It is hard to know the right thing to do. Within any decision there are competing forces that make appropriate decision making difficult. Generally, we want our decisions to be logical. But we also want decisions to be made by people who are closest to the issue, local knowledge is king. Unfortunately, the closer you are to an issue the less likely you are going to be able to view the issue through an objective lens. This is particularly true within a family or a relationship.
Generally, we think that parents know best what is for their kids, or people who are dating can most accurately measure the health of that relationship (as opposed to someone on the outside). In fact, we have strong cultural norms against providing advice to parents or dating couples unless explicitly asked, even if the relationship seems incredibly unhealthy or dangerous. When it comes to child rearing the response is particularly strong if you don’t have children but try to make recommendations to parents. It is often you will hear things like “You don’t have kids so you don’t understand”. While that may be true, it could also accurately be said “Because they are your kids you aren’t seeing the situation clearly”. Though, I would expect to be slapped or blocked on Facebook if I said that latter phrase.
The truth is, sometimes we our knowledge is “too local”. We are so close to the situation and our view blinded by love for a person that we can’t see that things aren’t healthy. We need people on the outside who can be more objective and give us straight answers. In short, we need therapists. A therapist is someone that you can share the details of your situation with but who is outside of it and can provide a more objective perspective. Sometimes a friend can act as a therapist, but often friends are also emotionally attached to you and the situation, and will provide guidance that is overly negative or positive. I think we’ve all had friends who dated someone who was terrible for them, but if we gave honest advice we would risk losing the friend. Because we are emotionally invested in the friendship it is impossible for our point of view to be objective or considered objective.
Unfortunately, many people cannot afford or are not willing to see therapists. I think everyone should see one occasionally, even if they aren’t in a relationship that could be destructive. It is really sad that people who can’t afford a therapist are unwilling to research the science on things like child-rearing or making relationships work before entering into a lifetime commitment. People (myself included) seem to intentionally go into things unprepared and hope that things will just work out.
It is simply false to believe that any of us will “naturally” know what to do to raise a child in the modern world or make a 50+ year relationship work. It is just as dangerous to adopt cultural norms as your guiding force, just because our parents did something some way or you see other relationships operating in some way does not make those ways best. Evolution and most of our social norms developed in very different worlds than the one we live in now, and many of those lessons are no longer applicable. We only encourage unhealthy relationships if we refuse to seek objective viewpoints on our situation. None of us will naturally know what to do and cliches like “love is enough” are simply not true for healthy long-term relationships to thrive in 2016.
Very well said and extremely mature to write this. My boyfriend and I go to counseling twice a month, sometimes three times, for a healthy dose of therapy. When I share this intimate detail with people, their response is often something like, “oh no…” or “wow, really?”, or “I didn’t realize things weren’t going well.” This last one bothers because it is not because things aren’t going well that we see a counselor, but rather so that things continue to go well and even get better over time. I find it extremely conceited when people say that they aren’t the kind of couple who “need counseling”. My internal response is, “well, good luck with that”, because no one is perfect and even wonderfully compatible couples cannot communicate everything to each other in the most helpful and healthy way. I believe communication is the key to intimacy, and in order to increase or deepen intimacy, improving communication is critical. My boyfriend and I have been together for three years and last December we made a decision to see a counselor to help us both improve areas where we needed to grow. In 6 months of hard work through counseling, our relationship has deepened, we understand each other better, and we have changed areas that needed changed and enhanced the areas that were already really good. I am a big believer in counseling, even if its just once a month to “check-in” with each other and allow a professional to observe, respond, and give helpful, objective advice. Thanks for the post Peter!
After my child developed his own reasoning and emotions and started to communicate them, I realized that my parent’s way of raising my brother and I was not the route to take for raising this little boy. He’s a lot like me, but different in so many ways. I knew my parents’ way of handling certain situations, and it’s totally blown up in my face when attempting to implement the same kind of tactic for my child. Just because the tactics my parents used with me worked out well for them, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for me and my husband in raising our son. The hard part is realizing that and knowing/being willing to make changes to what you already know. So I try a different approach, and it typically works well for all parties (and this is for discipline, showering him with love; really any type of “parenting” for a small child).
Thanks for this post – it’s a great reminder to always be willing to try something different and not be afraid to know it’s ok to ask for help, it’s ok to not know everything about the big R word. None of us do, and we’re blind if we think we’re all knowing. Love you Peter!