Marriage and Family
Mother Theresa once said, “Love begins by taking care of the closest ones – the ones at home. If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”
Some may ask, why say … go home and love your family?
Babies, whose mothers hold them close, cuddle them and consistently respond to their needs, develop a trusting relationship and a healthy attachment to the caregiver. This sets the stage for the child to have healthy relationships with other pe“ople and experience and express a full range of emotions. Conversely, when this bonding does not occur, the ability to form healthy relationships is greatly affected.
The family/home is the child’s first teacher. Ideally it is here we are taught the dynamics of how to navigate relationships. Children’s sense of who they are is intimately associated with their relationships – both with other people and the context in which they live. When relationships do not give them what is needed, they lose their sense of comfort and confidence. Powerful psychological processes then come into play. Much distress/mental illnesses are as a result of these processes.
Many people have children without fully realizing the Herculean task they have undertaken. Parents have a duty to provide and cater to the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual development of the child. This entails helping them inculcate sound morals and values, giving praise when warranted, knowing when to say “No” and consistently enforcing established rules. Talking to children and taking an active interest in their lives and the things that matter to them is also necessary, however, it is crucial that parents lead by example and practice what they want children to emulate.
The statement above, lends itself to the topic of marriage and relationships. As a therapist who has been married for the past 35 years and offers marriage counseling incorporating the Gottman principles, I can safely say that marriage requires HARD WORK to be fulfilling and lasting. People get married as a way of expressing their love and devotion to each other. It is necessary to keep that love alive because neglect and time can cause the strongest of marriages to decline. What once seemed like heaven can be later perceived as hell and bondage.
I do not know of anyone who is happy all the time, but when couples come into therapy, I sometimes ask, “Do you still love each other? How do you feel when you see each other at the end of a workday? How do you show your love for each other?”
The answers are not usually what one would expect. Many couples are frustrated, disconnected and sad. Partners often feel invisible, not validated or have unmet needs. They live like two business partners who are taking care of children and other chores, instead of two people who are connecting, loving, appreciating, forgiving and supporting each other on a deeper level.
When couples are hurt, bitter, angry and frustrated, there is a ripple effect which is often easily visible in their attitude at work, the way they drive, react to daily challenges or interact with others. It may manifest as arguments with hurtful words, fights with partners and many times, abuse directed at children, which begins the destructive cycle of dysfunction.
This cycle does not have to be perpetuated. We all need to help break this vicious cycle which can be achieved if we make the choice to work on ourselves. Some can do this without external help, but many of us need to enlist the support of therapists and other qualified professionals. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to do the work on our relationships while there is still hope and a desire to stay together. When we make our homes a refuge of peace, it gives us a place to lay our burdens down, refuel, find comfort and reenergize to face another day.
Make that choice today to create peace in your home, so you can help paint the bigger picture, which is, the change you want to see in the world.
Liz Malcolm, M.Ed., LPC.