Archive for siblings

Working with Family Members

As couple therapists, our training is focused on two people: a man and a woman, two women, two men, transgender couples. These are couples that have chosen to commit to a relationship. They have a history of meeting, dating, getting to know one another and (hopefully) falling in love. They come to therapy because their relationship is in trouble, and they want to understand why and how to resolve things.

So what happens when two sisters, two brothers, a mother and daughter, mother and son, father and daughter or father and son need help with their relationship?

When a client I have been working with asked if I would see him with his brother, I was in a quandary as to how I might serve them best. I decided that I would work with the issues that they wanted to address as I would with any couple. But was it as simple as that? What else did I need to consider?

I asked myself what the difference might be working with them, and what I came up with is that this ‘couple’ didn’t choose one another but were born into the same family. The other difference is that the family history is shared but not always experienced in the same.

What struck me about meeting these brothers was there was the same tension between them that ‘normal’ couples often bring into the consulting room. There was also a natural hesitance about delving into difficult feelings between them (opening the ‘can of worms’) and doubted that the other could understand them.

Mike and James grew up with a controlling and divisive mother who would keep one of them in favour and criticise the other. And then, periodically, she would switch. It felt good when they were the chosen one and both acknowledged how difficult it was to protect the other or name what was going on within the family.

By telling the story, the brothers were able to appreciate how they were caught up in a dynamic that they didn’t choose but were forced to adapt to.
As children, they had no guidance and did the best they could to manage, but it left them feeling unprotected and wounded with one another.

I worked with them for eight sessions and they started slowly to trust one another and move forward together. They consciously made a pact to protect one another when the other was out of favour and keep the communication between them open and loving. They realized that changing their mother’s behaviour wasn’t possible but they were determined to step into it, with one another, in a different more thoughtful way. After a time, they found that this made them stronger together and as a result, their relationship became closer and deeper.
Working with two people means simply learning to understand how they experience and relate to one another. Whether it is a romantic couple or siblings going through difficulties, therapy can help disentangle things between them.

Shirlee Kay

Ageing Parents – A Rite of Passage

As the joy of summer holidays start to fade and we return to our daily routines of work, school runs and family life, it struck me how many of us may be facing the challenge of ageing parents at the same time as dealing with raising and supporting children. This relatively new phenomenon is labelled the Sandwich Generation.

Coupleworks clients often say it seems as if it is something that creeps up on us – the idea that we may have to parent one or both of our parents, often due to divorce, widowhood, ill health or dementia. Whatever situation we find ourselves in, the change of roles from being cared for to being the carer to parents as well as our own children and often grandchildren brings with it a huge wave of different and sometimes unpredictable emotions.

It’s hard seeing parents becoming more frail and vulnerable when it seems like yesterday they were strong and robust and in many cases, taking care of you. Sometimes a sense of obligation and wanting to control is a way of coping with the inevitable loss of a much-loved parent. Feelings of shame are sometimes overwhelming when we express frustration and anger towards parents who are no longer able to respond in the way they used to and require so much more of our time and attention.

Coupleworks clients often express feelings of being pulled in so many directions and this can bring up lots of difficulties between a couple.
If you don’t live close by, how much time is taken up worrying about how they are coping and feeling guilty because there is not enough time to visit more often.
Are they able to manage on their own? Can they look after their own financial affairs? Are they safe enough to drive the car? Are they calling more often? Does there seem to be more accidents in the home? Do they need more advice and seem less and less independent?

How does a partner give continual support at these crucial times when it feels like there is constant competition for attention and care that is going elsewhere?

This can also be a time when our relationships with siblings can be severely tested. When old familiar roles get raised and we tend to revert to patterns of behaviour with parents from our childhoods. Does the eldest child take charge which can bring out feelings of resentment from younger siblings? Do younger siblings often feel the need to be looked after and feel excluded from parental care? How can we continue to give the care and attention to our children and grandchildren when our parents needs become more pressing and demanding?

Be aware of the knock on effects that taking on a caring role can bring. Does it mean we need to cut back on work, reduce our social lives in order to spend more quality time with parents, in some cases to make up for opportunities lost in the past?
How can we manage all these roles without feeling frustrated and resentful? After all you may have had parents who spent most of their lives caring for you and now they need that extra support, its not always easy to find that love, care and generosity when there is so much going on.

As our parents and family members are living longer, we have to find ways of looking after ourselves better too.

At Coupleworks we are often faced with helping clients work through this complex and difficult as well as rewarding time.

Here are a few tips to help manage the situation:

Don’t be afraid to ask for help – Make sure you give yourself time to find out all the help there is out there from your GP to social services, occupational therapists and carers associations.

You can’t do it all – when a crisis hits, there is a tendency to go around like a headless chicken as you try to come to terms with the changes in your family dynamic. Once the practical things are in place, try to make the time just to talk calmly about what they need right now. Its very difficult for parents to accept that they need to depend on you more, especially if that hasn’t been so for most of your relationship.

Take things slowly – baby steps. What needs to be put in place now, may need to be changed if and when the situation settles down.

Allow parents to talk about how they feel – Don’t be afraid to listen to parents’ feelings and thoughts. It may be difficult to listen to but it’s important that they are able to feel they can talk about their fears and anxieties.

Share your feelings with your partner or close friend.
Don’t feel you have to cope on your own. Reach out to those who are closest to you. Don’t shut everybody out. Often a problem shared is a problem halved.

Work together with your siblings – if you have siblings, use them for support and discuss how you can help each other to work through this tough time. If you are an only child, make sure you have friends and other family members who you can rely on to be there for you to talk things through with or ask for help

Look after yourself – try to keep doing what your were always doing. Make sure you are getting enough sleep and eating properly. You may not be able to do it with the same frequency but stopping your exercise routines, your lunches with a girlfriend and short breaks with your partner will NOT enable you to face this role reversal and cherish every moment you can with a parent while you can.
Dawn Kaffel

Silver Splitters

So much attention is directed to smoothing the jagged effects on children caught up in family separations that it can be harder to assess the effects on grown up ‘children’.
Divorce among the over 60s has tripled in the past 20 years, and the wider effects can cause substantial and often unseen ripples.
Parents matter, and they matter for longer than is often realised.
Suddenly the map of the wider family has to be redrawn, and the sons and daughters in their 30s can easily feel erased from the new systems
It can be tough to see those staid and predictable parents now attaching to new partners and becoming less available as they find links and the energy of different hopes. No longer are they just ‘there’ but now they may be engaging with an adolescent sense of fun and freedom.
As their kids grow up, these newer parental couplings become connected with to youthful optimism and their children will be excluded from this.
Sharing may have been a lifelong challenge with siblings, but with family groups shifting and reforming there may well be an unexpected group of extra family members now inextricably attached and causing refresh rivalries. What happens to the only child suddenly caught up in a stepfamily of several siblings.
Whose grandchildren will feel most favoured – what will happen to the established holiday rituals – and let’s not even begin to think of the unmentionable ‘inheritance’
These are some of the future concerns, but there is also the past. A mysterious place where assumptions are made and patterns of couples are internalised.
When parents divorce in their 60s, this will mean that children may start to question their own past. Unpicking family life and looking for clues can be a painful business. The children of later divorces may wonder if the parents ‘stayed together for the sake of the kids’.
That can feel like quite a guilt inducing burden.
Families need to engage and talk, and parents should feel free enough to look out for their own happiness but also to stay sensitive to the fact that the children may look like Grown Ups but there is a small child in us all. Happiness is Love. Let’s be careful with it.

Christina Fraser