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Team work makes the dream work

By Kim Cooper

What follows is a simplified overview of our message…

  1. We have found organisational rules (more common to business) far better at helping families than most standard psychology.
  2. The terms narcissism and codependency (you will find most of our earlier work based on) are not terms we invented or especially want to promote. They are (psychological) terms we came across looking for help with our own marriage. Although many professionals agree with us (and the latest DSM was in fact changed after we published our work in this area), our view of these disorders differ from most standard psychology. We argue especially that Narcissistic Personality Disorder should not be considered rare or incurable. We also do not think it inherently worse (or always more selfish) than codependency.
  3. A more simple business term for narcissism and codependency might be ‘family corruption.’

People are very good at finding excuses not to share. This is the very simple but almost universal cause of corruption; in business, politics and families.

All institutions are prone to corruption and to the vices of their members.

Morris West

In families, psychology has blamed mothers (and personality disorders) for too long—instead of looking at plain old dishonest behaviour—aimed at personal gain or gratification.

Mothers, like all of us, can be selfish, but fathers and children are often downright experts!

Narcissistic selfishness consists of lying, cheating and stealing—the unholy trinity old as time itself.

Codependency on the other hand, opts for selfishness less easy to identify; emotional manipulation, moodiness, guilt tripping and psychosomatic illness. All aimed at squeezing others for time, love and attention.

Narcissistic selfishness consists of lying, cheating and stealing—the unholy trinity old as time itself.

Father blames mother’s jealousy as emotional manipulation and rationalises (to himself) that this is why he cheats on her (or in other ways disrespects her). Mother blames father’s absence and obvious disinterest (and lies) for her binge shopping or drinking.

This is one common example of how narcissistic and codependent behaviour scapegoat each other.

~Which came first the chicken or the egg?~

Let’s make this even simpler…

Say we are playing a real life game, where every day 30 sandbags need to be moved from point a to point b. One sand bag might represent making sure everyone in the family is fed. Another might be earning the money to purchase the food and a third cleaning up—even if it is just throwing away takeaway containers, wiping down counters and taking out the rubbish and sweeping the floor after meals.

There are many of these sandbags, that if left undone, will leave a family uncomfortable or worse;

  • earning money to pay the mortgage and rent
  • organising clean clothes for work or school
  • maintaining vehicles, insurance and paying other bills
  • health care
  • cleaning and home maintenance
  • keeping the garden and garbage bins tidy enough to stop neighbours or council complaining
  • earning money for all the other things the family needs
  • caring for sick and aged family members
  • caring for pets

Life is tough for most of us and the list is long. And besides these chores is the ‘relationship work’ required to protect a family’s emotional stability;

  • listening to all family members’ needs when planning
  • making sure everyone feels valued and appreciated
  • understanding challenges family members are facing
  • setting challenges to help children (and adults) develop age appropriate skills
  • teaching children reading and other life skills
  • modelling emotional intelligence (ie. helping children learn what their emotions mean and how to regulate them)

Even if all 30 sandbags get moved every day, the game will eventually sour (or break down completely) if each member of the family does not move an equal share.

Everyone moving an equal share is called ‘stability’. This will still be a challenge sometimes but by the end of most days should leave no one feeling over tired or exploited and allow the family time to relax and have some fun.

If not, the family may need to work together on changes that will improve the household budget, such as better employment, less expensive housing, cheaper and more nutritious food, less expensive holiday and recreation options, etc.

Family Bankruptcy

As in business, the budget must balance or bankruptcy or foreclosure will loom (which in families may also cause family fragmentation, homelessness and/or divorce).

Corruption exists when people in the family allow the shared contribution to the workload to continue unbalanced.

Narcissistic members will lie, cheat and steal: “I am working back late honey,” they might say, when really they are not at work earning money but out spending more than their share.

They may also pretend the sandbags they must lift are much heavier than everyone else’s, as a way of cheating so they get more of the credit while really carrying less of the load.

Corruption exists when people in the family allow the shared contribution to the workload to continue unbalanced.

Codependent members, on the other hand, will lift all 30 sand bags a day if no one else does, but then expect an unequal (and unhealthy) share of love, gratitude and devotion in return.

And when this ‘return on investment’ doesn’t eventuate the codependent pattern is to get whiny and resentful and later get sick… even chronically ill. Without the codependent realising their illness is psycho-somatic. If asked why they are sick they may say it is their family’s fault for not providing them enough love and care.

