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New Year’s Resolution: To a Healthy Relationship

January 7, 2012

Many New Year’s resolutions are good for business, because the failed resolutions annually renew themselves.  Stop smoking, eat less, lose weight.  There’s a lot of money to be made (think nicotine patch manufacturers, and gym memberships) from these resolutions that falter as January fades into dreary February.   Did you know that only 3-8% of smokers quit on their own, and that losing weight (and keeping it off) is a lot harder than most of us imagine (think genetics)?  My resolution has to do with your relationship health. Once mastered, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

‘Tis the season in my office that I have more visits from family members, parents and adult children, who are trying to resolve festering hurts.  Today I read a review of a new book on an old theme:  toxic parents. Admittedly, there are abusive and emotionally destructive people who become parents. But many parent-child relationships can improve.  One reason I transferred from the field of psychology to family therapy was my interest in shifting the focus to what can heal, rather than “name that pathology,” the mainstay of my early training in psychology.

Thirty years ago, my mentor casually tossed off this remark, “It’s in the nature of parent-child relationships for parents to hurt their children.” I thought her statement was breathtaking, distressing and yet liberating. So I was normal. I was a normal former child who’d been injured, and was soon to be a normal parent who despite my very best efforts, sometimes truly failed to imagine my children’s reality. I couldn’t take comfort in how much better a job I would do. Instead, I had to make peace with my parents, their limitations and my own limitations as well. I began a years’ long process of learning their histories, trying to make sense of their perspectives, imagining their realities as young people, young parents, and most importantly talking with them. We talked about the intergenerational sweep of parents and children in our family. We talked about how we each had both loved yet hurt or disappointed each other. From all this, I became wiser, lighter and more loved simultaneously. It wasn’t an easy resolution. I didn’t engage in it as an archaeology dig–let me uncover the past. I resolved to have a more thoughtful present and future. So far, that resolution of 30 years ago has been a good investment. Happy New Year.

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