Early in my psychology career, I recognized the need for parents to be involved in their children’s therapy. Individual counseling often includes a degree of family counseling. At times, marital relationship counseling for the parents is also recommended.
My recent blogs have illustrated premarital counseling for a couple who are merging their families. This fictional account focusses on a police family, but many of the issues presented in the series are applicable to all walks of life.
I’ve successfully used the therapies described below many times, having been trained in workshops presented by Daniel G. Amen, M. D. and extensive IMAGO therapy training developed by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. Their books are referenced at the end of this blog.
This is working for us,” Paul began their third premarital session enthusiastically. “The hardest part was the first time we talked honestly about our feelings. I’d planned to make dinner for Melody and her children. I’d made a salad, baked potatoes and the meat was marinating. I’d expected them at 6:00, and made certain the charcoal would be the perfect temperature for grilling by then. When they arrived at 6:30, I was able to admit I’d become frustrated and tense. Meeting deadlines must be a trigger for me because they are so important in my work. I’ve never handled surprises well. I could be honest about my need to know of delays in advance. It is becoming easier to express my feelings instead of avoid talking about them. “
Melody nodded in agreement, “Now that I’m aware of how Paul feels about timeliness, I can be more sensitive to his need and keep him informed when I’m running late. Being open about our feelings is becoming easier.
Their counselor, Ms. O’Neal, was listening intently. “Let’s explore this further. Paul, can you think of a time in your childhood when you felt tense and frustrated because of having to wait for someone?
He thought a moment before responding, “This is strange, I can still recall a time when I was probably six; when I got home from school, no one was home and the door was locked. I was scared. Mother arrived soon. She’d taken longer than she’d intended to shop for groceries. That happened several times, but I never got used to it. I just felt that I wasn’t important enough for her to be home when I arrived.”
“It’s not strange at all,” Ms. O’Neal responded. “Our values form early in life.”
Melody’s face had softened in tender empathy, “I had no idea how important timeliness is to you. I never want you to feel that way again. I’ll try to always be on time or keep you informed about any delays I have.”
“This is probably a good time to explore and talk about your values.” Ms. O’Neal continued. “You each need to define what your individual values are so that you can make one another aware of them. It is a better way to learn about one another than by trial and error.
“I need each of you to think of your personal values as you work on this exercise. Your values influence the development of your character. You wouldn’t be the same person without them.”
OUR VISION OF A PERFECT RELATIONSHIP
(List below anything that you perceive contributes/would contribute to your idea of a perfect relationship. [e.g., go to movies, make time to talk daily, etc.] Word each value as if it is a
relationship goal that you are already doing, but also include additional activities you would like to do in the future. Don’t discuss or share them while you complete your forms.)
After each had completed the forms, Ms. O’Neal added additional instructions. “During this exercise, I need for you to practice listening intently to one another speak. But first, you need to be aware that it may not always a good time to discuss important matters. People should always check to see if the timing is right, for example, in this instance, Melody, you might say, ‘I would like to discuss my values and vision for our relationship. Is this a good time?’ Then, Paul, you could respond, ‘This is a good time,’ or ‘I can be available soon, perhaps in an hour.’
Melody and Paul complied. Ms. O’Neal continued. “Melody, read your first vision goal to Paul. Then, Paul you are to repeat or mirror what you think she said until she confirms that you got it all. Then ask if there is more.”
Once again, the couple complied. Ms. O’Neal instructed Melody to continue reading each vision goal in the same manner until her list was complete. Then Paul was to take his turn reading his vision goals as she had.
Finally, they were to agree on which goals should be merged into a list of one vision for their relationship. The final vision for their relationship looked as follows:
OUR VISION OF A PERFECT RELATIONSHIP
- Treat one another with respect.
- Try to accept and understand one another.
- Are loving to one another.
- Look for the good in one another
- Take time to enjoy conversations with one another each day.
- Take time to laugh together.
- Touch and love one another.
- Have patience with one another.
- Have date regular date nights.
- Important decisions are made after mutual discussion and agreement.
- Treat one another as we wish to be treated.
Both Paul and Melody were happy with their progress during the exercise. Ms. O’Neal commented, “This vision for your relationship is important for you as a couple and as parents. Your children need to see that you are happy together.”
She gave each of them an additional handout and explained, “Because you are both parents, can you see how important it will be to decide in advance what your values pertaining to your children are? They need to know what is expected of them and that you stand together on your goals for them. Family goals are more positive than family rules. So now make individual lists of your values about your children. You are to read your lists to one another and agree upon a mutual vision for your family. Use your vision to develop goals for your family. Show them to your children in a family meeting. Listen to their opinions about the goal; discuss so that all understand them. Then post your family goals where all members (including you) can see them daily. It will be important to recognize that there may be times when each of you fail to meet a goal. But with encouragement, you will all become more successful.
“Ideally, a home should be a safe harbor that promotes healthy growth, communication, listening and values. It should be a place where each individual feels recognized and a sense of belonging. At home family members, should be able to relax, release tension, repair, reorganize and re-energize.”
After following a similar process to the first, Melody and Paul created the following list:
- We tell the truth.
- We treat each other with respect. (This means no yelling, hitting, kicking, name calling, or put downs, or blaming others)
- We take responsibility for things we do (accidents, doing things before thinking, forgetting to do things, or not doing them on time) and apologize, accepting consequences when necessary. We know that everyone makes mistakes.
- We don’t argue with parents (as parents we want and value your input and ideas, but arguing means you have made your point more than one time – and expressing your opinion more than twice is arguing.)
- We respect each other’s property (which means we ask permission to use something that does not belong to us)
- We do what our parent(s) say the first time, without complaining or throwing a fit.
- We ask permission before we go somewhere.
- We put away things that we take out.
- We leave the bathroom clean.
- We look for ways to be kind and helpful to each other
Amen, Daniel G., M.D. (2001) Healing ADD, New York: The Berkley Publishing Group.
Hendrix, Harville, Ph.D. (1988). Getting The Love You Want, New York: Harper & Row.
Watts, Carolyn Ferrell (2013). Magical Years to Learn With Me: A gentle guide for children, parents, teachers and counselors.
Watts, Carolyn Ferrell (2013). Magical Power of Choice: Parenting Magic Key III, Read-Play-Learn-Together Activity Book for Children From Birth to Eight And Parents too.