.ca/

Since feeling is first

In couples, Realtionship, Relationship with Self, World Work on October 23, 2010 at 12:53 am

Painting, acrylic on paper: Untitled, 2007, Alfred DePew

(Reprinted from the Vancouver Observer)

Canadians often put me in mind of Dorothy Parker’s quip about Katharine Hepburn, who, she once said, “ran the gamut of emotions from A to B.”

Some weeks ago, at dinner with my friend Hal, he said he had been feeling emotional.

“Which one?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” he said.

“You know—happy? Sad? Pissed off?

“I don’t know—emotional,” he said.

Then we changed the subject.

As North American white guys, we tend to avoid direct expression of feeling in day-to-day conversation.

Unless, of course, the subject is hockey.

And yet, my stiff upper lip has been known to quiver. I have the kind of face that registers everything—worry, delight, perplexity, and suspicion.

I am terrible at poker.

I’ve had to learn about feelings—the hard way, by being tyrannized by them. Had I been born in southern Italy, I’d have had no problem. Or so I imagine. But I was raised in St. Louis, whose dominant culture was Anglo and Teutonic, despite the French name.

At sixteen, I began to suspect that feeling was not just the root of the problem but the problem itself. My first therapist was a psychiatrist, a bona fide Freudian analyst of the Viennese School. When he’d ask how I was, I’d say “anxious.” I didn’t have a very wide emotional vocabulary in those days, and I don’t recall Herr Doktor as being much help.

Twenty years and four therapists later, I heard myself say that I’d know when I was ready to stop therapy when I no longer had any feelings.

Then I laughed. So did my therapist. It was our next to last session.

What had brought me to that fourth and final therapist was grief. When my father died, I was overwhelmed, nearly paralyzed. My father and I were not close. It didn’t make any sense. It was wholly irrational. And yet, as I came to see, grief had its own kind of logic. My friend, the poet Anne Rubicam Witten, pointed me to Gilgamesh, Innana, Persephone, and Orpheus—stories about the decent to the Underworld. Stories that acted as a map in this new territory of grieving.

Therapists could only take me so far. For the rest, I needed the poets.

Robert Bly used to talk about the grief at the core of the male psyche. He spoke about it as an initiation, the “time of ashes,” essential to the evolution of a man’s mind and heart and soul.

Not that grief is particular to men. My friend Monica insists that at the heart of every silence lies some form of grief.

What Hal chose not to talk about that evening at dinner was his mother’s death and the fact that he’d recently declared bankruptcy.

Emotional indeed.

What then is the language of feeling? Not just one, surely. Proclamations of love. Lamentation. Sidelong comments. Innuendo. Carping. Sarcasm. Body language. A glance. Those looks.

I often work with couples who want more intimacy, better communication, and less fighting. Much of my work involves training them to become exquisitely aware of what  lives in the space between them. Feelings. As they become aware of the impact of what they say and do, they have more choice about how they speak and act in order to keep the relationship space clear.

When I began with one couple, the atmosphere between them was so charged that even an intended compliment could start a fight. Gradually, as they became more aware of how they were interacting and what feelings they were generating, they began trying new ways of communicating—at different times, with clearer intentions, using more neutral language. Then they noticed the impact on their children and how they were treating each other. All this took slowing down and paying attention. Giving themselves time to feel.

Another couple, men who’ve been partners for eight years, wanted to stop avoiding topics they simply couldn’t discuss. So we began with what they could discuss, always pointing to the space between them and what was there. That they loved each other was clear. That the relationship was skilled at any number of tasks was also clear. And so we built on that. Some weeks later during a session, one acknowledged the other, and he began to tear up. A hard place for men, even gay men. He made a joke and looked away. I asked them to pause and invited them to sit with what was happening. In the ensuing silence, they held each other’s gaze, tears in their eyes. This was the intimacy they were seeking to reclaim. A sweet, tender, dangerous vulnerability. And they’d learned to create the safety to experience it.

