By Terry Real
I'm inviting you all to hold a moratorium on complaint. From today until January 2nd, I would like you to pause for a moment before complaining about anything you don't like, and give yourself the discipline of rephrasing what you have to say as a positive request.
I call this "moving from Past Negative to Future Positive" or from complaint to request.
For example, a statement like, "I really didn't like it when you....." will be transformed into, "It would be really important to me if you would..." In the same vein, try getting more of what you want in your relationships by positively reinforcing what's going right rather than focusing on what's going wrong.
Find The Courage to Have a Happy Holiday
During the holidays, we all face in a very acute way those things we place on the back-burner everyday -- the discrepancy between the relationships we actually have, and the ones we think we're suppose to be having.
I often tell my clients, "Everyday, try to wake up and have the courage to live the life you're in."
Most of us are busy trying to live the life that we think we're supposed to be in, and that is a source of disappointment, anger and blame. We all have in the back of our heads a bunch of images that pervade advertising, magazines and TV of perfect people with perfect smiles and perfect bodies and perfect children. What we really have is the pimply-faced preoccupied, flawed human beings that we're actually married to. The reality is that everybody wakes up in the morning with bad breath -- none of use lives in a holiday greeting card!
A lot of us struggle with the assumption that the family living to the left or right of us is having a much better time than we are. Guess what? The perfectly happy families you think you know are those you don't know very well.
This holiday season, I want people to relax and embrace the imperfect relationships they have and stop nagging each other. One of the worst things my field of psychotherapy ever did was to tell people to get everything off their chests -- and it's 100% nonsense!
Detour On the Way to Divorce
As often happens in my practice, a woman and man flew in from somewhere in the country to get Relational Life Therapy as a last ditch attempt to save their marriage. They made it clear to me that if this session didn't work, they were heading for lawyers.
They were in pretty bad shape, and they had been for years. One of the few things they agreed on, however, was that she is a great mom. One of the challenges in their family life is that they have a very disturbed son. He has been an extremely difficult child requiring special classes, special schools and lots of intervention.
I asked her how she had been able to be such a good mom. She said they experienced a dramatic turn around some time ago. Their kid is one for whom ordinary limits don't work. in situations like this, you literally have to incarcerate kids with such extreme problems. Finding themselves at their wits end, they sought help from a very well known expert in the Boston area who specialized in extremely troubled children.
She said, "The revelation he taught me was -- short of threat to life or limb -- to NOT set limits but do nothing but give positive reinforcement. It was the complete opposite of everything we were doing and against all of our instincts, but I gave it a try, and no matter how difficult he was -- short of a safety issue -- I would find something that he was doing right. It was like a miracle. Within a few months he was like a new person, and our lives were so much better."
I looked at her and gave her a big grin and said, "That sounds like a wonderful program. How about trying it on your husband?"
The Greatest Gift is a Bunch of Sweet Nothings
Give yourself and your family a holiday present -- a moratorium on criticism and complaint.
Institute the same program that I asked that dear woman in my office to use with her husband; the one that worked so beautifully with her son. Stop complaining about what isn't right and start accentuating the good things.
When you sneak a peak at your husband and think, "Hmm, nice butt," don't keep it to yourself. Tell him, "Honey, you have a nice butt." You will be amazed at how much mileage you get. And men, sneak up behind your wife and give her a peck o the cheek or nuzzle her neck for no reason... just because. Take one second and pause and tell your partner, "Hey, I really appreciate the time and energy that you're putting into getting all of the stuff together for our party."
Just the other day, I was sitting in my kitchen and looked a my wife and thought, wow, she is the center of this family. Instead of keeping it to myself I told her, "You really hold this whole family together, and we don't tell you enough how much we appreciate you. Thank you."
I'm not saying to make up stuff to say -- there's nothing worse than a hollow sentiment. Nor should you sweep something really important under the rug. I'm just inviting you to take a break from your issues and just try to enjoy the imperfect family that you have.