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How to Be a Good-Bad Cop

You remember “good cop / bad cop”?  That’s where one policeman appears aggressive, mean and dangerous while the “good cop” gently allies himself with the person being dealt with. This allows the person to feel reassured and protected, and so be inclined to open up and spill the beans.

Some parents get stuck on being Good Cop. They want their children’s trust and good will, so they tend to appease their kids away from possible conflict and avoid setting limits or exercising authority. They may be acting out of loving generosity, but it can also be based on the parent’s desire to avoid unpleasantness.

Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t usually have the effect they’re hoping for. A child’s developmental level equips her for “give her an inch and she’ll take a mile.” Instead of developing self-control, courtesy, and the ability to work cheerfully and with good will; a child deprived of training often yields a self-centered kid at the mercy of his own emotions and desires.

However, there is good news for peace-loving parents. “Bad Cop” does not have to equal “Mean Cop”.

Children need you to set limits. And to be effective, parents need to be convinced that setting those limits is reasonable and in the best interest of their son or daughter. A parent who feels sheepish about “imposing their preferences” on their child isn’t the consistent rock their child wants and needs to depend on.

Here are some things a Bad Cop mom or dad might say:

    • “I’m setting the timer for 10 minutes. When it goes off, it will be time for you to go to bed. No, not later . . . 10 minutes.”

 

    • “Please don’t whine. What other way could you ask for that? No? Then I’m sorry, but I can’t help you.”

 

    • “We told you not to use the DVD player without checking with us first. No TV tonight.”

 

    • “What you said to Mrs. Purplemartin in the other room was rude. Go tell her you’re sorry.”

 

    • “I know you really want to go to Aloysius’ birthday party, but we’re visiting Grandma that day. Would you like to make a card and bring it over to him?”

 

  • “Absolutely no hitting! None! Come over here now please.”

What good cop / bad cop dilemmas have you faced? How did you handle them?

-Roz Dieterich, LMSW

What Does a Good Marriage Look Like?

A client of mine was considering whether or not to continue in a long-term relationship that had some problems. I suggested that she think a bit about what would be the elements of a truly great marriage; then we could talk about what it would take for her and this man to develop such a relationship.

She startled me with her response. With a puzzled look, she said, “I have no idea what a good marriage would look like.”

I shouldn’t have been so surprised. In each generation, the number of children raised by two parents — let alone parents in a unified marriage — has been decreasing. When my daughter went away to a solid Christian college, most of her dorm friends were envious that she had two parents who were still married to one another, and happily to boot. More and more young people are growing up in a divorce-crumbled home.

Those whose parents have had a pretty solid relationship can observe and learn from them. Even beyond that,  they can develop good gut instincts about whether a prospective spouse will be a good fit for them and able to be a good help-mate. But the young man or woman who hasn’t ever lived with a culture of mutual love, respect, and responsibility can be adrift with no idea that it’s possible to avoid replicating their family pattern.

So, I took the question of “What Makes a Great Marriage?” — to that impressive authority, My Friends On Facebook. I received plenty of good suggestions, including:

  • Mutual respect. That name-calling thing is a no-no. Words can be apologized for, but are rarely forgotten.
  • -Roz Dieterich, LMSW

  • Make it a point to learn what makes your spouse feel loved. Then do those things. Let your spouse know explicitly what helps you feel loved.
  • Offer one another unconditional regard.
  • Make a commitment to work things through. Don’t keep an unspoken “Plan B” in the background of your mind. Decide together that divorce will not be an option.
  • You can only change yourself. Don’t get in a long-term committed relationship with someone who has current behaviors (or indications of future behavior) that are unacceptable to you.
  • Get good solid counseling together before you commit. It will help you start out with a good foundation to build on.
  • Consider how, as a couple, you recover from a serious disagreement. Can you lay down your own agenda to offer and receive forgiveness? Or do you just let it simmer down and then go on without settling the issue, which can lead to problems later?

To this, I can add the following:  Talk to one another, out loud and not in the middle of a video, about what you want your marriage to be like. How interdependent do you think a marriage should be? Are you ready to let go of your own preferences sometimes for the sake of the relationship? What about rearing children – how did it go in your family and how do you feel about doing it the same way? Do you share common spiritual beliefs and their level of  importance? Read some books on marriage and talk about what seems to be common to most good relationships.

You would do your homework if you were going to buy a car, build a house, or go on a long vacation. The stakes are much bigger here. Don’t let wishful thinking cloud your vision. A marriage, at its best, is an absolutely wonderful thing. Don’t settle for less.

Making Friends With the Apology

Second in a series on good couple communication. The first installment can be found here.

No, I don’t mean “Go around apologizing a lot so people will like you.” I mean, “Stop being afraid of apologizing and learn to do it well.”

It’s certain that, from time to time, you are going to do or say something insensitive, false, offensive, or injurious to your spouse. Of course, it’s important to try to be kind, truthful and supportive in everything you say and do, but if you’re always successful, you may skip the rest of this post. The rest of us screw up from time to time.