And what of our relationship to ourselves, the time we give to our own feelings?

All week, I have been busy coaching couples, setting up individual calls with my certification students in Europe, interviewing and assessing new clients. Relationship work. Then all of a sudden I am exhausted. I have stepped over my own feelings of admiration, frustration, impatience, love, envy, and longing.

They clamour for my attention.

So I close the computer, lie down and let everything surface.

After a while, I take my notebook and pen and give myself a half hour to listen and write down what I need to let myself know.

The poem from which I borrow my title is, after all, a love poem by e.e. cummings.

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

–the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says
we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph

It’s the thing that flutters up behind the eyes, a movement in the heart before language.

And then … the words to say it.

Vancouver’s Dynamic Duo Produces a Film About Pioneering Couples Work (Reprinted from the Vancouver Observer)

In couples, Dialogue, Realtionship, World Work on July 5, 2010 at 6:06 am

Hedy & Yumi Schleifer

“Crossing the Bridge,” a documentary film about the work of Hedy and Yumi Schleifer, shows the power of skillful, deep work with couples in the context of a public workshop. What is striking is the level of intimacy, trust, and truth telling. Indeed the courage of the participants speaks to the radical, transformative nature of Imago Relationship Therapy, developed by Harville Hendrix.

On their return to Vancouver after participating in their second couples workshop, Dennis Ewasiuk and his wife, Anne Dobbie, had an idea. To make a film about Hedy and Yumi. The only glitch was that neither Ewasiuk nor Dobbie had ever made a film and had no idea where to start.

That didn’t stop them from approaching the Schleifers with the idea.The Schleifers were delighted; they’d always wanted someone to film them. They set a March date for a workshop in Vancouver. That was in January.

Now what?

Dennis contacted a film producer friend to find out about the process. “He moved the rock and got it rolling,” says Dennis. “He was like a mentor through the whole process.”

Then Hedy called and said she and Yumi had just met a woman in Miami, Robyn Symon, who made documentary films.

“When you have a vision or a goal, it’s amazing how things fall into place,” says Dennis. “I thought, OK, there’s a reason we’ve all come together. Once Symon was on board, the rock really started rolling.”

Symon in turn hired a great crew to film the March workshop, which, as fate would have it, was way over subscribed. “We had to turn people away,” says Anne, “and here we were worried we wouldn’t get even 15 couples.”

“Filming in a hotel space is not like a studio,” says Dennis. “We had to get the permissions and release forms worked out. Robyn wanted to talk to some of the couples ahead of time. Hedy and Yumi explained that people were not coming to be filmed; they were coming to do work on their relationships. Hedy said, ‘not to worry: the stars will emerge.’ And that’s what happened. People were tentative at the beginning. To help things out, we told anyone who didn’t want to be filmed to let us know. We put dots on nametags—20% at first. By noon people had forgotten there was even a film crew there. And in the afternoon, a lot of the dots were gone. In the end, out of 30 couples, only two or three didn’t sign a release form.”

Testament to the atmosphere of trust the Schleifers are able to create.

“They are so true to what they’re about,” says Anne. “They’re honest about their own struggles, and they bring that into workshops. You see them in action. They’re able to help others understand what’s going on and give them tools to move forward. The power struggle is normal, and that’s when many go their separate ways. Their mission is to connect couples.”

“Hedy is brilliant,” Anne continues. “She lights up the whole space.”

“When you learn Yumi’s story, you see his evolution as a partner and as a husband,” says Dennis. “In his 40s and 50s, Yumi was fairly non-communicative like a lot of us men. It was only after he went to a workshop with his wife that he took his engineer’s brain and realized that there was more to relationship than just showing up—you had to work at it. That gives an example and hope to other men.”

As Anne puts it, “Yumi fathers men and women into their best relationship.”

