Figure One: getting along
From Figure One, you can see there are twelve combinations: relationships/behavior, relationships/emotions, relationships/values, communication/behavior, communication/emotions, etc. Only having a dozen things to think about makes it easier for you to understand the getting along part of the family system. For example, think about you and your spouse. Now focus on your communication. With this focus, answer these questions.
How do you behave when communicating with your spouse? What do you say and do?
What emotions do you express while communicating? Are you calm, happy, angry, frustrated, indifferent?
What values do you communicate? Is your spouse important or an irritation? Is talking with your spouse a pleasure or a nuisance? Are you a worthwhile person with something important to say or hardly worth your spouse’s bother?
Follow the same process for how you relate to each other. Think about your behavior, emotions, and values. Do the same for problem solving and decision making. As you get into this activity, you will develop a clearer-and-clearer picture of how the two of you get along.
There is an additional perspective you need to develop to fully understand your family as a system. Think about the blocks in Figure One. As you know, there are at least two sides to every story. The same holds for each block in the chart. Each person has his or her point of view about what happens, about getting along.
For example, the family in the scene at the airport all experienced the behavior and attitudes described earlier. Do you think each of them saw it the same way? If you were to ask each of them to tell you what happened, what do you think they would say? If you asked each of them to tell you how they get along, what responses would you get? You can at least be sure the two-year-old would tell a different story than his parents.
Try this. Use the twelve blocks in Figure One. Take the point of view of the two-year-old. Now answer these questions.
How do my parents relate to me? What are their behavior, emotions, and values as they interact with me?
How do my parents communicate with me? What do they say and do? What emotions do they convey? How do they value me?
How do they solve problems? What do they do, how do they feel about things, and what is most important to them?
What about my parents’ decision making? How do they manage their emotions as they make decisions? What values do they use to make decisions? Who makes the family’s decisions?
How did you do? Are you getting a picture of how the family gets along from the child’s perspective? You can see how this picture is very different than the one you would get if you were to assess how they get along from the point of view of the father or mother. Each perspective needs to be given full consideration.
For the next vignette, focus your attention on relationships, communication, problem solving, and decision making. Instead of emphasizing the individuals, ask yourself how the people get along with each other. What behavior and attitudes do you see in the relationship between TJ and his step-father, between TJ and his mother, between Leroy and TJ’s mother? Where does Pam fit into the picture? How do they communicate with each other? How does the family solve problems and make decisions? Also give some thought to how all this looks from the points of view of each person. For example, how does the relationship between Leroy and TJ’s mother look from each of their points of view, from TJ’s point of view, from Pam’s?