Part 1 – The Problem
As my fiancée and I started planning our honeymoon (and life) together, we pretty quickly came to the conclusion that we both wanted to include some activities and adventures that the other wasn’t so interested in.
Mark’s got reasonable German and wanted to stride about the Austrian alps – “Macht schnell“. I fancied strolling through the Ardèche river valley in SE France sampling baguettes, local wine and cheese – “Bon appetit!”
Before I tell you what happened to us on our separate honeymoons (yes we did marry, we did separate on our Honeymoon and we are still together), it occurs to me now that this is a universal problem all families must face. As Mark and I discovered before we got married and started a family, just because you love one another doesn’t mean you actually will want to do everything together all the time.
Can this be OK?
If so, how?
This question is alive and well as a small sample of some recent issues from my therapy office shows:
- A long-married couple is struggling to adapt as the wife finally admits she actually dislikes sitting with her husband every night watching TV: she is longing for more intellectual pursuits;
- Two partners (one from NZ and one from the USA) are trying to understand what each means by “let’s party!”
- The assumption “when we’re a team we do everything together” is getting a challenge as a couple can’t agree over how to design and build a planter box and they wonder if this is a slippery slope toward some fundamental incompatibility.
So, whether you are trying to agree on how to throw a dinner party, create a shared garden space, spend your evenings, plan an upcoming long weekend with the kids or design your ideal Honeymoon the fact is there are times when you’ll want one thing and your partner will want another. Throw in a few kids with different ages and interests, the in-laws or some house guests and the odds are good that you’ll never please all of the people all of the time.
In my experience people choose one of three broad approaches to try solving this issue. See if these feel familiar.
Style #1 – The Martyr
Looks like: “Oh, I’ll just go along with what the others want. I don’t really mind. It’s OK with me. I just want everyone to get along and stop arguing. If someone won’t compromise we’ll never do anything!”
Pro – If you are apparently willing to do “whatever” then the odds do improve that your “sacrifice” will take one voice out of the equation and maybe un-complicate things enough for the most persuasive person’s idea to take form.
Con – If you get into the habit of not speaking up you run the risk of disappointing yourself by doing things you don’t enjoy and disappointing the group since it’s not much fun to be around Martyr’s – they can be a bit half-hearted and self-righteous.
Upshot – Practiced frequently, you’ll start to forget what you genuinely enjoy. Every time you bring out the Martyr behaviour you will disappear a little bit. You’ll get cut off from what you genuinely feel and need. You’ll become a bit more of a stranger to yourself and your family. If you lose touch with what makes you happy (which is a big part of who you are) you run the risk (at an extreme end of these decisions over time) of living an inauthentic life and becoming angry and bitter in your later years.
Style #2 – The Bully
Looks like: “Oh for heavens sake be quiet and listen to me. I’ve got a great idea and if someone around here doesn’t take charge we’ll never get anywhere. He’s what we’ll do. Come on!”
Pro – If you have the energy and leadership to rally the troops in this single-minded way you will most likely get them up, out and doing something.
Con – With this “lets just get on with it” approach, you run the risk of rallying troops into an activity none of them actually wants to be part of. Is this gaining maximum happiness? Is just “doing something no matter what whilst minimizing the discussion and planning up front” preferable to a more inclusive approach? Is this approach more or less likely to have folks looking forward to the next shared occasion?
Upshot – Your forceful enthusiasm or “bossiness” tends to do some damage along the way. Sure you all made it to the beach, mountain, boat, park, museum or zoo where you may even have had moments of fun. However, those who feel “bullied” might be making quiet resolutions to themselves to cut you out of the equation by planning an activity without you next time.
Style #3 – The Pleaser
Looks like: “OK everyone, I want us all to be happy so is there one thing we can all enjoy? How about the beach and ice creams? Oh – you can’t sit in the sun Gran? How about we get you an umbrella? What? Tim – you’re desperate to skateboard? Could you bring it and scoot about on the footpath? Well maybe we can have a shady coffee and then some beach time and head over to the skateboard park? Oh for heaven’s sake John you can’t add fishing today as well! Honestly it’s like herding cats to get you lot to agree to anything!”
Pro – At least you are trying hard to herd those cats! You might actually come up with a pretty extensive list of activities to be squeezed into a day and a couple of folks might actually have fun. As a Pleaser you are more likely to have more people having fun than the Martyr or the Bully.
Con – If it is only you exhausting yourself in trying to make sure everyone is happy you are actually creating a blend of Martyr (since as Pleaser you often forget to think about or include what you want to do) and Bully (since when the impossibility of pleasing everyone becomes apparent you will tend to snap out a final decision) and there is an overwhelming sense of exasperation.
Upshot – With this frenetic start to a day the group tends to set off on a pretty exhaustive agenda with little buy-in from people and a general sense of how hard it is to find overlapping interests. There is often a back-lash emotion along the lines of “Lordy Me! I’ll do something on my own next time – this was way too hard!”
If you identify (or live) with a Martyr, Bully or Pleaser you are not alone. Every week I end up having conversations with people who have been hurt – usually unintentionally – by loved ones in these sorts of unsuccessful attempts at connecting with one another. So, while each of these approaches can get a family out of the house and off doing something for a day or long weekend, each approach also takes it’s particular toll on the relationships between those involved. So, the question I’ve been asking is ~ “Is there a way that helps families figure out how to have more fun together whilst also improving relationships along the way?”
And, based upon the results of our experimental two-track Honeymoon, I’d have to say “Yes, there is!”
Check in soon for ~
Part II – The Solution For (our Honeymoon &) Your Family!