And that’s what happened for Anne and her husband. “At one point, quitting was an option for us,” explains Dennis.  “Now we have tools to work with. It’s no longer about whether or not to be in relationship. Quitting isn’t an option anymore.”

At times, producing the film was challenging for their marriage. The were undergoing a major house renovation and raising two children.  At one point, the four of them were living in a one-bedroom basement suite.

“We had to be strong in our relationship to follow through with this commitment,” says Dennis. “Once we rediscovered and reclaimed the love we had for each other—that was the power.”

“It was a huge creative force,” adds Anne. “We took on something we had no idea about, connected with people through collaboration and vision and belief.”

And the result?  An astonishing and deeply moving film.

Last October, “Crossing the Bridge” won Best Documentary at LA Femme Festival.

To order a DVD of “Crossing the Bridge,” visit: http://hedyyumi.org/ctbfilm.html

To find out more about Imago Relationship Therapy, visit: http://imagobc.com/

Dennis & Anne at the film's premier

Backstage at the Olympics: Going for the Gold in Marriage (Reprinted from the Vancouver Observer)

In business, couples, Realtionship on February 24, 2010 at 1:46 am

Aly & Jeff Pain with their sons Thomas & Kyle

It’s tough being an Olympic athlete. It’s even tougher being married to one. In fact, Aly Pain has asked her husband Jeff, Canadian Silver Medalist Skeleton racer, for a divorce more than once in the last several years.

And yet today, their marriage is stronger than ever.

“I’m a ridiculously stubborn person,” says Aly, a public speaker, trainer, and one of the first 70 systems coaches to be certified by the Center for Right Relationship. “ I don’t walk away from much. I’ll do what it takes. And there’s an essence of our marriage—something bigger and stronger than us—that wasn’t done, that said: you’re supposed to be together.”

And together, Jeff and Aly Pain have written a book, The Business of Marriage and Medals, about what they’ve learned.

“All of our messes and successes over a14 year period,” says Aly. “Everything we did wrong and what we did right—consciously or unconsciously—so we can be here today as a team.”

When I reach Aly by phone at her hotel in downtown Vancouver, she sounds tired. She has driven with their two boys from Calgary a few days earlier. They’ve come to see their Dad, a man the CBC has called “one of the most celebrated skeleton athletes in Canadian history,” make his last Olympic run. And today’s the day.

Aly has mixed feelings.

“Joy, sadness, grief—blechhh!” she says. “Sometimes it’s everything all at once. There’s a lot of me that wants it to be over. And yet winning in Italy was wonderful. How many can say they’ve been in three Olympics and finished in the top ten in all three? I’m also sad for Jeff and can’t imagine what this is like for him.

“There can only be one winner—the ultimate measure of one’s success is in sport. This is what he’s chosen.

“Until midnight tonight. Then he’s retired.”

The measure in sport doesn’t take into account the emotional and economic challenges Aly and Jeff Pain have faced. Only two percent of Canada’s Olympic athletes have kids.

“The Canadian Olympic Committee has never compiled statistics on mature athletes, and so have they’ve never really met their needs. The COC knew mature athletes were least pleased with funding but didn’t know why.”

When a 20-year-old gets an Olympic contract, “it’s like winning the lottery,” says Aly. “They may still be living at home with their parents. But when you’re in your 30s and have a family, it’s poverty level.”

What is it like for their children—Thomas, aged six and Kyle who is it eight—to be here in Vancouver to see their Dad compete?

“They think it’s cool. They’re proud. It’s exciting—and yet I bet they’d by-pass all that to have had Dad home. He’s been away for three and a half years of their lives. It’s a double-edged sword. Whether they grow up hating it or loving it, this is their legacy. They deserve an opportunity to be at the track—to see this.”

What’s next?

“I don’t know,’ says Aly. “I can’t even imagine it. The book is certainly part of what’s next—the game we’re playing together on the same continent on the same stage. It’s been a way of dreaming up our new identity.”

