by Dr. Rick Brinkman
An association is a trigger like the song or smell that suddenly transports you back through time. When it comes to family both the people and the environment are powerful triggers. This is why you could be a competent adult with good communication skills and then in the presence of immediate family become a babbling nine-year-old again with everyone falling into the reactions and roles of the past.
One of the ways to break those associations, is neutral ground, which means purposely choosing an environment that is different.
In interviewing for the book Dealing with Relatives we met a couple that over Thanksgiving travels with her parents to someplace new and over Christmas travels somewhere new with his parents. Because they are all in a new place they find it easy not to fall into the same old rolls, I.e. The mother cooking for everybody every meal, the father having to watch his football games. Then the mother then getting annoyed at the father because he’s watching football while they have company. Or the mother making her adult son’s bed and then his wife getting pissed off at him for letting his mother do that, etc. etc. In the new environment all of that is swept out of the way and they discover each other in new ways.
But it doesn’t have to be as complex as taking a vacation. One person tells us that she makes sure to spend time with her mother and and father alone. By separating them, it automatically creates a different dynamic.
Another person tells us he likes to visit his parents when his sisters are not there, because if the sisters are present they dominate the conversation and dynamic.
Another person told us that when she visits her parents she likes to go to the Japanese gardens with just her father. First by separating the time from her mother, their dynamic changes and secondly she finds in that serene environment they have deeper conversations. She said:
“It was in the Japanese gardens that my father was once honest with me about a problem he observed in my relationship with my Mom. He told me how I sometimes got short and irritated with her, and then hypercritical, after which I’d feel angry at myself. If he would have told me this while were in their house, I suspect I would have had a hard time hearing it. But the gardens were such a calming environment that I was able to hear his feedback rationally instead of reactively. Something about the calm of that place allowed me to really hear it from him.”
Yes you can break past associations and discover people in a new way.