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The Stress level In Here Is Stifling Everyone!

by Paul
(Quebec, Canada)

I thought I would start with background, and get to the question. When I met my wife, she was still with but separated from her husband. This was in Asia, and she is a native Asian (as are our two older children, whom I have adopted).

She is a mix of the old-school Asian (disciplined, methodical, etc.) and Western (strong, funny, independent), which was part of the appeal - not subservient, as many women from there are.

Her previous marriage was terrible, he was a real jerk. The kids did not even know him, he spent all of his time at work or locked in his own room. The younger of the two has no recollection of him.

My wife does take medication daily, as she had part of her thyroid removed. I believe the medication does help to keep her balanced, at least it is meant to. It does have side affects though, as she does get tired easily, which you will see is part of what I believe the problem to be.

We now have a 3rd child, all 3 are daughters - 11, 6 and 18 months. I am no saint, and I have certainly said and done things that were not kosher, to say the least. But I also always be sure to apologize, and work hard to do better. And for my transgressions, forgivness is not an option. I have never cheated, and I love my wife dearly. There is nothing that I have done that is unforgivable.

My wife, and please understand that I am not blaming her, she would have her own side, but she is not perfect either, and yet she also never apologizes. She has a very short temper, and is quick to raise her voice and is not one to go speak to the children after she has done so to explain herself.

Over the past several months, things have really started to take a dive here. There are almost daily fights, and both of the older children talk back without hesitation, though they would not do it at school or anywhere else.

I know that for the most part, my wife and I have to make efforts to change our approach. Here I am writing to you, while my wife thinks I am wasting my time researching this on the internet.

My question is: How can I get my wife to see that our children are not beyond help, and that we have to come together and parent in a positive way? My family is the most important thing to me, and I am ready to at least make every effort to change my ways. But if I try and my wife stays in her old ways, how can we turn things around? It takes effort, and I know she is often just too tired to even speak about stuff (thyroid issue, medication).

This may not even be a question you are planning to answer, but as a parent trying to rebuild his family, I am turning to you for help!

Comments for The Stress level In Here Is Stifling Everyone!

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Family Stress - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hello Paul - Of course I will answer your question, I answer every question - whilst every family has their own personal struggles, there is always a lot of value for other parents in reading about how other families cope, and get new ideas and inspiration for their own family. You may also get feedback from other parents too which is always helpful to consider.

Boy, does your stress come through loud and clear! My heart goes out to you. Relationships are the thing that pushes our buttons the most, and your relationship has some additional stresses that make your challenge a wee bit harder!

I don't know how long you have been together, but certainly you have had a major change over the last two years with a new addition to your family, plus you have the added complications of two adopted children, PLUS you have a mixed cultural marriage, and you ALSO have a wife with a medical condition.

Those stresses on their own are enough but grouped together it is no wonder you are buckling.

I'll get back to some of those issues in a moment, but firstly, I'll touch on the question part. Of course your children are not beyond help. In fact they are showing you loud and clear there is some major disharmony in the family and

I would be pretty sure 90% of their behavior is a reflection of what they are seeing going on with you and your wife. Kids are the barometer in any family, it is NEVER just about their behavior. A
child that is acting up is highlighting other issues, they never just behave badly for the sake of it. A family is an interactive unit, and if Mom and Dad are struggling, you can guarantee the kids will feel the impact of that and will react one way or another.

These two older girls have been though some major changes in their life so of course they will also have their own issues that will be contributing to their behavior. They may well have unconscious issues around not having a relationship with their birth father. Although you didn't say, they may have had to adjust to moving countries, they certainly have had to adjust to their parents divorcing, even if the reality was they had little to do with their birth father.

They may well be frightened that seeing you and their Mom fight, that maybe they are going to loose the person that has been far more of a father to them. They may even be trying to deflect both you and your wife's frustration onto themselves to try to "protect" your relationship. All of this is unconscious of course. Whatever is going on with them, they are telling you loud and clear - as are you - this family is under stress, and we are not happy.

Part Two Follows . . .

