In Blended Families there are many logistical situations which are less about logistics and more about emotion. This creates a multitude of communication problems. Learning to deal with logistics separately from the meanings and emotions underneath logistical situations will go a long way in smoothing communication and blending your family life.
What’s the difference between talking about logistics and talking about the meaning behind? Picture this: if two people are talking just about logistics (who, what, when, where) then there is usually a good shot at solving the problem without much complication. However, when one person is talking logistics and another person is talking about what the different parts of the logistical situation mean to them (or how a person feels about the situation) then the communication gets mixed-up. The person on the logistical stand-point gets confused because they are expecting a simple solution and the person talking about the meaning isn’t focused on solving anything, but rather on having their feelings understood. Communication misses.
When this happens, issues like where to spend holidays, how to celebrate a child’s birthday or how to spend your summer vacations become enormously difficult to solve because of all the logistics and the varying feelings attached by each person involved in the who, what, where, and when. For example, you ask your partner if they want to attend your daughter’s volleyball game. Simple yes or no, right?
However, if there is an ex-spouse involved or your friends have taken sides in whether they like your new spouse (or you anymore) – then deciding to go to a volleyball game becomes much more complicated. Who will be there? Will your ex or your friends treat your new spouse well or will they make snide comments to your spouse when you’re not around to hear? If things go awry how will each of you handle it? Will you shelter your spouse and believe their word or will you believe your friends’ words because you’ve known them longer? All of these things and more can add to the emotions running under making a simple logistical decision, especially when you’re first beginning to blend your family.
While I can’t help solve your individual Blended Family dilemmas I can help simplify your communication so there is a better chance of finding an answer more easily with less frustration and confusion.
The solution? Separate the logistics from the emotion and have separate conversations for each. This is much easier said than done. It includes being aware of your feelings, your partners’ feelings and tracking what you’re talking about as well as if either of you have veered from the original issue. How do you know when emotion is in the mix?
If you find yourself trying to solve something you felt would be simple and it starts becoming more complicated in a way that’s difficult to pinpoint, then there is a good chance you’re mixing logistics and emotion in conversation. When this happens, take a breath and try to look at the problem from your partners’ point of view and make guesses at what they might be feeling. (To avoid escalating the emotion it’s best to make sincere and kind guesses while leaving any potential “jokes” or snide tones-of-voice out of the conversation). Start with curiosity. “It seems like you’re upset/worried/scared/mad about something? If so, I’d like to hear about it.” An offer to listen is a good pathway to open communication and your quickest route to a solution.
At this point, the conversation has veered from logistical to emotional and to get back to the logistics you’ll need to first deal with the emotions: validation, empathy and reassurance go a long way in making a person feel heard. Once your partner feels heard then they’re able to refocus on the logistical situation you originally brought up (this trick also works visa versa for emotional conversations, but that’s a separate blog).
So the next time your find yourself having difficulty solving something that “should be simple” take a step back and try to separate what you’re talking about from the feelings your topic brings up and deal with one or the other – but not both at the same time. Blend your family, not your communication.