People following this pattern need to learn that letting people use you is not the path to being loved and appreciated.

Not to say that narcissistic corruption is an easy thing to fight, but in families—the same as business—getting angry, complaining or taking sick days is not a good way to negotiate a better deal.

Not Guilty of Any of This?

I wonder…

How often are you ‘too busy and important’ to do your fair share of the lower status, unpaid and unpleasant chores in your household? Or pay someone else (what you would expect to be paid) to carry your share of the sandbags every day?

Or what (emotional) debt do you hold over others (and what do you rob them of) by taking on more than your share of the workload, instead of insisting it be delegated fairly?

‘Selfish’ mothers are often targeted by psychology for this last type of unhealthy behaviour. Stealing responsibilities and learning opportunities in the guise of ‘protecting’ their spouse and children in order to tie their family to them through unhealthy dependence.

Women are told ‘we love too much’, and this certainly can be a problem in families. Parents not delegating chores to their children (including expecting them to contribute financially by the time they are teenagers), in my eyes, truly amounts to a form of covert child abuse.

But when husbands and children are outright selfish, psychology will often blame mothers again. In this case we are told that we are ‘enabling.’

Getting the balance right sure isn’t easy. Especially if your family has no established roles.

A Lack of Defined Roles Will Always Lead to Corruption

This may be because a husband and wife grew up in families that were based on roles and expectations that don’t play out well in their family now. Or it may be because the families you grew up in failed and fell apart (as Steve’s and mine did). Or perhaps you have moved to a different country where culturally things are different. In these cases arguing with each other will never produce a new, fair balance of roles and responsibilities. Tough as the truth is, learning to stand up for yourself and negotiate fairly is the only real path to stability.

Husbands and wives need professional processes and structures (just as all organisations do) to ensure there is accountability and the heavy lifting is shared.

In our experience standard psychology can get in the way of this process. Focusing on emotions rather than on the families organisational structure and agreed rules.

What Does Psychology Have to Say About Selfish Fathers and Narcissistic Mothers?

Why not more talk in psychology about selfish fathers? For instance; what of the rash of massage parlours and brothels I see opening around our cities these days? Surely some wives’ jealousy is not all in their heads? And where is the time and money this ‘pass-time’ embezzles from a married man’s family budget being addressed?

Many will argue (too loudly) that his money is his own; even while his wife struggles to meet the families expenses with her—often smaller—pay check and larger share of the families sand bags to move.

  • Why is it generally only considered corruption when a man’s brothel visits are on his companies time and money?
  • Is every married man who cheats on (and lies to) his wife really suffering from an incurable personality disorder?

If a husband is hiding this spending from his wife, and not paying his share of the expenses at home, I would say this is not only infidelity but also a clear case of family corruption.

Or the women who hold good men to ransom, claiming him complaining about her spending more than he earns (and not acting as her slave) somehow makes him weak or abusive. Women whose parents have usually raised them with an unrealistic view on the realities of life.

There are plenty of narcissistic wives out there, with codependent husbands who take on more than their share of the heavy lifting.

A Way Forward

Traditional family roles were very limiting for many of us. Not all men are well suited to looking after cars and yard-work, and not all women prepared to commit to a lifetime of cooking and cleaning.

The breakdown of these roles, however, will never give us freedom, if we lack a level playing field to negotiate roles that suit our family better.

There are plenty of narcissistic wives out there, with codependent husbands who take on more than their share of the heavy lifting.

Because without defined roles and responsibilities in a family (and systems to hold all members accountable), as in any organisation, corruption (ie. tyranny and slavery) are inevitable.

Tyranny and slavery both engender their own forms of unchecked chaotic personal misery…  and so this imbalance truly affects us all.

The corruption of the best things gives rise to the worst.

David Hume

Exposing that corruption in yourself (and partner) is the first step to a better home life. This is what most of our early work (Back From the Looking Glass–13 Steps to a Peaceful Home, The Love Safety Net Workbook, 10 Steps to Overcome Codependence, Your Blind Spot) are in essence all about.

The chart at the end of Back From the Looking Glass (and also included in 10 Steps to Overcome Codependence) on exposing the corruption in your family (to end the cycle of abuse)—on its own—is worth the asking price.

Further, replacing that corruption with fair systems (including a consensus based decision making process) and a solid family structure, is the aim of our latest program, Good Fathers and Mothers (included in our members area).

