Healing Family Relationships

Competing Spouses

When the Dolans, a Christian couple, came to see me, they had not spoken to each other for several weeks. The tension had become unbearable.

The issue was over dancing in gym class. Hal Dolan had said flatly that their son should not participate.

Melissa Dolan had agreed in front of her husband, but privately gave their son permission to participate. Hal found out about it through a conversation with a neighbor who had visited the gym class.

That night at dinner Mr. Dolan asked his son Dave, “What do you do during gym class?”

”I study in the library” he lied. Then Mr. Dolan told them what he had heard. There was a bitter fight that night. Hal ordered Dave to obey him. Dave refused. His mother backed Dave.

Mr. Dolan threatened to leave and Melissa told him to go. His bluff was called. He didn’t leave, but they hadn’t spoken since.

It was impossible to talk to them together. One contradicted the other. After many sessions, it became clear that this incident was only the last straw. Across the years they had clashed over many issues.

The Dolans were competitors, opponents. I referred them to a Biblical principle: “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

This was inconceivable to them. Even though they went to church regularly they never really took the Bible seriously, and they seldom consulted it. Mr. Dolan perceived his role as head of the house to mean that he should give the orders without consulting his wife. To consider her opinion meant that he was weak. To her, it was important that she stick up for her rights, or she would lose her identity.

”What you are really saying,” I told them separately, “is that you must have your own way.” Both had the personal problem of selfishness. The issue over folk dancing only brought their problem to a head.

After many counseling sessions together, there was finally a confession to the Lord of selfishness and a plea to Him for help in getting on the same team. With a new spirit of oneness between them, the Dolans are now working out a mutually agreeable and satisfactory life together.


A Divided House

“Oh no, not another family fight,” groaned 16-year-old Carole, and she fled to her room in tears.

Carole had asked her mother if she might go roller skating with the church youth group, and Mom had replied, “No. You were at Bible Study last night and you studied late the night before.”

Just then Dad had come in and urged, “Let her go. She’s young only once.”

“But Carole needs her rest,” Mom insisted. Then the seesaw argument began, and both her mother and father were soon angry.

“Forget the whole thing,” Carole cried as she left them. There had been a family quarrel every day that week.

Carole was caught in the vortex of two swirling forces: her controlling mother and her strong-willed father. They bickered and squabbled over trifles and over real problems until Carole’s head and heart spun with confusion and revolt. The troubled parents finally brought her to me to discover “her” trouble.

“Talk of a mixed-up kid!” Carole wailed as she told her story. “Mom and I go shopping and I always wind up getting the clothes she picks out. I’m ungrateful if I disagree.”

When her mother suggests they whip up a cake together, Carole shudders. Either she selects the wrong pan or doesn’t mix the batter right. She may tense up and drop something; Mom gets disgusted and finishes the job, and both pout for the rest of the day. When Dad comes home, he interrogates them, and then gives them a lecture.

Carole’s father makes a good salary, and she has a generous allowance. Active at church, the parents are considered models. But Carole says they’re hypocrites. The moment they get in the car for home, Mom tells Dad how to drive or that he slept during the sermon, and he responds with a hot retort.

Like a number of church “pillars” Carole’s parents were suffering from spiritual termites that were destroying their inner being.

Carole was plainly up against a situation she could not change. She couldn’t possibly be obedient to her parents when they gave opposite directions. And she couldn’t escape their constant bickering. But, I suggested, she could do some things.

When working with her mother, she could try harder to do it Mom’s way. She could accept her mother’s choices. She could realize that her parents’ quarrels were not her problem.

And there was something else. We turned to 2 Corinthians 1:2-5, and as we read we underlined these words: grace, peace, mercies, comfort, and consolation. These, Carole saw, were the blessings God was ready to give “in all our tribulation.” She tried it, and it worked.

Sometimes she forgets and pities herself. But as she repeatedly yields herself to God, she is learning to live with something she cannot change.


Everyone Wanting Their Own Way

Jon was 14, a handsome, tough young man. A likable guy, he noticed the pictures on the wall of my office and asked what it took to graduate from the college I’d attended. Someday he wanted to be a professional man, he said. I found out that he liked sports, reading, and church, and had lots of friends.