Family Stress - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

Ideally yes, I would recommend you and your wife both work together to develop strategies communication processes, ground rules and that you get on the same page with discipline. I would recommend you try to get some counseling together or family counseling if your wife will agree, so you have a neutral person to make some suggestions, and help you both to explore the issues and get some understandings about your differences.

But you can't change anyone, and partners never take it very well when we tell them what to do even at times when we might be right - in fact that makes it worse! Maybe you can make a time to talk with her when she is less likely to be so exhausted, perhaps in the morning one weekend, and calmly say you are really concerned, that you value this family and you want to find ways to make it work, and that you want to learn to work together as a team. And see if she will agree to you both going to get some help.

However, counseling may be something that would be very alien to her culturally. Most Asian families rely on elders for advice and often have a wide extended family. I am wondering what kind of family support you both have, particularly when she is so exhausted?

Your wife's thyroid issue, may well be a contributing factor, but in some ways it is also a red herring. Of course you understand it will be contributing to her energy levels and possibly her ability to control her emotional reactions, but the bottom line is, no matter what difficulties there are in a family, the main thing is to find strategies for managing them so the family can thrive.

And that goes for you both. If you both are running on empty, tired, stressed and not particularly loving to each other, then the relationship is getting more and more depleted. You can think of it like a bank - if we keep on making withdrawals and don't put anything in, then the balance quickly gets in the red. And then the debt compounds (much like the state of the economy!!)

We create debts/withdrawals in our relationships in lots of ways:

  • by being unkind,

  • by not being available,

  • by saying hurtful things,

  • by criticizing,

  • by switching off,

  • by not showing respect,

  • by not listening,

  • by withholding affection

  • and by arguing a lot of the time (but respectful discussions and different points of view is not destructive arguing).

The same also applies to our relationships with our kids. If your children are seeing a lot of the above between you and your wife, then there is absolutely no way you can expect them to be respectful, to listen to you, to pay attention, to do what you say.

Part Three Follows . . .

Family Stress - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

Everything you and your wife are doing is acting as a model for your kids. They are learning far more from what you do, how you behave, and how they react and feel about that, than they will ever learn from a lecture or a disciplinary talk - let alone a punishment.

Kids need to see respect being modeled by seeing Mom and Dad respect each other, and by Mom and Dad respecting the kids too. They need to learn
how to sort out conflicts, how people resolve differences. The world is full of differences and conflicts. The more we can teach our kids to find solutions instead of staying stuck in our reactions and hurt feelings, then the better our
little world will be.

I do hope you and your wife can work together in some ways. I suspect there are a lot of cultural differences and expectations that have not been aired, and that you may not even be consciously aware of. That is the value of counseling, is the counselor can help you to explore some of the underlying and even unconscious stuff that is what actually drives us. Sometimes we behave in ways to test or push the other person to respond in ways we would like. Of course more often than not that backfires!

I think it would help a lot of you both un-packaged a bit of your expectations of
family life - and married life. Share what your parents were like in how they related and parented. The odds are you are doing a lot of things quite similarly, and the odds are there are some cultural differences there that you
may not be aware of.

You did mention about the Asian stereotypical woman as being subservient. I am not sure what Asian culture your wife is from, but there is also many Asian cultures, where the wife rules the home, controls the money, and calls the shots in terms of family decisions. There are also many Asian cultures that expects the Man to do the disciplining and to step in and put his foot down. If there are any underlying beliefs or expectations or even having grown up in a home like this, then that has a major impact on how you are relating to each other.

So there are lots of areas you probably need to be talking about when you both have the energy. Arguing actually uses up a lot of energy, so shifting away from that will free up some that might be able to be used more productively.

Part Four Follows . . .

Family Stress - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

I'll concentrate on what you personally can do, if you wife reads this and chooses to take part that would be wonderful, but you can only take responsibility for you, and you can only change you. But I promise you if you commit to cleaning up your part in this, it will make a huge difference.

When one person changes their patterns of relating and tries some things differently, it has a major impact on the family anyway.