Corruption in marriage has nearly become standard these days and just like exposing corruption in governments or business is not an easy problem to tackle.

We should not accept, however, that this corruption represents an incurable psychiatric disorder. The stakes for giving in like this are simply too high.

Who is to Blame and Who Gets Hurt the Worst

The truth is men and women both have been encouraged to be selfish. Advertisers don’t care what is fair just as long as they are the ones who get our dollars.

We are inundated with advertisers messages, now embedded in just about everything we look at.

Instead of being encouraged to be responsible towards ourselves, each other and our children, advertising has lifted personal gain and gratification to the status of being a new religion.

All of us suffer because of this, but as always when corruption takes hold, especially the weakest members of our community.

Children shunted from home to home in the cross-fire of relationship minefields that even their parents have no idea how to manage.

Step-parents feel themselves rivals with their step-children, for their new partner’s time, attention and money. Instead of acting like caring and responsible parents, they begin looking for any justification they can that might deem their step-children unworthy (or someone else responsible for them). Many step-parents will disagree, but most of us need our parents well past the age of 18.

And of Course we Need to Look at Ourselves

What excuses do you use to demand more than your share of ‘the juice’ in your family? What rational that you deserve less of the heavy lifting?

That you are smarter? Better educated? Higher class?

None of these attributes exonerate you from your share of the sandbags, unless you are actively using your intelligence, education or status to help make life easier for your family as a whole.

And if held to account, are there ways you twist the truth and paint yourself the victim?

Women are good at this – but men are too…

An excellent movie by TeamJaxn (mind a very small amount of bad language at the end)

Men will also often claim women have the upper hand when negotiating. Many say talking things through with their wife or mother equals losing.

I understand negotiation can be painful, but I have to ask what exactly they fear losing? The right to treat their wives and mothers as second class citizens (ie. slaves)? And if not, what is it they don’t feel able to stand their ground on?

If you can’t hold your place at the (negotiation) table until you get an outcome you think fair, who do you think should be responsible for taking that stand for you?

You only lose if you agree to something you really don’t agree fair, which really means you should have held your ground and continued negotiating.

Someone disagreeing with you generally isn’t grounds for you ignoring that person and doing what you like.

Better to bring in professional mediation if necessary and work out a genuine agreement, than to allow small unresolved issues like this to eventually pull your family apart.

To be fair, negotiation is not something our education has prepared us for, we have been groomed to be workers and consumers instead.

That needs to change if we want to end the heartache.

That needs to change if we want strong and stable families.

Anyone who is looking solely at their partner’s selfishness has not understood the lessons we teach here.

Hard to tackle, yes of course–no one likes admitting where we are allowing ourselves to be exploited, let alone looking at the selfishness in ourselves.

Steve and I are back on deck full time here for the next few months (at least) and are offering a new service to members.

Previously we encouraged people to read our books before joining our members area, but for as long as we are able we will be turning that around:

Join Steve’s or my group as a first step and you will receive (within 24 hours) a short question-air that will help us personally advise you where to start. (Existing members can also request this.)

You will also gain access to our secret Facebook groups and a huge library of resources and information included in your membership.

We aim now at building a large worldwide community.

Corruption must be exposed at all levels if our societies are to heal… and the best place to start is in our homes.

Join Kim or Steve’s Group

This weeks member’s Facebook live discussion about the article above…

For fifteen years, the Coopers have offered themselves as humble guides and mentors, helping families avoid cynicism and chaos. Leading the way as peer support specialists whose own family has traversed love's dangerous terrain.
Taking you to that place inside yourself that you can't go by yourself. Helping you get back in touch with the power of love within you to restore the sanity in your marriage whether you stay or leave.

This Post Has 29 Comments

  1. Hi, Kim and Steve,… very interesting to see your new/advanced approach!,… as many others have said, the benefits of your early focus have already helped many people in various ways,… I know it will be very interesting to follow where you are now going, but I might need to say that, at this point (and for a long time now), I am and have been living alone,… for this reason, I feel that I may become more of an observer, rather than a “player”,… it’s not that I can’t relate to what you are saying, but my life will probably be organized and formatted differently,… so, we’ll see,… maybe I’ll learn how to talk my own self into doing things that I usually don’t want to do!,… (-:

    1. Very Astute as always Georgie Ann 🙂 Contending with our own nature (and corruption) is definitely a great starting point! Do you end up doing the things you promise yourself? If so you are doing better than most of us!

