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Episode 67

Do I have a dysfunctional family (and what can I do to change it)? Part 2 

February 20, 2023

[Kyle]: Hello, and welcome to episode 67 of The Art of Raising Humans. I’m Kyle.

[Sara]: And I’m Sara.

[Kyle]: And today we want to start part two on a conversation about conflict.

[Kyle]: Right? Last week we started a conversation on dysfunctional conflict, kind of what defines a dysfunctional family is their inability to face and resolve conflict, okay? It's one of the key components that you're looking for and we also talked about every family has some aspect of dysfunction in it, you know?
[Sara]: Right, right. Nobody's perfect, we're not going to be perfect.

[Kyle]: Well, and I've never met a family that can resolve every conflict, right?

[Kyle]: I mean, there's some conflicts that are just hard to discuss, right? Some conflicts that are hard to face. The goal isn't to necessarily-- That that's not the goal, the goal is just more often than not “we're creating a family where conflict can be discussed and faced and resolved”.

[Sara]: Right, right, and we're more focused on us as parents and our children, so the home that we're in we're not-- Well, maybe we'll touch on this later, but we're not necessarily talking about all the aunts and uncles and grandparents and great grandparents and you know, we're talking about your home environment and how to create that space.

[Kyle]: Yeah, I'm sure everyone listening to this, you've got-- If you think about them, I’m sure there’s names, faces popping up in your mind right now about conflict that you're like “how would I ever resolve that?”, you know?

[Kyle]: And so, we're not trying to have a discussion on here about how to resolve every conflict in your life, right? It's instead how to create an atmosphere, first, how to be a person who is safe to have conflict with, you know?

[Kyle]: I'm thinking of the movie “A Few Good Men”, you know? Where he said “you can't handle the truth!”, you know? And all too often, conflict isn't getting resolved because the kids think about their parents “you can't handle the truth!”, you know? “If I tell you the truth, you can't handle it, because you freak out or you shut down or you start to cry every time we talk about it”, you know?

[Kyle]: I just--

[Sara]: “You get mad, blow up at me, send me in my room”.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and so, we want-- We're just trying to discuss here about how to create a family where conflict is okay and that conflict is accepted, conflict is actually invited. If it's gonna-- You know, we're gonna use it as a way to grow closer together, you know? I love that idea that conflict is an opportunity. We have a whole podcast about that, about conflict being an opportunity to either pull away from each other or to get closer to each other. So, if I can just kind of plant that idea that conflict is an opportunity for isolating or moving toward and being more intimate, you know? And so, every time you get human beings together, there is going to be conflict.

[Kyle]: Conflict is inevitable.

[Sara]: Yes, because we have our own agendas, we have our own wants and needs and opinions and ideas and etcetera and etcetera and so, unless we're all clones of each other, which we're not, those things are going to butt up against each other sometimes and that's healthy, normal and okay.

[Kyle]: Well, once again, anytime you rub against somebody, it causes friction, okay?

[Kyle]: So, the closer I get to you, the more friction there's going to be, you know? And that's physically, but also emotionally, you know? All that kind of stuff. So, just as-- If I start with that premise, you're not getting conflict out of the family, it's part of it, you know? And all you can do is suppress it, you know’ Like stamp it down by getting mad every time it comes or just ignore it, you know? Those are two ways a lot of families--

[Sara]: Sweep it under the rug.

[Kyle]: Yes. So, we want to present a third option, is instead to face it with open hands, to co-create a resolution with that person you're having the conflict with, you know? But before we do that, I want to go back to the triangulation. Do you remember? So, the triangulation just to recap that, you've got this triangle of a victim, a persecutor and a rescuer. So, we want to be aware of that. “Am I being a referee? Is my kid pulling me in to team up against another kid? Is as spouses, are we teaming up against our children?”, you know? Or “is one of the kids helping me team up against my spouse?”, you know? and all these kinds of things are real common and I want to be real--

[Sara]: Yes, very hard to avoid.

[Sara]: Sometimes you're halfway in the middle of it before you realize “oh, wait. Oh, that's what we're doing right now”.

[Kyle]: I mean, you've-- You and I've experienced this a lot, because many times you're like “what is Kyle doing? I don't know if I agree with that”, you know?

