From Dr. Jane's Notebook
Do you: "need to be right" or willing to "fix things?"
Judith Viorst in her book titled Grown-Up Marriage describes toxic
interaction patterns between us and the people in our lives as forms of
sibling rivalry that we learned in childhood. For all children, the families
we grew up in were the training grounds where we learned to negotiate, fight,
and survive. Hopefully, they were also places where we learned to communicate,
cooperate, and compromise. Later on as adults, when we try to unravel the ropes
of our disagreements, it is may be helpful to think back on communication
patterns from earlier times in our lives. Here are a few more thoughts on the
- Sometimes we fight like kids, literally. When
spouses experience marital problems, they sometimes lock horns and defend
their status as “the one who is right” because while growing up, we learned
it was better to be “right”. Now as grown-ups, rather than viewing
discussions as the fastest route to solutions, sometimes we re-enact the
battle of, “I have to be right and there is nothing wrong with me”.
And I agree. Just because we see things differently and just because
we are not meeting each other’s needs, does not make us “the right or wrong
one”. Whether we like it or not, we’re all in a constant state of change; so
as committed partners we must be willing to learn about each other on a
continuing basis. Wanting to improve your relationship does not mean that
there’s something “wrong” with your relationship. But if we fear being
blamed or we fear loss of face, we may be trapped in a form of sibling
- Our own birth order may influence how we parent.
Raising children requires an on-going adjustment of power in relationships.
Healthy children must eventually develop their own identity, separate from
their parents. When conflicts arise, parents and children may bicker
endlessly for control of their relationship in a way that has its roots in
birth order for both. Depending upon our position in our families growing
up, we may have learned to be critical, competitive, overly responsible,
helpful, overly sensitive, possessive, insecure, demanding etc. in relation
to our siblings.
- Self-concept is deeply rooted in our early
relationships with our siblings. For this reason, many “first born”
children are naturally intimidating to parents who themselves were “latter
born” children. For example, trouble between parents and children often
begins when our children demand a form of respect that we are not prepared
to give. We may feel certain that as parents, it is now our “right” to be
more right. But both children and parents can make mistakes, and both must
learn to apologize when they are wrong, to forgive when they are right, and
to respect each others’ differences when they disagree. As parents, it is
our job to teach and guide our offspring; later on, we will need to let them
go with a care package full of encouragement.
If, however, our pride gets in the way, we may find ourselves competing with
our children to everyone’s detriment.
- You’re never too old to fight with your
parents/children. While few of us are comfortable with the aging
process, even fewer of us want to feel treated like “children” by our
children. Older adults sometimes feel a loss of status when their previous
strengths seem frail by comparison. Parents who were once in charge and
all-powerful, often have difficulty relinquishing their authority and
allowing themselves to be cared for by their grown children. But this
reversal of roles is a natural part of life. Adult children need to show
their elderly parents sufficient concern, and aging parents need to show
their children adequate appreciation. Most of us simply want respect, but in
the name of stubbornness, some elders may refuse to anoint their children as
their successors; and in the name of rebellion, some grown children may
decide to abort family traditions.
- Conflicts between ourselves and our co-workers.
Getting angry never solves problems
but it may be a knee-jerk reaction that worked with our siblings. At work,
we may find it difficult to take orders, or criticism, or to follow the
rules. We may find ourselves competing with our colleagues and even our
boss. Sometimes referred to as a “bad attitude”, losing one’s temper at work
can be a very costly response. If certain people or certain situations
chronically get underneath your skin, give some thought to the origin of
those feelings. Sometimes we carry lifelong feelings of indignation or
entitlement into the workplace without even realizing it.
As grown ups, we
have the opportunity to learn how to function as equals and as complementary
partners. Even if we always got our own way as children, we do not have the
right to make all the rules, and we do not have the right to govern each other.
Likewise, for those who felt over-shadowed or ignored as children, it is never
too late to improve your self-esteem. Unfinished business from childhood can
last a lifetime…. but only if we let it.
©Copyright, 2009, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
Return to Love and Marriage
Return to Table of Contents