      1. well, to be quite honest, I’ve “learned” to not “promise” much of anything that I don’t already know that I’m going to do,… so, there remain plenty of things on the “eternal/eventual wish list”, that just wait to happen,… they don’t have much of a voice and won’t starve to death, so can be easily ignored and put off until another time,… the other side of that is that, at my age, I have no need to “keep up with the Joneses”,… and ambition, because of outer circumstances, pressures, issues and demands, for its own sake, also doesn’t really exist,… I prefer “being at peace” to “stressing”, and do have various satisfying and worthwhile “occupations” that I love dedicating myself to,…

        living in a senior apartment complex, I often hear it said that, “well, my family will just throw it all away when I’m gone”,… and I’ve lived long enough to know that that is most likely very true,… but “miracles can happen”, and I try to “leave the (psychological) door open” to cooperating with opportunities for the rearrangement of things that may have worn out their “expiry date”,… but “easy going” is the normal effective motto,… (-:

  2. 🙋 Kim & Steve,
    Really appreciate the use of the term ‘corruption’ as it does work with both of what I have felt are two stages of the process of healing the n/c relationship, family system, generational system and, as you recognize, ultimately all of society.
    The ‘religion’ you identify of personal gain and gratification is a real eye opener concept, too. In a world like that, we never learn that the way to light our candle is not by blowing out someone else’s. The result is lose/lose when your approach shows that the only true win is a win/win! Thank you for your voices in the world!!!

  3. In my life out side of “marriage” ( not ) , the corruption is identical, its just that I am not having a sexual experience , or bearing children , and therefore , am better able to cognize the situation . Inside of creating and bearing children , and breastfeeding , there is a lot of oxytocin running , and forgetting – loving , forgiving , of the undoing of the union by the people around me . As a person who is alone , I can stare at the corruption , and just let it go , but as an enmeshed contracted person , with my own set of ideals and responsablities , the entanglement is detrimental to me and my being . We are doing the same thing to the earth , our nature mother , this problem of lack of courtesy , is everywhere . Now that you have gone to the corporate model, maybe the next stop is the court and the monarchy , as that is a place where the role of the female in child bearing , is still recognized as absolute . There are some things that only a man can do , and some things that only a female can do , and those realities require respect and courtesy . To argue about dishonesty , or insanity , which is what it is when people in a shared living system, cannot comprehend what the needs of the people around them are , is non productive . Getting sight of a rational system , and attempting to model it , and discover its beauty , is a much better approach > I am sure there is a corporate head somewhere using the sacrifice of the mother and the fidelity of the father in a harmonious family, as his /her example of how he wants his corporation run . The family IS the first business , and in my world, good business is where everyone walks away at the end of the deal happy . Although my family failed , in the terms of the normal concept of marriage until death , and visiting grandchildren, I perceive all fractured parts as quite happy , and I leave it at that . Am I happy ? I wait , for a courteous interface , as I will never ever ever go back into a contracted abusive situation . I think that the presumption of society , of happily ever after together forever , is distorted , and actually ruined the freedom that creates intelligent deciscions , and the cooperative effort required to grow consciously , in love and sharing and union . Always willing to donate a kidney or a liver — and after that — ? Working on my art , to perhaps enter my childrens consciousness another way – I do notice that children raised without grandmothers , have this sense of disconnect , as was my childrens father . It is a shame that my grandchildren will not know of care and courtesy to women and to the female path . At least they exist .

  4. Appreciate what Derrick J had to say about men playing the victim. It took me years to see this w my husband. Really it comes down to the person playing the victim, they only are concerned about defending themselves not at all concerned about what is important to their spouse. Pure self centeredness! I had to see this clearly before I could become a stronger person for my husband. Once I saw that nothing I could do would change his inability to see me in those moments.. I began taking care of myself in a new way. Now I take each situation as it is and respond accordingly. I tell him until he chooses to value me mutually, we really cannot and do not have a marriage. I have stayed in the relationship w him/ we have 8 children, 3 grands.. and over time he has become less defensive and more considerate of me and our kids. Understanding the shield the victimized person holds up, and not taking it personally is also a huge benefit. Sometimes I will just say.. ‘You’re a much bigger person than this, and I really need you to show up for me and the kids’ If he reflects that back at me, I see it for what it is and don’t expend my energies there. Most of the time anyway! It still can be challenging. Thank you Derrick for your acknowledgment and honest evaluation of the victimized mindset. Thanks Steve and Kim!