[Kyle]: Or I'll think “I don't know if I have Sara's back on that, because I don't think that--", you know? And it seems like you're not being loyal to the other person and that somehow, we're supposed to agree every time, otherwise the kids will see a fissure and they're now going to exploit it, you know? As opposed to just saying “that conflict's really not between me and that person”, you know? So--

[Sara]: Yeah, you want to point them back to each other.

[Kyle]: Uh huh, and believe that the other person can do it. You know, I've appreciated that so much, Sara, with our relationship is there were times that I blew up and I got mad and you definitely did not approve of how I was handling it, but you trusted that inevitably I was going to come back around and I was going to reconnect with the kids and we were gonna resolve that conflict.

[Sara]: Yeah, that's-- Yeah, because cause if I go in and I make it better, so to speak, it doesn't ever fix the thing that happened between you and the child.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and I guess--

[Sara]: I want that and I knew you would go and--

[Kyle]: And I guess I'd speak to that, Sara. I speak to that to any parents who are listening to this who go “Wow. Well, that's not how my marriage is”.

[Kyle]: “We-- I don't trust that they can” is really as a couple, you need to come together and make a commitment to trust that the other one does want what's best for the kid. Really is trying their best to help that kid, love that kid and I know there's obviously cases of abuse and we're not talking about that.

[Sara]: Yeah, I was gonna say--

[Kyle]: We're not talking about that.

[Sara]: The scope of this is not talking about unhealthy, hurtful, damaging.

[Sara]: Those kinds of things, that's not what the scope of this is, this is we're talking about relationships--

[Kyle]: Yeah, we obviously want your environment to be safe, but you eventually have to believe that, see the best in one another and believe that the other person really does want a good relationship with that kid.

[Sara]: And if anything helps each other, do that.

[Sara]: Versus coming in as the rescuer.

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, because I think it's easy. Once I think-- You know, once I start to judge you, Sara and think that you are the persecutor and you are the bad guy, I need to team up protect my kids, it's hard for you to get out of that, you know’ Then I start to notice that and then you feel defensive, so then you act more--

[Sara]: And the children learn that’s-- They learn to look for that and it's not going to stop there, they're going to be married someday and then they're going to look for someone to jump in in that relationship.

[Kyle]: To rescue them too, yeah.

[Sara]: They're obviously going to be at work someday and look for that same thing. So, it just teaches them to always-- Either they're going to other “I'm always the person who's aggressing and hurting someone” or “I'm always the victim” and they're just looking for that dynamic, because it's what they learned in their childhood.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and so, that brings me to the question, why resolve conflict? Why is that important?

[Sara]: Yes. Because we-- Lots of reasons. I feel like my mind just goes “how are we going to cover that?”. But to be healthy and whole, because even though I sweep it under the rug, it's actually not gone.

[Sara]: It's still there and it-- And honestly, it even affects our physical health.

[Sara]: There's lots of that you can go read and we won't talk about all that, but storing stuff inside actually harms us. So, that's one reason. Obviously, there's a broken relationship that doesn't get repaired and it's just limping along as it can.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and I think it just increases-- Like, I almost think of it, Sara, of like a wound that never gets treated, you know? If you don't treat that wound, what ends up happening to it? It ends up getting, you know, like gangrene and it starts getting-- What's the word I'm thinking of? Infected, right?

[Kyle]: So, like this infection starts to happen.

[Sara]: Yeah, we just cover it up either with stamping it or with hide-- “Just don't look, just don't look”. Either way, you're covering up, you're not actually bringing the full health and repair that that relationship needs.

[Kyle]: Well, and you know, the thing I hate about it is, not resolving conflict too also takes the narrative out of my hands, you know? That when we have conflict with our kids or with our spouse and we don't go back and follow up and try to seek a resolution, it takes a life of its own, you know? All of a sudden, that conflict it's almost like a file opens up in the kid's mind and they start to believe things that may not necessarily be true about you, you know? And you never have a chance to go back and rewrite that, but--

[Sara]: Or believe things about themselves, you know?

[Kyle]: Yeah, that's a good point, yeah, and think about marriage like, a lot of times in marriage counseling, these conflicts pile up on top of each other and by the time they eventually address it, there's like 50 unresolved conflicts that now are trying to be discussed and it's very difficult, you know? So, if you can address them as they come and learn from them and grow from them. So, I think that's one that's-- The really reason is-- A really, really important reason is you don't want conflict to become something that's toxic and infected in your relationship.

