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Difficult Relationships
Sometimes the most important people in our lives are the ones most difficult to deal with.  We struggle to make sense over others’ hurtful actions, and often overlook how our perceptions, beliefs, and pattern of engaging with others, contribute to the human dynamics.

DILEMMA:
"Sharon" was a divorced, 45 year old woman who maintained a close relationship with her older sister, (Sis). Being divorced did not change Sharon’s relationship with Sis, and she was still included in special celebrations, like she had been when she was married.  During the past two years, however, Sharon was becoming upset and more angry with Sis, since her invitations for parties and holidays did not include Sharon’s boyfriend of two years. Although Sharon and her boyfriend did not live together, they were very much a couple, and with each time that he was excluded from social/family gatherings, Sharon became more resentful toward Sis.  The final blow came when Sis had an invitation to her son’s wedding, mailed and addressed to Sharon only.  Sharon was hurt and outraged that Sis had not included her “significant other.”   To add to the resentment, Sis had invited Sharon only, to a graduation party for her daughter to be held in the next week.  When Sharon came for coaching, she felt the only solution to this was to cut off her relationship with her sister. She was feeling a profound sense at loss at “the only choice left to make.”

 HOW THE COACH WORKS:
I relayed to Sharon that I felt sad for her, since she must have thought long and hard to come up with such an extreme solution to her problem. When I explored her reasons for ending the relationship, and why she thought her sister didn’t include her boyfriend, she answered, “I resent, for a person my age, to be treated like a child.  My whole family is judgmental.  They have met my boyfriend, but probably don’t like him.  But I really think that they do not approve of the way we are conducting our relationship—not wanting to marry.”

I asked her, "If someone offered you other options to resolve this, would you consider them?” She agreed.  I asked, “Did you ever tell your sister you were bringing Dennis (boyfriend) with you for Christmas dinner, or xyz party (not ask permission)?  “Oh, no,” she said.  “I would never do that.  She should know to include him without me telling her.”  I asked, “What would have happened if you just showed up with him—assumed that it was perfectly normal to appear at the door with your mate?”  “Oh, that would be rude,” she said.  “I could never do that.” 

I introduced the idea, gently, that she needed to own some responsibility in perpetuating this strange family behavior.  We worked on a plan of “educating” her family:  that this man is part of her life, is “family” to her, so to speak, and that she expects him to be included with her whenever she is invited to a gathering.  Sharon’s problem was that she assumed that they should know.  She was not assertive in making her needs known.  I asked her what would happen if she showed up to her niece’s graduation party, with Dennis?  What was holding her back?  She protested that she could never do that, but then I pointed out that at one time, I bet, she thought she could never cut her sister out of her life, and she was ready to take that risk.  This risk had much smaller stakes.  We discussed what could possibly happen, that would be negative.  Would the family throw Dennis out?  Maybe there wouldn’t be enough food?  Would they be angry at her?  What could be the best thing to happen, if she brought him?

Sharon decided to take the “biggest risk of my life.”  She would just show up at the graduation party, with Dennis, (unannounced).  She arranged to call me from her cell phone, “when things go wrong.”  I was available to support her during the hours of the party, but was not surprised when she didn’t call me. The outcome?  Sis, the relatives, and the guests were friendly and interested in talking to Dennis.  Sharon and Dennis had a great time at the party, and stayed on for hours talking to Sis and husband, long after the guests left.  Sis explained it never occurred to her to invite Dennis; because she was so accustomed to inviting Sharon alone all these years, she never gave it a thought. And if she did, she assumed Sharon would want “quality time” alone with Sis, like they did when she was a little girl.

 And yes, Sharon danced with Dennis at her nephew’s wedding!

Part of a coach’s role is to elicit self discovery through asking provocative questions, and challenging beliefs and perceptions.  Our thoughts shape our feelings, reactions and behaviors.

By “assuming” what others “should” do and “should” know, and how they “probably” think, keeps us in the dark zone, by drawing erroneous conclusions.   Seeking clarity, and expressing one’s needs and desires is the key to understanding.  A coach supports you as you take the risks necessary for growth.

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