As I start to write this, I can hear my family, downstairs, watching Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. I can hear the iconic soundtrack filtering up to where I am writing. I imagine when I simply said, “iconic soundtrack” you started hearing it in your head too. And maybe like me you notice yourself smiling with associated positive memories of this epic saga.
While doing some holiday shopping with my daughters, we found a pretty funny little sign in a local shop. In red glitter letters, it read, “hope spending time with your family for the holidays doesn’t undo all the progress you’ve made with your therapist”. We all had a good laugh (and yes, that sign made it home with me!) but seriously–family time can be the best or the worst. Sometimes it just depends on the minute.
My last blog discussed the culture we create within our relationships. If you missed this blog, feel free to check it out HERE.
Making any sort of intentional change in our relationships can be difficult to say the least. Navigating how to balance more than one individual’s emotions, opinions, experiences, etc. can be a daunting task. That being said, establishing a supportive relationship culture that works for you will make it much easier to make decisions, meet one another’s’ needs, and face problems together in the long run. (more…)
The past few weeks, I have been gearing up to teach my course about culture, families, and diversity at BYU again in the fall (hopefully in person and not just online!) Through reviewing my materials from last year and thinking about how I want to teach going forward, I have been thinking a lot about the idea of culture.
What is culture? We’ve heard about it and talked about it throughout our lives, but what does it really mean? Culture can be succinctly defined as the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, roles, etc. acquired by a group of people (Samovar & Porter, 1994). Another way to describe culture is simple: culture is the way people do things.
There are several different types of culture. For example, in the business world, companies and organizations often talk about creating a culture for the employees and consumers. Ethnic groups from around the world have distinct cultures that govern their ways of life. In difficult times, we often turn to our culture, whether it be religious, ethnic, corporate, etc., as a way to cope. Leaning on cultural values and ways of living give individuals direction and comfort in uncertainty. For example, a company may lean on its cultural values when faced with a global pandemic as they decide whether to lay workers off or cut pay. A family might lean on their religious culture as they lose a loved one. When faced with oppression or discrimination, an ethnic group may lean on their ethnic culture as a way to make sense of their pain and gain strength.
The same way various types of culture can provide coping during difficult times, the culture of our relationships and families can do the same. In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown suggests 10 questions that really help us understand culture. As you read through them, think about your family and relationship culture. How do these questions help guide your understanding of your own family and relationship culture? How does your culture help or hinder your individual coping?
- What behaviors are rewarded? Punished?
- Where and how are people actually spending their resources (time, money, attention)?
- What rules and expectations are followed, enforced, and ignored?
- Do people feel safe and supported talking about how they feel and asking for what they need?
- What are the sacred cows? Who is most likely to tip them? Who stands the cows back up?
- What stories are legend and what values do they convey?
- What happens when someone fails, disappoints, or makes a mistake?
- How is vulnerability (uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure) perceived?
- How prevalent are shame and blame and how are they showing up?
- What’s the collective tolerance for discomfort? Is the discomfort of learning, trying new things, and giving and receiving feedback normalized, or is there a high premium put on comfort (and how does that look)?
As a marriage and family therapist, I frequently get asked questions about challenges that may arise in marital relationships. A few common questions that I hear are, “What if my partner goes back to compulsively viewing pornography?” “What if my partner slips back into eating disorder behaviors?” “What if my partner’s anxiety becomes unmanageable again?” These are painful and difficult questions that can invoke a lot of fear and anxiety in those asking them. The unknown, especially in a relationship, can feel threatening and scary. Instead of giving a protocol, a solution, or advice, I typically like to reflect my client’s question back to them. What if that does happen? What will you do? How will you handle it together? In what ways are you building your relationship now to be able to deal with the difficulties that will come later on?
Here’s where the idea of relationship culture really becomes important. It’s not so much about what to do in each scenario, but how your relationship tolerates difficulty. When those difficulties come, are you open and honest with one another? What boundaries are set in place about what is appropriate to share outside of a marital or familial relationship? How do you handle emotional disclosures in your relationship?
As a marriage and family therapist I have seen ways in which relationship cultures lift heavy burdens off of the shoulders of individuals, heal broken hearts and wounded minds, and allows individuals to be the most authentic versions of themselves and loved for it. On the other hand, I have seen the culture of relationships inflict pain, multiply shame, and stunt individual growth and vulnerability. The culture of our relationships impacts all individuals involved in those relationships and is vital to consistently work on.
Relationship Culture is Important…Now What?
Now that we’ve discussed relationship culture and why it is important, you may be wondering how to build a healthy, open, and resilient relationship culture within your marriages and families. I think the first step is to get honest with yourself about what your relationship culture really looks like, perhaps by asking yourself the ten questions listed above. As you do so, think about the following: what do you like about the culture of your relationships? What’s not working for you? What have you observed in other relationship cultures that you’ve been a part of that you admired? That hurt you? Next month I will dive into more practical ways to build up a healthy, supportive relationship culture in your marriages and families.
Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York: Gotham Books, 2012.
Samovar, Larry A and Porter, Richard E.,1994: Basic Principles of Intercultural Communication. In Larry A. Samovar and Richard E. Porter: Intercultural Communication: A Reader, 7th ed., Wadsworth, Inc., CA:USA.
We are memory collectors. Memories shape the narratives of our lives. They shape our understanding of ourselves, others, and the world. Memories contain stories as well as the full range of emotional experience. Memories hold our humanity. (more…)
In last month’s blog I examined the idea that resilience was something that could be cultivated, and mentioned that we would be taking a deep dive into six specific skills we can build in order to increase our resilience. (more…)
It feels surreal, what we are experiencing in the US with the Coronavirus. It’s scary and unlike anything most of us have ever gone through in our entire lives. (more…)
I am the youngest in my family by 12 years. You read that right, my sisters were 18 and 16 and my brother was 12 when I was born. Because of the large age gap, my brother and I haven’t necessarily had the typical sibling relationship. I’m not the best at keeping in touch with him by phone but we make time to see each other 3-4 times per year. I spent about a week with him over holidays and loved our time together talking, playing games, and cooking. My brother and I both really love cooking and trying out new recipes. The other day I got a text from him with a recipe for shrimp and grits (YUM). I quickly replied, “Yum! We’ll have to try it out. Thanks!” As I began to move onto other things, I thought about it for a second. Why did my brother send me the recipe? He could have sent it to me for a few reasons. 1. To show off his cooking skills and refined palette 2. Because he knows I like cooking and trying new things 3. To connect with me. Now, I haven’t talked with him to confirm my theory, but I’m guessing it was a mix of all three. My quick response to his text message would have allowed me to miss out on connecting with him more fully. Instead, I decided to call him, which is pretty unusual for me to do. We talked on the phone for his entire 1-hour commute home. I hung up feeling rejuvenated and grateful to be related to such a good human. (more…)