Someone comes to you and begins to complain of a terrible relationship that they have with someone in their family, or better yet, with their entire family!
“My mom and I just don’t get along, it’s been like this for years. She’ll never change.”
“Me and my sister are always going at it, and I can’t take it anymore! What should I do?”
And so on.
After providing them with a space to talk and feel understood, try these tips:
- Try to get them to role-play an actual argument that occurs, so they can feel what it’s like to be on the other side, and so that they can hear themselves.
- Gently get them to assume responsibility for any of the friction in the relationship. Don’t fall for the “it’s not my fault” bit. Remember that the counselor always receives a biased and one-sided account. Encourage them to be un-biased and to assume some responsbility, even if it is just a little.
- Ask them if it is important for them to improve the relationship, and if it is, ask them if there is anything about themselves that they can change in order to improve it. They will probably respond with a reasonable course of action they can take like “Maybe I can do the dishes more often.” Work with them to make the plan more specific and very do-able. This includes any possible hurdles that may come in the way and solutions for those possible hurdles.
“Is there a possible outcome that you’re afraid of, something that would happen as a result of you starting to do the dishes more often?”
“Yeah, she’s going to think she won.”
Now you have something to work with.
A possible way to respond: “What does it mean to you to “win?”
Sometimes it helps for them to just hear themselves answer these questions.
- Final tip: Point out to yourself, and then to them, any patterns that you notice in the troubled relationships. Then inform them that if they can alter certain things about themselves and their own interactions, that relationship can change and in fact, the entire dynamics of the family can change. Every family has a set of unspoken rules. There are so many of them that sometimes we don’t even realize they’re there. Some of these rules need to be broken, so that those harmful patterns can be broken. [An interesting side point: Many times we see an entire nuclear family take a 180 degree turn in a matter of years, and all it took was for one person in that family to be guided and to turn towards the deen. This person then begins to break many different unspoken (and harmful) rules, has excellent manners in a house that is not used to such manners, is sincere, consistent and steadfast, and eventually everyone’s heart is turned, walhamdulillah.]
[Some ideas taken from] Reference: The Gift of Therapy by Irvin D. Yalom; published 2002