[Sara]: Because it'll kill the relationship, yeah. I mean, you see and we all know, obviously divorce and fallout between parent-child relationships in they're adult years and you know, that those things don't really go away. We think we've got it tucked back in a corner, but--

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, and I think on a bigger picture, is I know you and I want to bring kids into this world who know how to resolve the conflicts of the world, because this world has a bunch of people that don't know how to resolve conflict, you know?

[Kyle]: A bunch of aggression, a bunch of yelling, a bunch of like, violence and all these kinds of-- It's like, if we could just learn how to resolve conflicts as human beings, you know? So, I want to encourage every parent to see your job even on a bigger scale, that it's-- Yes, I want to resolve conflict with my own family, but I want to bring kids into the world that can be conflict resolvers in their communities, in their workplaces, you know? In their towns and cities and states and so forth, you know? Because we need people who are not afraid of looking at conflict and yet, coming to a resolution with somebody else who disagrees with them, you know?

[Sara]: Yeah. I also think that whenever you have a conflict that's unresolved and we've just kind of shut it down in whatever way we have done that, that there's that piece of somebody that's still always hidden and they didn't get to be fully known and they didn't feel safe to do that or wasn't allowed to do that or whatever it might be and so, you-- So, the relationship is just sort of sad that somebody's hidden and tucked away, instead of being--

[Kyle]: Yeah, can’t be themselves, yeah.

[Sara]: Fully known, fully loved, fully understood with that open communication between each other and that's--

[Kyle]: No, you can feel that. Like I said, I've talked to many teenagers who will bring subjects up and when I ask, you know, are they willing to talk with this about their parent, and they say “no, I'm not willing to do that, because I don't think it's going to go well. I don't think it's going to be resolved, you know? I don't think they're going to listen”, you know?

[Kyle]: And the kid has just resigned themselves to the fact that “there's just part of me that my parents will never know”.

[Kyle]: And when I talk to the parents, they're crying in my office saying they wish they could know their kid, but they don't even realize that it's been their own reactions over time, that have brought the kid to a point to say “I don't think they can handle this”, you know?

[Kyle]: And it's gonna-- It would take a lot of work and sometimes when I've met the parents, I don't know if they can, you know? I hope they can, but I trust the kid, that the kid thinks the parent can't do it, then we're just not going to talk about that, you know’ So, we have to kind of beat around the bush around it, but we just don't feel the freedom to discuss it, you know? So, I think everybody listening to this doesn't want that kind of relationship, you know?

[Kyle]: And so, that's why it's so important to make it a goal to shift your perspective on conflict, to not be afraid of it although it can be scary, although it can be hard. I know when I've done this in my office, I've had clients shaking as they're telling about somebody, because they're so worried about the loss of the relationship. They think “everything is going to be lost if I bring this up”, you know? And my whole goal for almost a session or two is just to convince them “hey, I think we can do this, I think they can handle it”, you know? And it's been really cool. Most the time the parents can't handle it. Now, sometimes they have flipped out and it's not gone well and that's unfortunate, you know? But most the time, the kid is able to then face the conflict with the parent and the parent shows them that they can do it and it's really awesome to see how much more intimate their relationship can be, you know?

[Sara]: And that's our power as a parent, to take care of ourselves and get ourselves into healthy places, so that our children can bring their full selves to us, including all the conflicts that will be there at some point, you know?

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, and one more thing I want to say about that too, is we want conflict also, because it helps us learn more about ourselves and about each other, you know? So, it's through-- I don't know how many times the kids have revealed things to me, that I didn't even know I was conveying, you know? That they said “dad, it looked like you were saying this or you came across this way” and it was only through resolving the conflict and talking about the conflict, that I go “I didn't know I even came across that way”.

[Kyle]: “I didn't mean to send that message at all”, you know?

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah, and you're so glad you engaged the child in the conversation, because if they had just gone off and done whatever thing, you would never know that that was their takeaway.

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, yeah and then also, about the relationship we have together, is that once we resolve the conflict, can better understand and kind of fine-tune how to come communicate better in the future. I mean, so many times in our marriage, there's been ways in which I grew up dealing with conflict, that you did not grow up dealing with conflict that way. So, almost our first five years of marriage was a bunch of like, “why do you do conflict that way? Because I do it this way” and it was a bunch of learning little ways to say it in different ways. Different ways to-- You know, change-- The body language, the the facial expression, all that stuff and so, with like-- I'm thinking of a real easy one with Abby, is Abby gets tired of me telling story, after story, after story. She just “let's get down to the conflict, let's talk about, let's deal with it” and so, she thinks and lots of teenagers tell me this too is, the stories that parents tell, they lecture too long, they talk too much and so, they just get bored with the whole resolution process. So, that's why they don't want to do it and so, in that, we had to learn a new kind of dance that I need to pull back on that and try to get away from the whole lecture stuff and just do more-- Just asking questions, just listening, you know? And that's helped me be a better human, but also helped her better understand how to resolve conflict herself, you know?

