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How to create a trusting and fair environment in your family and marriage

Have you ever heard the phrase, “you’re too much”? It can be used different ways. For instance, it can be used in a setting of someone being really funny. After being rather silly, you might hear, “you’re too much.” Or, it could be used in more of a negative way. It might be said in the context that your thoughts, emotions, opinions are too much to handle.

It makes me think of an activity I’ve done with clients, especially when talking about family dynamics or dynamics in a marriage. Before we get into the activity, I want to explain the theoretical background of where we’re going in this post. Like I said in my last post, I’m reviewing MFT theories, and today I’ve landed on Contextual Theory. This theory is all about repairing trust in families and creating a fair environment.

The term that stood out to me from this theory was that of “Relational Ethics.” Relational ethics is about how each family member considers each others needs. It’s about maintaining fairness with the whole family system. What does fairness look like?

Here’s a brief snapshot of what I consider “fair” behavior in a family:

-leaving room for differing opinions, even if (or especially if) they differ from your own

-giving each person space to make their own decisions

-tuning into your own emotions and thoughts, and also tuning into the emotions and thoughts of your family members

-avoid belittling emotions or telling someone they shouldn’t feel a certain way

-understanding when a role in the family has been formed by unhelpful sexist norms adopted from society rather than the true needs of the individual or unique personality of your family

-show up ready to listen in order to understand and connect, rather than to fix or convince otherwise

-know that there can still be a family hierarchy (with parents stepping in with decisions when appropriate and necessary), but the leadership is from a position of humility, respect, and emotional intelligence

I think a list of what is fair could go on and on, but that’s my brief list. I wonder what you’d include on a list of what you consider to be fair in your family? One thing I realize is that when looking at the two important topics in Contextual theory, trust and fairness, there must be a level of self-awareness when analyzing how each piece in your family fits together. Rather than the easy route of looking to others to explain "what's wrong" in our families, we must all be willing to take a look at ourselves.

Anyway, I think it’s now time to jump into the activity. It’s quite simple. Grab a piece of paper and a pencil. For each person in your family, draw a circle for how much room they take up in the family. What do I mean by how much room they take up? I mean, whose opinion carries a lot of weight? Who makes decisions? Who is heard at the dinner table? Whose emotions get to be considered? Whose events use up family time? Maybe it’s all equal in your family. Then, you’d draw all the same size circles. Yet if you grew up in a family with the mom as the matriarch…making decisions, controlling the calendar, angry when disagreed with…you might draw her circle a bit bigger than everyone else's circle. I think you get the idea!

After you draw your circles, take a look at your drawing. What size is your circle? Oddly enough, when I’ve done this most people have realized they want to make a change. Now, it’s true that you can't change others, so the question is “what do you need to do to take up more space?” Or maybe you’re one of the people who has had a bit more of the space in your family, so the question is, “what does this reality mean for me? Does it urge me to make any changes?”

I don’t think circles are static. They can change throughout life. I wouldn’t be a family therapist if I didn’t think we are all capable of growth and change. I hope this discussion and activity encourages you to take a look at yourself and your family and become more of who you’re meant to be in the world. Happy rooting, everyone!

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