Monthly Archives: July 2015

Difficult decisions

Many times, resolving immature emotions, internal conflicts, and toxic beliefs can make  difficult decisions much easier. You might recognize, for example, that your partner is not your child and it’s not your responsibility to make them happy. Or you might resolve toxic emotional bonds which made you fall in love with an incompatible person.

Sometimes, however, even if your emotions are adult and appropriate, life can make you face a decision that is painful in some way no matter what you choose. Some situations you cannot control and you can find yourself with divided loyalties, or trying to choose between your own and your children’s happiness, for example. Perhaps no matter what you choose, you are going to lose something or someone.

If there was a simple answer, a fool-proof guide in such situations, there would be no reason to call them difficult decisions. Those are the choices that reality makes painful, not your own beliefs and emotional patterns. Sometimes it’s about societal rules you cannot change, disease and old age, or financial circumstances, rather than “right” and “wrong” choices.

The advice I can give that could make such decisions at least a bit easier is: make the choice which reflects more of your integrity, more of the kind of person you want to be. You might not be able to avoid pain, but at least that pain will be “cleaner”. Pain fades away with years, but a sense of “cleanliness” stays. Years and decades into future, when you remember your choice, you will have less to criticize yourself about and any happiness you built in the meantime will be less tarnished by guilt. Even the regret you might feel for what you missed will be “cleaner”. There might be other chances for happiness, but not so many chances, perhaps, to choose integrity.

Once I was chatting with a guy about what defines an asshole, and he said, “If your actions create more problems for other people than they benefit you, you are an asshole.” This is rather oversimplified, of course, but it’s worth considering when making an important decision.

Make sure, though, that what you call integrity truly comes from your healthy values, rather than standards imposed by your family, society or religion. Are the problems and pain you might cause other people to experience real or imaginary, inevitable or possible to solve? Make sure that you are not under influence of toxic, unrealistic guilt (or anger) from childhood. You should be able to do that if you are familiar with your inner world.

Communication styles: directing and informing

Amongst many other details when it comes to relationships and communication, it’s useful to be aware of the difference between two basic ways to express a wish or a request: directing and informing.

Directing style expresses a wish, a request or a demand directly: “Shut the window”, or more gently: “Shut the window, please”, “Would you mind shutting the window?”, or even, “Maybe you could shut the window?” Regardless of all the added courtesies and mollification, the request is still clear and unambiguous.

Informing style is descriptive and indirect; it gives information in which a suggestion or a wish is implied as a possibility, for example: “It’s too noisy in here with the window open!” Informing people prefer to motivate than to express expectations.

Needless to say, the difference between these two communication styles can often cause misunderstanding and frustration. An “informant” might ask, “Would you like an ice-cream?” when it’s actually they who would like an ice-cream. “Directing” people might not understand the embedded wish, so if they say, “No”, the possibility of compromise might be lost. “Informing” people then might hear “No” as a refusal of their own wish, rather than a statement of personal preference by a “directing” person.

People who use directing style might simply not notice when a request is expressed in an informing way, which might make the other person feel ignored or dismissed. If they do recognize the embedded request, “directing” people might perceive it as manipulative, passive-aggressive or even victimy. They prefer to have clarity: first, is it a request? Second: what kind of request it is? Third, how important it is? They can find informing style way too … uninformative.

“Informing” people, on the other hand, might perceive directing style as bossy, especially if used without “please” or “would you”. They might feel that such a style gives more importance to a request than to people, which is what they wish to avoid. This is not how “directing” people perceive it; for them, it’s all about clarity.

Another example of communication used by “informing” people might be “Did you… ?” instead of “Would you… ?” For example, “Did you pack a bottle of juice?” instead of “Would you pack a bottle of juice?” A “directing” person might again be frustrated with the implication of unexpressed expectation.

I remember a conversation quite a long time ago, when a friend of mine said she preferred to imply a wish indirectly, so if other people wanted to refuse it, they wouldn’t have to say “No” directly, which might feel uncomfortable to some. I replied that I preferred to know if there was a wish at all, instead of wondering what was implied. A “directing” person might not recognize that the ambiguity is meant as courtesy and might even perceive it as lack of integrity. This is one of the reasons why, when working with couples, we repeatedly warn people: “Presume good intentions!

On the other hand, “informing” people can sometimes misunderstand a simple information as an embedded request, even when there is no request. This is understandable – if we use a certain communication style, we expect other people to use it too. This can be frustrating for such people if they feel they cannot fulfill the request or even understand it. If such a person is a man receiving an information from a woman (for example, when a woman just needs to vent her emotions), confusion and frustration can be even more pronounced, considering that men often have an urge to “fix women’s problems” (I’m not sure how it works with homosexual couples!) The person who gave the information might then be confused and frustrated that the information was understood as an indirect request when it wasn’t meant to be.

There is no “good” or “bad” here (although personally I definitely prefer clarity!). It’s important to recognize and appreciate these two communication styles, instead of blaming other people for using a different one than you. All by itself, this little difference probably doesn’t mean much if a relationship is good, but it can act like “fuel on the fire” if a relationship is already in a mess.

The key to parenting

The job of parents, in my opinion, is not to make a child happy. The key to parenting is to teach children how to create happiness in spite of problems and challenges. This can be done through personal example, as well as emotionally and intellectually supporting the children when they face problems.

Too many parents try to protect their children from problems and frustration. On the other hand, problems and frustration are motivating. They push children into developing their resources. You can only help children to find long-term happiness if you do not insist that they should be happy all of the time.

As with all life advice, use your common sense when making decisions. Don’t exaggerate. Find balance. Listen to your gut. And relax. Even if you were a perfect parent, it wouldn’t be good for your child.