  5. Kim and Steve,

    I am encouraged and inspired by this next step in your journey and what it means for helping individuals more globally. I am actively exploring the issues you address here and particularly like the adoption of the corruption/business model for the family dynamic. It certainly also applies when considering potential relationships as well — what is a good investment, how do I protect my interests while collaborating with another on their ideas, etc.

    Amy F.

  6. PS – Listening to this , and I love the boating analogy , I also came from a boating and Navy family, and really was into chain of command . Whenever I took charge , I was mocked as being masculine , and when I handed the situation over to him, it was deceptive and chaotic , eventually the boat sank . However , everybody knew how to swim , and made it to shore safely .

    1. I am glad to hear that everyone survived! The boating/naval chain of command is a wonderful dynamic to keep everyone safe. Families can learn much from this.

  7. Hi Kim and Steve,

    Bravo for bravely trudging on to try and shift the paradigm for the narcissist/ codependent relationship. Appreciate why you believe reframing this relationship in terms of each party’s relative contribution could be a useful way of both parties understanding how they are adding value or detracting from the whole unit. However, for those with good communication and generally healthy relationship dynamics, the concept of each persons equal contribution is largely a given and definitely central to them in showing love. There are also those who argue that when society needs to legislate to enforce behaviours relating to integrity and ethics, it has largely failed e.g people know what they should be doing morally, they just choose not to!

    So this is a tough question, but after all this time you have had together trying to work through your dynamics, do you feel that, rather than increasingly providing formal frameworks and structures to regulate each other’s behaviours, perhaps it would just be best to avoid putting these two personality types together in the first place? Don’t kill me for asking! I just mean that, for example, after all this time, Steve knows pretty much what is expected of him by you Kim, but perhaps lets you down on occasion when he simply chooses not to follow the rules. So is the problem not so much about each party being unaware of what they are failing to contribute, but rather an unwillingness on occasion to want to do it. If so, the central problem is then one of motivation, which then comes back to who you really are deep down and the values you live by. Essentially, what it seems you are trying to do is fundamentally change each other so the relationship dynamic will then work. That’s not necessarily a bad thing I guess as at the heart of all good relationships is the concept of compromise. However, we are also told not to go into a healthy relationship hoping to fundamentally change the other? Do you feel deep down that your relationship would survive without all the rules and structures you have set up? I am genuinely interested and hope you don’t mind the blunt questions. I agree wirh your point that the terms ‘narc’ and ‘codependent’ can be unhelpful in essentially medicalising bad behaviours that could potentially just be called out and ideally changed. However, the question of motivation is not addressed in all that. Whatever you call your differences, making your unit work depends on both of you continually wanting to change. Do you think it would simply be easier to be with someone more suited to meeting the needs you have always fundamentally had?

    To take your organisational analogy, if someone wasn’t pulling their weight at work after being made aware of their responsibilities (though any decent employee would know their responsibilities from the start!), they would be put on a warning. Then if they didn’t improve they’d be out. Surely with the narcissist /codes relationship the motivational carrot/stick elements such as these are as important as the structures to drive awareness of responsibility…so Kim/Steve, what hard stop points do you set for each other? And on what grounds do you de use the other has had fair enough warning of what has been expected yet ignored this and failed to improve?!

    1. Thanks for the questions Nicola, I don’t mind you asking at all!

      Avoiding putting narcissistic and codependent behaviour together is a bit like trying to tell the public they should stop looking for strong leaders and learn to govern themselves. Noble perhaps but hardly likely to happen overnight. Besides, for all the pain we have caused each other in the past I cannot go back in time and certainly don’t wish I had never met Steve.

      Maybe I have not clarified very well in this article about structures. I would disagree that any decent employee would know their responsibilities from the start. The best run organisations are ones where the roles and organisational structure (which simply means who answers to who regarding various tasks) are well defined. That actually allows a lot more freedom and less regulating each others behaviour.

      For instance I had a job once where it became apparent I was answering to 4 different people regarding the same tasks. I asked for an organisational chart and when it wasn’t provided (because there wasn’t one) I left immediately. Nothing good could ever come of that situation.

      This is why employers providing an org chart is actually a legal requirement.

