Blundering brat or emotional Einstein? The choice is yours

Q: I’m a happy person and in general have good relationships with people. However, there are a few I’m not happy with. The most painful is with my son, who takes forever to reply to my phone calls and emails, and seems to put me at the bottom of his to-do list. We get on well when we see each other but I feel he makes little effort unless he wants a favour, like having his children to stay. Should I just bite my tongue and keep the peace?
Most relationships can be transformed, says Rev Dr Lesly Uys
(therapeutic and pastoral counsellor, Cape Town)

A (by counsellor Dr Lesly Uys): Most of us have one or two relationships which could do with a little spring cleaning. In some situations which don’t affect you much emotionally, it can be wise just to bite your tongue. However, the trouble with keeping the peace and doing nothing is that it always comes out sideways, like the guy who’s unfairly criticised by his boss, comes home and takes it out on his wife.

Given the right tools, most of us are capable of tweaking a relationship for the better. We need first to admit to our own feelings, then control them and motivate ourselves to do something to improve the situation.

Improving your emotional intelligence (EQ) can help. If you can let go of old behaviour and thinking patterns, you can significantly improve your relationships. SELF-KNOWLEDGE IS VITAL FOR HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS! Do you really know what’s important to you and where you yourself are acting in a less-than-perfect manner? Try these three steps to self-knowledge

Three ways to kickstart your EQ

  1. Remember you always have a choice of how to be in a relationship, and your relationships reflect those choices. Ask yourself: are my relationships giving me satisfaction? If not, what can I start to work on?
  1. Be prepared for the fact that learning and growing in emotional stature is a lifelong process. The more you learn about yourself and life, the more you’ll realise how little you know. If you’re elderly, don’t use this as an excuse! It’s never too late to improve things, and this is probably the most important time to restore relationships
  1. Take time out to think, feel and learn from past experiences. Listen to your inner wisdom and take a good, hard look at your motives and behaviour. Why isn’t your son contacting you? Are you no fun? Could you be making him feel he is never good/attentive enough for you? Do you talk at him about your life rather than asking him about himself, and ideally delving deeper into how he feels about his job/ troublesome teens/divorce? If so, do something about the way you are with him. If he’s just plain selfish and behaves like this with the whole family, he needs a gentle wake-up call!

Doing it the ‘I feel’ way

Now that you’re a little clearer about your own behaviour and what your goal is, you’re ready to ask for what you want! When you’re ready, follow this dialogue pattern and ask for what you want in a calm and centred way. This ‘I feel’ model is a great tool for dealing with possible conflict situations and helping you respond effectively and assertively, but not aggressively:

  • I feel ________angry, hurt, frustrated, lonely, let down, irritated, etc
  • When you _____drink, shut me out, interrupt me, don’t listen to me, etc
  • Because _______we don’t communicate, I’m left out, you don’t respond to my calls, etc
  • I would like it if _________ we listened to each other, you gave me a chance to explain, you changed your behaviour

The ‘I feel’ model works for many situations. To the mother hurting because her son hardly contacts her, I would suggest finding a quiet spot to say the following, maybe over a cup of tea!

‘Pete, I would like to chat to you about something that’s been bugging me lately.

  • I feel… frustrated and hurt
  • When you… take so long to respond to my emails and phone calls
  • Because… I know you check your emails daily and it hurts when you don’t call back
  • In future… please could you let me know what’s going on, and maybe even take the initiative to make contact from time to time?

If Pete responds negatively, stay calm and say something like: ‘Pete, I just wanted to let you know how I feel.’ If you can stay unaggressive and unemotional, the chances are that your request will filter through and affect his behaviour over time. If things do escalate into a row, just calmly repeat yourself and say: ‘Pete, I just wanted to let you know how I feel. Perhaps we can both think about it some more and discuss it when we’re feeling more relaxed.’

Don’t forget to apologise if you overstep the mark in the heat of the moment.


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