And how did the book come about?

It began with a fight, really. Jeff was home for a few months, and they argued about household tasks—who did and did not do what. So they got out a big sheet of paper. Aly wrote down everything she did around the house. Jeff wrote down everything he did.

“My list was much longer,” says Aly. “We started to renegotiate.”

The Business of Marriage and Medals is, in fact, a business book. It’s about business in marriage and relationship in business.

“It’s only when we started seeing ourselves as a business that our marriage began to work,” says Aly. “Assigning roles, and concrete goals—that’s what we had to do—stop being willy-nilly and thinking it was going to work out. We had to hammer it out and write it down.”

Out of the breaking point came the solution.

“Our marriage has a big message about relationship,” she says. Especially now. “The divorce rate is higher than it’s ever been. Marriage is like a commodity. Businesses treat people like numbers. We’re forgetting the art of relationship: seeing and experiencing another person face to face in an ebbing, flowing balance.

“It’s not a you-against-me thing. It’s a ‘we’ thing. Put the issue out front. Be a ‘we’ and handle it.”

The challenges Aly Pain has faced in her marriage have enriched and deepened her professional life as a relationship systems coach. She finds she has far more compassion for the corporations and families she works with as they go through transitions.

“What they’re saying is exactly what I’m feeling,” she says. “I ask questions I might not have asked before. I know more. It’s a rich place, transition. I don’t find it scary. I like adventure.”

In the end, she says, “This isn’t’ just about Jeff being front stage and me and the kids backstage. It’s more than that. We’re a team, and we know that now.

“Everybody who’s been behind us and supported us—that’s how every relationship succeeds, with support and lots of cheering. We have more people behind us than we can possibly fathom. We haven not gotten here alone.”

To find out more about Aly Pain and her work, visit her website: www.alypain.com and to read excerpts from their book, The Business of Marriage and Medals, visit: http://www.marriageandmedals.com/.

On Being Fierce

In couples, Friemdship, Realtionship on August 28, 2009 at 6:04 pm

Invigorating, yes. Skillful? Not yet.

So there I am, feeling the thrill of this new Inner Role, the One Who Claims Things for Himself. I am driving back from seeing friends on the North Shore, a lovely evening. I drive slowly up my street, in search of a parking spot. I see one up ahead, just behind a car that is parking. But wait! The lady stops. She hasn’t left me room. She could pull up. So I honk and wave and urge her to move forward. She does, but only a tiny bit. I tap my horn again and motion her forward, and then call out: “Go ahead. Move forward. You have plenty of room.” She is getting out of her car and locking the door. I roll down my window and shout, “MOVE FORWARD!” I notice a rush of heat. I notice I am yelling. She looks at me and says I’m being hysterical. She’s right. I know she’s right, and somehow I cannot stop. I start to back into a space I know is too small. I bump the bumper of the car in back of me. I give up, pull out and screech my tires as I round the corner, looking for a bigger parking space. For quite some time afterwards, I am shaking with anger.

It’s one thing to throw that kind of tantrum when you’re a two year old. It’s quite another when you’re well into middle age and run the risk of a massive coronary or a stroke.

What can I say? Apparently I have a lot to learn about occupying the role of The One Who Claims Things for Himself. What I exhibited wasn’t fierceness at all. It was temper; there’s a difference. And chances are what I had in mind to claim as I was discovering this role a week earlier was something more important than a parking spot. The point is it takes time to learn how to occupy an unfamiliar role skillfully. The one yelling was more like the one who never remembers to ask for what he wants—and so has to take it out on a perfect stranger over a parking space. A dodge. A sidestep.

Where might I invite fierceness into my life in such a way as to not act out in a fit of temper? How might I recognize it in myself and appreciate its proper expression? To call myself forward. To decry real injustice. To engage someone else in an idea that excites me. To say, for example, that I care enough about something to speak up—fiercely.