3 relationship questions answered

This week our relationship columnist Liza Finlay answers your queries on everything from how to deal with hurtful spouses to money concerns to strategies for blended families.

Over the past months, you’ve responded overwhelmingly to this column. Many of you have had questions. Here are some answers…

How to form a united front (and family meetings)

I am wondering if you have any advice on dealing with my fiance’s child. He’s 12 and comes to stay with us every second weekend. The last few times he has stolen money and toys from my 9-year-old. His dad knows he does it, but has not called him on it for fear of losing him. This is destroying our relationship! Please help! —JR

Coming together on parenting practices is tough for any couple, but it’s even tougher in blended families where there are the divergent views of both parents and stepparents to contend with. But (and you probably don’t want to hear this) that’s the least of it.

Sometimes when we worry that we just aren’t measuring up, we compensate for our perceived inadequacies. Well, to be precise, we overcompensate. It sounds like being a good dad is important to your fiancée and I suspect fear and guilt are guiding his parenting decisions.

So, let’s proceed with compassion. How? Why don’t you and your fiance sit down and agree to some parenting ground rules (or better yet, take a course together). Then, invite the kids to a family meeting (for more on those, check out my friend Alyson Schafer’s very excellent book Honey, I Wrecked The Kids) where those rules are shared. Then have the kids help you create a family code of conduct.

Communication is king

My wife and I have been married for just over three years. We have a 14-month-old baby and another on the way. The stress levels are increasing for both of us on a daily basis and the biggest stressor is money. I am a self-employed carpenter with a growing business. Unfortunately it is not growing as quickly as needed. All the blame seems to be raining down on me. Any suggestions? —SP

Yes, I do. Talk. Sorry, I don’t mean to sound dismissive; in fact quite the contrary. Talk — the right kind — is very, very hard. So hard it deserves a more officious name: communication. I gave a few tips on effective communication in my column last week (find it here), but arguably the most important one is this: describe your feelings in sentences that begin with “I.” Tell your wife what you are feeling — not what you think about her, or the situation, but what you are feeling.

I’m going to take a wild guess here and venture that you are scared. Author Eckhart Tolle tells us that fear dissolves in the light of consciousness. Once we proclaim a thing, once we name it, the source of our fear loses its potency. And here’s the other great thing: by sharing your concerns with your wife, you will not only bring her closer, you will lighten your load.

(By the way, I’ll have more to say on money and the effect it has on couples in my January 18th column.)

The Hurt Cycle — and how to end it

I have been with my partner for 11 years. Lately, he has been saying really insulting and hurting words to me. Every time I make a mistake he freaks out and then I retaliate with even harsher words. Now, he is saying that he has no feelings for me because I’m too argumentative. I feel like he is just saying that to win the ongoing battle. When the storm passes we’re OK again, as if the harsh and hurtful words were never exchanged in the first place. Please let me know what I can do to improve this relationship. —JE

What you have very eloquently described is something that marriage therapists call “the hurt cycle.” I hurt you, you hurt me back, so I strike out harder, and on and on. Who started it? Who knows? And really, who cares? The bigger question is: Who is going to end it?

Now, you can’t control what your husband does, but you can control what you do. So, simply choose to stop the cycle. Step off the merry-go-round. Don’t strike back. I know, it’s easier said than done; breaking patterns is hard. So, while you’re tackling that work-in-progress, I want you to, at a minimum, concur on some ground rules for fighting.

Sample script: “Honey, neither of us likes it when we fight and I’m working hard at avoiding fights altogether. But when our disagreements do escalate, can we agree to follow some ground rules, so that our fights don’t get out of hand? I’d like it, for example, if we pledged to never call each other names. What about you? Is there anything you’d like added to our fair-fighting code?”

Tip: My friend Vanessa and her partner have a “safe” word that can be invoked by either party when disagreements devolve into hurtful mudslinging. Once spoken, the couple must cease and desist. Try it!

Join relationship columnist Liza Finlay each week as she dishes on ways to keep you and your partner close through the rocky terrain that is marriage with kids.

Do you have an issue you’d like Liza to explore in a future column? Drop her a line at talktoliza@gmail.com or leave your comment below.

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