      How many families are like this? With children being told to do the same task differently by two or more family members. Mine and Steve’s certainly were.

      Roles do not create a rigid framework but actually make decision making easier and more flexible as each person knows their areas of responsibility and can hence expect their decisions in those areas be respected. Left without roles, tyranny and slavery are a given.

      Some families may know their roles because they came from a similar background and they are okay to follow that example. With Steve and myself this was not the case. His father is from Egypt and mother from an Australian sheep farming family. My Father was American protestant (and voted Republican) and my mother Church of England (and voted Democrat). There was no traditions we could fall back on.

      From day one I tried to make Steve a coffee (something I had little experience with as my family didn’t drink coffee) and he said, “Sit down, only the sexiest man in the house gets to make the coffee!

      It was funny, but also hinted at what was ahead.

      There are no hard stops, just areas that each of us manage independently and situations we have agreed need collaboration to decide on (such as holidays, plans for the future etc.) We have an agreed conflict resolution process too for when things break down. That isn’t always followed immediately – but at least everyone does have an idea of what we have all agreed should happen when things calm down.

      Sometimes things go wrong, like yesterday Steve asked my approval on an important email he was sending (that had been agreed upon by collaboration and consensus). Later he told me he had changed it before he sent it, saying something different than what had been decided by the group.

      I said that is not okay with me. Why have a meeting and even ask my approval on the email if you are going to change it and say something different?

      He was upset and tried to argue for awhile on the virtue of his idea being better than what had been decided as a group.

      When things calmed down he was embarrassed and sorry and saw my point.

      We are managing the situation in question together now.

      Most of the time however that type of situation is unneccessary.

      I am in charge of the shopping and meal planning for instance and so there is not much to decide on together there. Just as Steve is the general manager of our business and makes most decisions without input from me.

      We both cook but have a rule that whoever is inspired and starts is in charge.

      No one sits to be waited on at meal preparation time. Everyone is expected to be doing something to help.

      We all work and so have all agreed that is fair.

      Roles give each other responsibility, freedom and respect.

      The collaboration process is harder, but vital to get decisions in place and everyone on the same page when family members have a different view of what should happen.

      Better to fight it out ahead of time than expect everyone will have the same idea about what is fair.

      1. Great response Kim. You really are a lovely person and Steve is very lucky to have you. I understand the need to be clear upfront to avoid any ambiguity. After that if rules are broken then I guess there is less wiggle room for the offending party! That said it still can be exhausting- that feeling that, given some of the history, you are sometimes waiting for the other shoe to drop or to discover your agreements have been undermined in one way or another….you’re a strong woman and resilient! Hoping your happiness may continue x

    2. I appreciate your questions Nicola, and hope I can answer clearly.
      The workplace is, mostly, an unemotional environment. We are trained over the years to keep emotions under wraps and behave in a professional or ‘business-like’ fashion at work. This prevents some difficult exchanges yet generates other difficult exchanges. Home is less regulated in this sense, providing fertile ground for prolonged drama. The more Kim talks to me about defining roles and building structure within out family, the more I feel satisfied that we will last the distance in our marriage. The many years of disorganization we experienced was the existential threat to our marriage.

    3. Nicola, to go further,

      I do not completely agree that Kim and I are trying to change each other. There is Kim who existed and had her own life before Steve, and there is Steve who existed and his own life before meeting Kim. Those ‘single’ people are no longer the same people. Those individuals chose to become a partnership and new rules were established.
      I was certainly reluctant to allow Kim much autonomy for a long time, as I was feeling entitled to my own autonomy and that meant that Kim had to do more of the unpaid labour at home. This was in the worst of our conflicts approximtely 12-15 years ago. So, yes, I was selfish and manipulative for a long time. But now we are more clear on our objectives and knowing that our roles must be defined and our responsibilities met in order for us to flourish. We have so much to do and we are not getting any younger.
      So, to go a step further, Kim and I are now working hard to see each others’ strengths in order to help define each others’ roles in the family structure. Neither of us have a better life as single middle-aged people, so we are working hard on staying healthy and helping each other become successful, as a family unit.

  8. If you were to visit my 90 year old Egyptian grandmother in Melbourne, we ‘d be arguing politics and drinking coffee (thick, strong Turkish coffee) until 1am and eating broad beans and eggs for breakfast (ful medames) well after midday the next day. A very different regime and structure from my mother’s family and Kim’s family. Negotiating new modern family traditions is not always straightforward and Kim and I, with completely different backgrounds, are well placed to talk about it.

