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“Messed up” or severely conflicted relationships are among the most common difficulties confronting everyone in his day-to-day life.  Teenagers may find it difficult or impossible to get along with their parents.  Husbands and wives may find that they are always fighting, or even worse they may find that they have nothing to say to each other.  Parents may gradually discover or be bowled over by the realization that they can no longer communicate with their children.  Friends may drift apart and lose that special feeling for each other, although they may still continue to see each other almost every day.  Neighbors may fight, co-workers may not speak to one another, and everyone is uptight.  Interpersonal conflict and tension are problems for all of us in varying degrees—maybe only a little bit once in a while or maybe a lot all of the time, perhaps with only one or two people or perhaps with most people.  However often and with however many people, our relationships get messed up.  Yours do.  Mine do.  It is a problem for everyone.

Eileen, age eight, talks about her seven-year-old brother.  You ask, “How do you feel about your brother?”  “Ecch! I can’t stand him.  We always fight.  He’s always into my stuff and won’t stay out of my stuff.  Things are fine when he’s not there.  He comes around and everything gets awful.  When he comes in, I just get up and leave.  I don’t want him to touch me or get close to me or be around at all.  [You ask: is it always that way?  Aren’t there some times when the two of you play and have a good time?  Eileen starts to cry.]  He’s always fighting with me.  I wish they’d take him away.  I don’t want to have a brother.  [You say to Eileen’s mother: it sounds like Eileen is pretty upset about things with her brother.  Do you agree that it’s always bad?]  Yes, I think she really hates him.  [You ask: How does he feel about her?]  There’s no love lost.  It seems like he can’t stand her either.  [You ask Eileen: How do you think your brother feels about you?]  I don’t care.  I hate him.  He hates me too.  I wish they would take him away.”

Jane, age fourteen, is talking about her relationships at school.  You ask, “How do you get along with the other kids at school?”  “I don’t know.  I don’t think they like me.  [You ask: What kinds of things make you feel that way?]  I don’t know.  They can be laughing and joking around, and when I walk up, everybody stops talking.  Sometimes when I’m walking down the hall, other kids will be talking by their lockers or something and look over at me and start laughing. [You ask: Is it that way with all of the kids?]  It seems that way.  I don’t know why they don’t like me, but I sure don’t think they do.  [You ask: Do you try to make friends with the other kids?]  I want to, but it’s hard.  I can never think of anything to say.  I just stand there and get nervous.  My stomach starts tying all up in knots, and I get scared.  [You ask: Do the other kids notice this?]  I don’t think so.  I don’t think they pay any attention to me except to make fun or laugh or something.  [You ask: How do you get along with the teachers and the other adults at school?]  I get along fine with hem.  I’m just the kind of person they really love.  I don’t make any noise or get into trouble.  I do my work and always get good grades.  They really like that.  Sometimes they want me to answer a question or ask me something in class, and I get embarrassed or afraid to talk.  I think maybe the other kids will think I’m a showoff or something. [You ask: Do you say Hi to the other kids or try to strike up a relationship with them?]  No.  I don’t say anything to them.  Sometimes they look at me, and I just look back and get nervous.”

Karen is nineteen and works as a secretary in an office.  You ask, “How do you like your job?”  “I like the work, but can’t stand those people I have to work with.  They’re all such big gossips and are always talking about one another.  [You ask: Oh, do they gossip a lot?]  That’s all they do, and they have so much room to talk.  This one girl I work with doesn’t know anything about the job and never does any work.  She just stays there by putting up to the boss.  [You ask: Putting up to the boss?]  Yes.  You know.  She twists her neck back and smiles at him and gives him that look.  She just builds up his ego, I guess.  He walks away, and then she starts talking about him, saying how stupid he is and how he doesn’t know his job, and just really puts him down.  If there is anything I can’t stand, it’s someone who is two-faced.  All of them there are like that—two-faced.  The first day I was there I told one of them about some trouble I was having—some really personal stuff.  She couldn’t wait to tell the other girls about it and have a really good laugh.  I’m going to get something on her and tell everyone.”

Mr. and Mrs. O are talking with you about their marital difficulties.  Mr. O says: I as talking with some of our friends, and they said you might be able to help us.  I don’t know what’s wrong.  I guess we just can’t communicate.  Mrs. O says: You know what’s wrong.  I’ve tried to tell you enough.  He just won’t listen.  You just don’t care.  Mr. O says: Now, honey, you know that isn’t true.  You know I really love you.  You know I’d—— Mrs. O: You don’t know what love means.  I really don’t think you are capable of loving anyone.  Mr. O: Now, honey, don’t get upset.  We’re here to talk about this.  We really need—— Mrs. O sarcastically: Now, honey; now, honey; now honey; don’t now honey me.  You act so sweet and nice and like you’re so interested and concerned.  You ask: Do you two hassle like this all the time?  Mrs. O: This is mild.  You should be there when we really get into it.  Mr. O: That’s true.  You can see how she is.  She’s always that way.  She won’t —— Mrs. O: That’s it! I knew you’d do it.  You want everyone to think it’s all my fault.  You just want to blame.  Mr. O: What do you mean I want everyone to think it’s your fault?  If you’d quit whining and stop acting like a spoiled little brat, everything would be fine.  It isn’t any wonder I don’t pay any attention to you.  Mrs. O: That’s the only way you think of to solve anything, just yell, and if that doesn’t work, beat it out of them.  You just better never try.  You ask: Do your discussions usually end up in fights like this?  Mr. O: Usually.  Mrs. O: Yes.  That’s the way it usually goes.  You ask: Are there ever any good times?  Mr. and Mrs. O glance at each other and flash a playful grin between themselves.  You say: That looks like a good feeling between the two of you.  Mrs. O: I love him.  I have no idea why, but I do.  Mr. O: you know why.  It’s because it’s really good sometimes.  Mrs. O: It doesn’t make sense.  It’s so good one minute and so bad the next.  I’m really scared that the bad times are getting more than the good times, though.  Mr. O: That’s why we’re here.

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