[Kyle]: So, I think that's another key part, okay’ So, Sara and I when we were discussing this, we do realize that there are going to be conflicts that may just not get resolved, okay?

[Kyle]: Because just like we said, triangulation doesn't work, the two against one does not work. In order to resolve conflict, conflict's only going to be resolved when you have two people in the conflict, who are open to learning how to listen and understand each other better. So, two people have to come to the table willing and have a desire to resolve that conflict.

[Sara]: Right, right. Yeah. So, we have those conflicts with-- Let's say you're a grown adult, let's say “me if I had a conflict with my father, but I know he's not willing to talk about that, he said that or he did--”, you know, and there are some times, I have to acknowledge “okay, I'm just not going to be able to go engage that conflict with him and have a resolution”

[Sara]: Now, that doesn't mean I can't resolve it within myself, you know?

[Sara]: And this podcast is not meant to cover that, but forgiveness or getting my own healing or something like that, you know, that--

[Kyle]: Yeah, that there are ways to find resolution from within yourself, without them.

[Sara]: Yes, and still-- And heal and repair myself if I can't go and fix something with somebody else.

[Sara]: So, there are times and people say “it's not safe for me to go talk about this” and we honor that and respect that and that is entirely true. Coming back to with our children though, if our-- I think if our child isn't willing to engage something with us, that's sort of on me.

[Sara]: Now, there comes a point where they've grown and maybe you have changed and they're not willing, they don't feel like that's safe, they don't trust that, but you have a lot of power to create the space that they will engage.

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, that's great. Yeah, and so, I love how you brought that back to what we're trying to do here, is understand that, yes, outside of the family there may be unresolved conflict. You can do some work to resolve the conflict within yourself, but as we're raising little kiddos, we want to create a culture, you know? A value that conflict isn't too much for us. We can face it; we can discuss it and we need to. We need to if we're going to have the family we want, you know?

[Sara]: Well, and it's an invitation, it's not running down the hall “we're going to solve this conflict!”.

[Kyle]: That’s right, “get back over here and resolve this conflict!”.

[Sara]: Yeah, it's not like that, it's a constant invitation for your child to show up, bring their ideas, thoughts and opinions, no matter how uncomfortable and we can join together.

[Sara]: And resolve this.

[Kyle]: And I'm telling you, this is going to be one of the hardest things to invite your kids into, because your kids are going to see you mess up a lot. They're going to see conflict between mom and dad that doesn't seem to go well. They're going to see conflict between kids at school, conflict-- Like I said, they're getting a lot of messages that conflict is not something you want to address or follow. So, lots of the kids are just so busy, Sara. I mean, they're busy from the time they wake up, the time to go to sleep. Conflict takes time, you know? Conflict, like you said, it's got to happen an invitation and a space has to be created for that and a lot of times, we just stay so busy we don't ever have time to address the conflict. So, I'll ask parents, some big event will happen, they'll come to me in a session. It's something that happened a week ago, they still haven't talked about it with the kid, you know? There's been no follow-up simply because they've been so busy, you know?

[Kyle]: And it's easier to stay busy than it is to go back and then by the time you're willing to follow up, it seems like old news, you know? There’s--

[Sara]: Yeah, people do that in the relationships too, right? I mean, the kids are very in tune with that, they'll see if “oh, there was some tension there” or “oh, this mom or dad is always giving in to the other parent” or you know, the kids pick up on that. So, it's not just the yelling conflict, it's the quiet conflict as well, the passive-aggressive conflict as well. Children see all of that and if that's not getting resolved, they're learning from that.

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah. I remember Dr. Becky Bailey saying that, Sara, that she said “kids don't learn necessarily how to do conflict resolution between you and them, they watch how you do it with their other parent”, you know? Because they're thinking “this is nice how you do it with me”, even if you do it really well, but if you're not doing it well with the other adult, they're like “well, when I become an adult, that's how you're going to do it, you know? Eventually I'll become an adult and I'll yell or I'll be passive-aggressive”, whatever it is, you know? So, it's really important, I try to be really intentional what you and I both did about how are we resolving conflict with the kids-- You know, with each other while the kids are present, you know? How are we doing it? Are we just putting it under the rug? Are we addressing it in a healthy way’ Are we blowing up at each other? You know, what are we showing the kids about conflict resolution?