    1. Steve and Kim, I have your book and it has helped me. I come from a family where roles were too heavily defined, in an abusive way. My husband is a former pastor(trying to force his way into it again, and I’m supposed to say he never mistreated me or he’ll divorce me). He wants “submission” to his will and defined roles in such a way that my feelings aren’t valued unless they line up with his. He is entitled to get what he wants because he’s the husband. And it’s all of God, supposedly. The church doesn’t see a problem with his behavior and I am being forced to put up with it, because they value his “headship.” I wish the church would wake up and that this kind of attitude could be exposed. It’s like living in a cult you can’t leave! I feel roles need to be defined, yet equal in power in some way. But without having a good example, I’m somewhat lost as to how this would look. Any advice?

      1. Hi Elizabeth, It is unfortunate that some men see their headship in the family in the way you describe. Our Good Father’s and Mothers program goes into this issue in depth. True “kingship” is holding a space where everyone feels safe to express their needs. True agreements can only be reached by 100% consensus. That takes time and patience but is the only thing that will allow decisions that can be built on. While implementing this type of decision making system in your family right now may seem impossible, it is a way of thinking you might do well to explore. With three strong willed men in our family it has certainly taken time. Yet the fight has been worth it. New ground is emerging in our lives where Steve and I have a solidarity very rare for a couple our age. The future looks much brighter with new and more sensible rules emerging week by week. Defining your own areas of responsibility (and hence authority) is a good place to start. For instance a long time ago Steve would be ruthless in criticising my cooking and making me feel inadequate in my role as mother. To the point where I lost my confidence for a long time and hid in my room. He wouldn’t dare do that now. That is largely because I have fully claimed my authority in that role. To the point where I can also direct him and my daughter in tasks at meal time. Our adult sons are slowly getting better about this too.

      2. Hi Elizabeth,

        We have heard many stories about the abuse that can happen in ‘traditional’ families. Traditionally, men may believe they have a right to completely dominate women – this is obviously unsustainable in the modern age.

        Kim and I have worked a long time at overcoming and observing the dynamics that create family dysfunction. You are on the path to understanding and knowing the problems in your own life now, by reading our books, you have proven to yourself that you are looking for answers. This is very positive for you. But as Kim warns in back from the Looking Glass, you have to choose your battles, be careful not to rush in and try and change everything overnight. The cultural issues are deeply entrenched, but they can be worked out over time. Kim and and I can attest to it. You can make progress, even if it looks completely lost. Steve

  9. I am not sure if I believe that all of what you have tackled before has to do with people trying to get out of their rightful responsibilities. It kind of seems to me that before, your old way of talking about things suited your own marriage situation at the time, and now, at this point in time, this new formulation fits your own situation at this time. But I’m not sure that the old way of talking about things wouldn’t be better for many people who are back where you were a while ago. Because people are lazy about work, yes, like dishes etc, but also people can be naturally low in empathy and consequently lazy about making the effort to sympathize with others. It’s not all about getting things done. Sometimes it’s just about caring how the other person feels and what s/he wants. It’s not always about outer work. Some of us are naturally higher in empathy, and we automatically agree to change/bend because of what someone else wants, and that’s not work for us. It’s more work to stand up for what we want. So yes people are lazy, and they tend to avoid work, but it’s not just about external responsibilities. It’s about which movie do we see tonight, what color will the bathroom be, where do we go on vacation, who doesn’t mind displeasing whom and, I agree, who does the dishes. It’s also about all the emotional tricks people play… the manipulation, the holding on to anger, etc, that people do not just to get out of chores, but also to get what they want in any situation.

    Am interested in your response!

    1. Hi Tanya, Sorry it took so long for me to get back to you. I agree that our earlier work is still vital to people in a really bad situation in their marriage with one partner who has no desire to help turn things around. In these cases people should always still start with our books. We have moved on however and so our work has necessarily moved on too. More and more couples come to us these days where both partners are ready to do the work. That said I still believe that avoiding sharing is at the heart of most family dysfunction. This might be work OR sharing whose turn it is to choose the movie. A lot of people’s emotional responses can end up tied into unhealthy patterns of negotiation. I wonder if you saw our last broadcast where we elaborate on this further? You can check it out here:

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