But when it came to talking about his folks, his eyes became slits, his lips pressed into a line, and his voice raised a couple of levels as he shrilled, “I hate them!”’

Jon’s parents had visited me earlier. They were concerned because there was constant friction between them and Jon. When he cleaned his room, he never did a thorough job. If they asked him to cut the grass, it would take four days. The previous Sunday, he had refused to wear his best pants to church, and instead he wore jeans.

Jon’s insubordination made his parents furious, they admitted. Jon got furious in return, and usually he wouldn’t do what he was told until they threatened to punish him.

“Why do you hate your folks?”’ I asked Jon.

He seemed to know the reason very well.

“’They want me to jump whenever they say. If I go out and come in five minutes late, one of them is waiting with an angry sermon. I’m not supposed to fight with my brother, but they fight with each other. Dad works late a lot and never lets Mom know. She gets mad and we eat without him.

“’Dad throws his clothes around, and Mom picks up after him, but she makes me hang up my clothes. The back door needed the handle fixed all summer, and Dad hasn’t fixed it yet. But I’m supposed to do everything right now. My mom will sometimes tell me I can go out, and Dad comes home and tells me I can’t.”

If Jon’s story was true, it was a picture of each one in the family for himself. Mom wanted her way, Dad his, and Jon his. Jon got jumped on constantly for following the same pattern as his folks followed.

When I told Jon’s parents about his explanation of the home situation, they were furious and embarrassed. Eventually, they came around to recognizing it as the truth.

What was needed in this family is described beautifully in Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Jon’s folks began to see their problem as a family civil war–with each side wanting to win. The parents proceeded, repentantly, to straighten out the disagreements between themselves, asking God to give them a loving spirit toward each other. They are on the road to a solution, but Jon may be as bad off as ever.

“I’ll change if they do,” he says stubbornly. He still needs to apply Colossians 3:13 to his own life. And his hate is a sin before God. With God’s standard and his parents’ good example before him, Jon has no excuse whatsoever; but he needs to make the decision himself.


Damaging Comparisons

Sisters Kendra and Connie Evans were much alike, except that Kendra was an “ugly duckling” in comparison with her blonde, blue-eyed, younger sister. The difference had been repeatedly noted even in childhood.

”What a perfectly beautiful child!” strangers had exclaimed over Connie. And through the years, Mrs. Evans never tired of hearing this praise for her younger daughter.

”Connie is a pretty child,” she would reply. ”It’s just too bad that her sister couldn’t have shared her good fortune.” Kendra was just as intelligent as Connie, but Connie brought home nearly perfect report cards. In junior high school and in the church youth group she was elected an officer year after year. In high school, she became homecoming queen.

At 16, Kendra suddenly became the center of attention–when she became a serious problem.

“Why don’t you get out and make friends?” her annoyed mother asked. “If you’d only show a little of Connie’s gumption …”

Teachers asked why a girl as capable as Kendra failed to show more initiative “like her sister.”

The comparisons burned Kendra. Through tears of defeat she saw no use of trying when the competition was so strong. She gave up and withdrew into a shell.

Mrs. Evans showed great disgust. The more disgusted she became, the more angry and withdrawn Kendra became. Finally she was brought to me as ”a problem child.”

Probing, I discovered that the girls’ father had been too busy to enter into the family’s life and their upbringing had fallen to Mrs. Evans. In his rise in the business world, Mr. Evans had neglected even his wife. She in turn had tried to get satisfaction from two superior daughters, and while Connie had brought her recognition, Kendra had caused her distress and shame. Thus she was quick to praise one and criticize the other.

Mrs. Evans was able to see and admit her error. She needed to see her daughters’ needs, not use her daughters to meet her own needs. Would Kendra accept the truth that God’s commendation, not humans’, is important, as is stated in 2 Corinthians 10:18 “For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends”?

Kendra came to see her own responsibility and came out of her self-exile. Daughter and parent got on with new understanding. Though Kendra didn’t have the beauty of her sister, her spirit became lustrous, and there was no keeping it from showing through to the outside.

Awesome hints from Oviation

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