[Kyle]: Okay. So, a couple key like, helpful things, I think, that you could take away from this, is moving away from being a referee to being a coach. So, if you're trying to resolve conflict among kids and even this can work with a parent and a kid, is just be a coach. You're on the same team, you're not on opposing teams. So, what that looks like is, I know, Sara, you've done this before where I've been in a conflict with one of the kids and you say “hey, I have some thoughts on that, some things that--” and I’d say “okay, tell me”, right? And then, you'll throw some ideas at me and it might even be there in the midst of the conflict, but it's like you helping coach both of us, you know?

[Kyle]: Other times we've done it with our kids, you know? To where Abby and Brennan have been fighting together and we coach them through that. We don't think either one of them needs to get a card or needs to get a flag, we think both of them want to resolve the conflict, they just need help, you know?

[Sara]: Yeah. Even if it's-- Even in the case of “hey, so--” and you know, make up something that Brennan--

[Kyle]: Yeah, Brennan was obvious.

[Sara]: Yeah, Brennan hit Abby for no reason, she's just being the sweet girl and he's walked up and hit her and let's say something really obvious like, that's still a coaching opportunity.

[Sara]: That's still a “what was going on inside of you, Brennan?”. Because he didn't just walk up and hit her, something was there. Bring it to light, help him to voice that and learn the skills. So, we won't get into a whole lot of that, but I'm saying sometimes I think, you know, I hear that and I go “yeah, but sometimes this person was just really in the wrong and I need to come in and--"

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, it's real easy to team up and go “he's obviously the bad guy”. Yeah.

[Sara]: Yeah, but all of those are still coaching, because he still can learn how to work with that and voice that and then, she can still learn if someone walks up and just whacks her in the face.

[Kyle]: Yeah, how to handle that.

[Sara]: Right. “What can I do? How can I talk to him?”. But I'm pointing them to each other as a coach.

[Kyle]: Yeah, that's great. You're always pointing to. It takes two to come together and then you're coaching them through, okay?

[Kyle]: The other one I like that a lot of parents have used to try to help with this, Sara, is maybe having like a truth table, you know? A table where they can sit down with the kid and that table is just “you can say whatever you're thinking and feeling, whatever you-- And no matter what it is, I promise you I will handle it. I'm not going to blow up at you, I'm not gonna--" and so, that has lots of times switched the dance, you know? The dance that the kid isn't willing to talk about it and once the kid go “wow, I can say it and you're not gonna blow up at me? Okay, then I would love to try that”. So, I think definitely true tables--

[Sara]: Yeah, especially if you have that history of blowing up or not having the best reactions, the directions that you want to have, that's okay. So, if you're-- And it's your child that won't trust you at first, that's a great way I think to bring it to practice it. Be ready, you know? And they'll probably test the waters, they're gonna throw something out there.

[Sara]: “How are you dealing with that with, mom or dad? How are you dealing with that one?”.

[Kyle]: Yeah, “can you handle it?”.

[Sara]: And as long as you keep-- Make this a regular thing and you keep showing up and being able to handle it and talk about it, then they will start are chunking out the really deep stuff inside.

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, that's great. Okay. So, what I hope you're getting from this podcast is just to start noticing, what is your goal in conflict? Is it to make it go away? Is it to ignore it? Hope it disappears? Is it to kind of stamp it out? Or is it to learn and grow from it? So, I would encourage you just to start to notice that. When you see conflict among the siblings, when you have conflict with your spouse, are you trying to learn and grow from it? To understand yourself better and understand them better? Because I think it's not only an important opportunity, but a necessary one to have a healthy family, okay?

[Kyle]: So, thank you so much for listening today and I want to encourage you, we'd love your comments, we'd love for you to rate this podcast and please share it with friends. 2023 we hope is a big year for us. Not only with the speaking events that we're doing at churches and schools and other kind of venues, but also for the podcast to really reach so many more families, because so many families right now need help and they need support and Sara and I are doing our best to try to provide that. So, thank you for listening and being part of this community and we'd really appreciate you sharing the information.

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