Let’s say you have just offended your husband or wife. Your first impulse when confronted may be to try to defend and explain. Please bite your tongue long enough to consider this: no matter whether or not you were technically right, the biggest problem now is the rupture in your relationship. A discussion about whose point of view is supported by the most evidence, or whether your emotions justified your actions, will make the conversation more heated and much, much longer.

What should you do instead?

  • Ask questions in order to understand your spouse’s perspective. No matter what you were trying to accomplish, you need to learn how it was heard and received.
  • Pick your time and place. The moment when your spouse is trying to diaper a colicky baby is probably not a good time. Find some quiet and calm if possible. And another note on timing: If you are trying to insert your apology as quickly as possible so your spouse will stop talking about how hurt they were, see that for what it is — a desire to manage your own discomfort. He or she may need to be heard for a while.
  • Take appropriate responsibility. An apology with an excuse is no apology. If you did something, say so. If you were wrong or insensitive, say so. Flat out. (If you are considering apologizing for something that was <i>not</i> wrong or that you didn’t do, you may be in the habit of apologizing simply to keep the peace in a stressful environment. These tips are not for you. Please consider consulting someone wise if this is a pattern in your life.)
  • Apologize for the action, not its effect. “I’m sorry you found that offensive” is akin to saying “I’m sorry you’re so oversensitive, but I’ll be my patient self until you fix that.” Do. Not. Go. Down. That. Road.
  • Ask for forgiveness. Some couples find asking for and granting forgiveness a bit artificial and forced. But many who do make it a part of their interactions with one another find that it can build their bond with one another. Asking forgiveness is a gift — you request but don’t demand the restoration of good will. Offering forgiveness is mercy — you agree to be fully reconciled, leaving the wrongdoing in the past.

– Roz Dieterich, LMSW

Are You Having the Same Conversation I’m Having?

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This is the first in a series of posts on couples’ communication. Good communication is the heart’s blood of a marriage. It not only enables the harmony and unity that all couples strive for, it can be a source of real joy and satisfaction to be able to work out significant issues together and find yourselves brought closer together through the process.

It will come as no surprise to any married person that misunderstandings, tension, and disagreement can crop up in married life. One tough situation is when we set out to talk about something, and find the dialog itself becomes a source of strain. Sometimes, in that situation, one of the problems can be confusion about what kind of conversation we’re actually having. Perhaps one spouse wants to reach a solution to a practical problem, while the other is eager to have a relationship-oriented conversation, such as coming to greater understanding about one another’s feelings about the issue. We can imagine what a perplexing exchange might result:

“I think it makes sense to stop for the night after about six hours of driving.”
“I’m not even sure I can handle seven straight days with your sisters.”
“Or would you prefer to go most of the way the first day so the second is easier?”
“Easier? Since when are you considering what’s easier? It always has to be your way. Why don’t you consider my feelings for a change?”

And onward it goes.

At times like this, it might help to take a timeout and decide which discussion is the best one to have at that point. Should it be planning the details of travel or sorting through the concerns about a week with the in-laws. So take a minute to have that timeout – we’ll wait until you’re ready. And don’t worry; you’ll have a chance to circle back to talk about the other issues later.

Use the right tools for the job
If you’re addressing the practical issue first, then there are particular tools that can help. These may include:

  • Assume good will on the part of your spouse.
  • Share your perspective on the problem and listen to gain an understanding of what the important elements are to your spouse and why they’re important.
  • Stick to the topic at hand.
  • Speak clearly and on your own behalf, not assuming anything about the attitudes or feelings of people who aren’t you.
  • Check to be sure the other person actually heard what you meant to communicate.
  • Explore alternatives you may not have thought of before that could address concerns and still offer as many mutual “wins” as possible.

The way to go about having an effective relationship-building conversation is a little different:

  • Again, assume good will on the part of your spouse.
  • Seek to understand your spouse at a deeper level, listening appreciatively rather than discarding thoughts or feelings as unnecessary or invalid.
  • Affirm love and commitment.
  • Be willing to be authentic about yourself.
  • Don’t try to fix the other person’s issues. Instead, try responses like, “I can see how you could see it that way,” or “What would be helpful or supportive from me?”

Don’t neglect the other part of the conversation

Don’t walk away after settling the issue you care most about. It’s an important part of respecting your spouse to take seriously the conversation they wanted to have. You don’t necessarily have to embark on it right away, but be committed to loving your partner by taking seriously what they take seriously. So be sure to make plans together to follow through with whichever topic you set aside at the beginning.

Check in at the end

A good way to end is to ask “Are we really done?” If there are still unclear or tense issues, either make quick work of them if that’s possible, or jointly acknowledge that they’re there and will need attention in the future.

Remember, marriage is a team project. You’re together in this. The rewards of working hard together are immense. And enjoyable.

– Roz Dieterich, LMSW

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