The first thing you both need to do, is take care of number one. If you are running on empty then you have nothing much to give anyone. And it sounds like you are both totally depleted. So find things that nourish you, that re-charge you that help you to feel good about you. It is not your wife's job to do that, although of course as a partner, we can assist our loved ones to do the things that re-charge them. Nor is it your job to fix things up for her. In her case she might need a nap each day to be able to cope - but that is just a guess, her needs could be something completely different.

What can you do that helps you to burn off some of that stress and feel good in yourself? Exercise is a great way to stomp out anger, it releases feel good endorphins and feeling fitter also helps us feel good in our bodies. Make sure you are not going overboard with caffeine or alcohol - both of which have a negative impact on stress, and both contribute towards poor communication.

Make sure you are getting enough sleep, and make sure you are spending time away from your family with people or doing things that energize you. (Just don't lock yourself in a room!) Meditation is also a great stress buster, even 2 minutes of time out take slow deep breaths will help you to get back some equilibrium.

It sounds like you are willing to learn, to try things out, to do what it takes for this family to be happy and thrive which is fantastic. There will always be tough times but being willing to drop the "stuff" about who is right and who is wrong and find solutions is a much healthier way of building the deposits in that bank.

With willingness to learn, and feeling good in yourself, you can then turn your attention to building up this family. There may well be times when you will loose it, and snap, or say things you regret, but if you are feeling better in yourself, and coping with the stress better, you are likely to be more PRO-active, and less RE-active. It is great that you have gone back an apologized when you have realized you have not behaved well, that goes a long way to bridging the gap.

===side note===
Actually that may be a cultural difference between you - apologizing is done completely differently in most Asian countries. Just be aware you may not be allowing your wife to "save face" when you have expectations she apologize.

Part Five Follows . . .

Family Stress - Part Five
by: Annie Desantis

The best way to build up families (and this includes your wife too), is to focus very deliberately on looking for the things you love and appreciate about them. Children's behavior changes dramatically when parents start to notice all the little things they are doing well. Even if they are things you expect them to do, like getting ready for school, or even smaller things like brushing teeth - all those little things are an opportunity to put a deposit in the family bank. "Wow, lovely shiny smile" or "You're great the way you get yourself all organized in the morning"

Now your family may be a little surprised at you being a little ray of sunshine all of a sudden - so do NOT react back if they don't immediately give a positive response back. Don't forget they have to be able to trust that you are not about to tell them off for something in the next breath!

Each day, make it your goal to say something you appreciate, every time you see them (your wife too, not just the kids!). Just let go of the reactionary stuff or issues for a while and just put as much energy as you can (whilst looking after YOU) into building some positive family energy.

Your family really does need to increase the fun you have together. Find activities you can do that don't require a lot of energy to organize - a games night, a picnic in the park, a funny movie night.

Increasing the things you do together that are fun, will build stronger bonds, and help you to weather the tough times. It also helps the older kids to trust that you enjoy being with them, that you are not going to leave them, that they are important to you and you want to spend time with them.

You are also creating opportunities to talk, to share and to open up with each other. When there has been a lot of fighting and arguing, and dis-harmony in the home, it is not a very conducive place to share fears or concerns. If something is going on at school or outside the family, then you want them to feel you are available to talk to. You won't be approachable if you are always grumpy and stressed (back to number one - looking after yourself and re-filling your fuel tanks!)

Part Six Follows . . .

Family Stress - Part Six
by: Annie Desantis

Ask your wife what she needs from you and what exactly does she mean - quite specifically! There is a HUGE amount of miss - communication that
goes on between husband and wives, and we assume we understand what our partner is saying. But we are reacting through our own perceptions, and we are usually reacting based on an emotional response to something they have said. More often than not, we have totally misinterpreted their meaning. Or we have not spoken our own truth.

I know when my husband does not respond to me verbally, I get in a huff that he is not listening to me. He can be quite bewildered when I stop in mid sentence and stomp off. He simply did not have anything to add so says nothing, whereas my interpretation is if he does not verbally respond, he doesn't love me, he doesn't listen to me, I'm not important to him etc etc . . . Then of course he starts feeling guilty that he has done something wrong, resentful that he has to please me, feels like he never does anything right . . . . .

