Friday, January 22, 2010

A Blueprint To Assess the Viability of Your Relationship

Last night’s teleconference on deciding whether to go or to stay in a relationship was an animated conversation indeed. In it, I was asked to create a kind of checklist for assessing the health and viability of relationships. Although I hesitate to reduce this major life dilemma down to a checklist, I acknowledge that people have different learning styles. So I agreed to take up the challenge of attempting to delineate some questions to ask yourself as you struggle to resolve this life-changing question. I don't have to tell people who wrestle with this question that either way they decide, their life will be forever changed.

At the risk of stating the obvious, no relationship is all good or all bad. Rather, successful relationships contain relative strengths and weaknesses. So as you answer these questions about your current relationship or do a postmortem on a prior one, keep in mind that most relationship attributes are neither all or nothing.

Please fill in the blank with numbers ranging from 1 to 5, with 1 being not very much and 5 being nearly always.

_____ 1. Is there reciprocity, give and take, in the relationship?
_____ 2. Do you work together to solve problems?
_____ 3. Do you enjoy being with each other?
_____ 4. Do you laugh and have fun together?
_____ 5. Do you each seek to understand your partner’s feelings?
_____ 6. Do you feel understood?
_____ 7.Do you respect each other’s opinions and perspectives, even when you disagree?
_____ 8. Do you want similar things out of life?
_____ 9. Are you both willing to compromise, rather than insisting on having your own way?
_____ 10.Do you feel safe expressing your feelings and needs?
_____ 11.Do you respect each other?
_____ 13.Do you look out for each other?
_____ 14.Do you trust each other?
_____ 15.Do you feel like your partner has your back?
_____ 16.Do you like your partner?
_____ 17.Is there a minimum of blame in your relationship?
_____ 18.Are your feelings and needs respected?
_____ 19.Do you and your partner operate as a functional united front, especially regarding children?
_____ 20. Do you feel treasured by your partner as you treasure him/her?

When you have completed this self-test, study your responses. Were you surprised by any of your answers? If your spouse or partner had completed this self-assessment tool, in what ways might his/her answers be similar? different? What can you infer from this self-assessment tool about the strengths in your relationship? the work areas in your relationship?

If you wish to have my help in working with the results of this survey, please remember that I offer a complimentary consultation. Just call my toll free number (888-546-1580) to arrange it. And please keep in mind that I also offer relationship coaching and consultation.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What Makes People Resilient?

I am blessed to have two friends who have severe cases of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Of course, neither of them would go so far as to consider their steadily deteriorating health a blessing. But they each have managed to maintain their optimism, good humor and grace in the face of this horribly daunting illness. Both live the bulk of their lives in wheel chairs. Each is losing his eyesight, with one already having been declared legally blind. Yet they still face each day with a gusto that I wonder if I would have if I were in their situation.

What makes people resilient? Is it innate? Or is it cultivated? That’s the age-old nature vs. nurture question. I think the answer is “Yes. It’s both.”

I consider myself to be very resilient. In part, because of my native intelligence. I’m no genius, but I have devoted my adult life to doing the best I can with the “horsepower” I have been given and to help others do the same. And in part because my mother actively cultivated our resilience by her words and by her role model. After Daddy died, Mama was a widow at 48, left on her own to raise the last four of us kids. I never once doubted she would take care of us. And she managed. Both her counsel and her example advised us to “Make the best of it” regardless of situations we faced, whether it was getting a C on an Algebra test or a boyfriend breaking up with us.

What has made my friends with MS so adaptive and unflappable? First, I need to say that clearly, they both have their bad days, just like the rest of us do. But they have learned how to think of and care for others, not merely dwelling on their own miseries. I am humbled to say that I regularly am the beneficiary of their kindness and good humor. They both consciously avoid having a “poor me” attitude. Although each confides in me, it is to get my help and perspective, rather than out of a “pity party.” They are good, helpful, pleasant friends whom I am blessed to have in my life.

How can adults instill resilience in children? Perhaps the most important way is to put their children in situations that are mildly taxing. For example, it is challenging enough to learn to play the piano. I started taking lessons at age seven and continued for ten years even into college. Having to play the piano at a recital was taxing. But it was do-able. I just had to get a grip and do it. Another way is not accepting slap dash efforts children make. When I taught English in high school, I had a student who had just completed a year’s inpatient hospitalization for depression. On the first day of school, I assigned a short paper to be handed in the next day. This student approached me after class to tell me she had not completed her assignment because she had been psychiatrically hospitalized the year before. My response was one she said later she’ll never forget. “So? What does that have to do with your not handing in your assignment?” You can be sure she was not late with an assignment for the rest of the year.

What adults should not do if their intention is to build resilience in children is to not praise each and every little thing a child does with the ubiquitous, “Good job!” For example, my husband and I went to a conservatory last spring so he could engage in his favorite hobby of photographing flowers. On a trip to the rest room, I noticed a mother supervising her 4 or 5 year-old daughter’s hand washing. When the child on tiptoes turned off the water, the mother pronounced, “Good job!” I wondered to myself a) What was such a good job about doing a routine activity like washing her hands after using the bathroom? and B) What would the mother have left to say when the child brought home an A on a report for Social Studies or English? “Good job” by that time would surely seem to the child to be lame.

If everything children do yields a gratuitous “Good job!” they learn two things: 1) to be praise junkies dependent on gratuitous words of others in order to function; and 2) to expect praise from others, rather than establishing their own internal gauge for a job well done.