Recent violence in our nation has left us feeling confused, scared, humbled, and helpless. Following the mass shooting at the nightclub in Orlando, the seemingly unjustified killing of two black men at the hands of the police, and the horrific slaying of the police officers in Dallas, many of my clients have had a difficult time focusing on the issues that brought them into therapy. I have been listening to so many clients minimizing their own concerns – expressing embarrassment about their marital conflict, their anxiety, etc, because of the feeling that what they are dealing with is trivial in comparison to the unimaginable loss of life.
I reassured my clients that despite the pain we are all experiencing due to the hate and conflict occurring in our nation, their problems still were real and needed to be addressed. I helped them to understand that life still goes on, and they owe it to themselves to make positive change in their lives. However, I have been thinking and wondering if there is more I can do to help them see how their work in the therapy room on their relationships is, perhaps, of even greater importance given the discord in our nation. Maybe they owe it to our nation to make positive change in their lives.
You see, our nation is engaged in a conversation that is often divisive and unproductive – much like the conflict I see in my office. Out of fear, fingers are pointed at the “other side” which actually causes more conflict rather than bring about solutions. Maybe, just maybe, if we can take responsibility for our own divisive finger-pointing on a micro level, in our own personal relationships, we are setting the stage for more productive dialogue on a macro level. The parallels between the dialogue in our nation and the dialogue I witness between couples and families in my office are amazing. Criticism, not listening, blaming, name-calling, shutting each other out – these are the behaviors that are the death of a relationship – and are certainly the death of any progress made in our national conversation.
So, how can we start the work in the therapy office? Listen to your spouse, your loved one, your child. Accept that their feelings are valid precisely because they are their feelings – being dismissive of another person’s feelings only leads to more conflict. Understand that, though you might not always agree, taking the time to listen and try to understand can make a world of difference when trying to find resolution. Consider that you might be wrong sometimes – it is okay to be wrong and, in fact, it is a very powerful gesture to admit you are wrong and say you are sorry. Be humble – realize that you do not always have the solution and that perhaps listening to your loved one (or your therapist) might actually benefit all parties involved. Be kind – say thank you for the positive efforts your loved one has made, the little things they do on a daily basis for you and your family that often go unrecognized. Focus on your strengths as a couple or family and utilize those strengths to get through difficult times.
I could go on and on about the little things we can all do to model healthy dialogue and relationships. You may not realize it, but you are will, in turn, model healthy relationships and communication for your friends, your children, your family. We owe it to future generations to model how resolution can be found on a micro level and how important it is to respect and love one another. Changes such as these might seem small, but if we all work towards this goal, the end result will be a change in our national conversation because we will know how to actually have a conversation, be empathic, and extend a much-needed olive branch. You can make a difference.