You can see how something can easily escalate into something far more!

So when you are feeling you have de-stressed a little and feeling more centered, be open to understanding what she expects and what she wants. That does not mean you have to actually do it, but if you know clearly, then you can choose if that is something you are willing to do.

Sometimes we think we are being supportive of our partners, but what we see as support is not the same thing as what they see as supportive. I know of a husband recently that thought he was doing a wonderful job of being a supportive husband, by taking the kids off for a day each weekend to give his wife time to herself. What she most wanted in the way of support, was for him to share the bedtime routines with her. So really understanding what it is your wife needs to feel supported can make a huge difference.

Now I am not suggesting you put your needs to one side in this family. You are just as important as anyone else. But it may be that you will be the catalyst to changing the dynamics so everyone has more to give. You are in a better position to be able to refuel yourself at present because you are actively seeking change and some ideas to help your situation. (Well done by the way!)

Part Seven Follows . . .

Family Stress - Part Seven
by: Annie Desantis

Hopefully you and your wife - and at times the kids too - will be able to sit and focus on solutions. But you have to re-build the trust and re-connect with the love a bit first. Get back in touch with the love you share. Whenever you can, just stop and take some deep breaths and remember those early feelings when you looked across the room at her - when you first were in love with her.

Keep hold of the times when you knew she was someone you wanted to make a deep commitment to. Remember back when you were starting to get to know those two little girls, and think of all the ways they have enriched your life. You have had some incredible changes since all your girls became a part of your life. Be gentle with each other and find ways to reconnect with the joy, and the love that you clearly feel for each other.

Some things for you to consider,

Ideal ground rules in families:

  • No violence.

  • No put downs.

  • No name calling.

  • No blame.

  • Make it a priority to sort things out and go for win win solutions.

  • Respect differences and find ways to accommodate them.

  • Work as a team - we all have some responsibility to make this family thrive. What can I do that will make deposits in our family bank, rather than withdrawals?

  • Listen Listen Listen. When we are reacting we don't listen, we blame, we stay stuck in our hurt, we even hurt back. If we stay centered and listen and let each family member have a say, then we don't need to get caught up in the drama of the reaction. If we do react - find ways to express it appropriately. Go outside and yell or stomp and shout. Do not shout at people.

  • Fight fairly. Actually don't fight! But that doesn't mean you can't express your frustration or anger. What that means is you don't dump your feelings on another person.

  • Each person has a right to be heard. Take turns and show you have listened and heard what the other person has said. A talking stick works well in families when there are contentious issues. You can use anything as a talking stick, but whoever has the talking stick is the ONLY one who can talk. The rest of the family shows respect by listening.

Part Eight Follows . . .

Family Stress - Part Eight
by: Annie Desantis

Encourage your kids to problem solve by asking them what they see as a solution. Even if there are issues that you and your wife don't agree on to do with their limits or boundaries - you can all talk about it - you can say, "your Mom and I have different ideas about this, so we wanted to share them with you and see what you think."
You are not necessarily giving them the power or the decision making, but you are empowering them and you are showing them you respect their ideas and you will take them into consideration. Funnily enough, kids often come up with more restrictions than parents do - or they come up with something completely different that opens up all sorts of possibilities.

So my friend, you have a lot of things to think about, and hopefully put some of them into practice. Clearly you love your family very deeply and want to create a positive loving home. You can make a huge impact even just on your own. And it will start to snowball when the pressure lets up - like a domino effect.

When that family bank starts getting some serious deposits, the energy will compound and you will start to notice other family members putting more positive effort in. So start taking very good care of you - and every day make a new commitment to putting deposits in that bank, look for the good stuff and just let go of some of the bad stuff for a while until that little family of yours is a bit less stressed.

Feel free to make any other comments or ask for clarification on anything I have suggested.

Go gently,
Annie D :)

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