Last week, we presented an example of how change, in the form of divorce, can and usually does impact an entire family.
Anyone involved is going to have an opinion and a reaction. Although we don’t readily admit it, our reactions and opinions are usually in response to how we believe we will be affected by the actions of another.
If we think Mary’s divorce will benefit us in some way, we cheer her on. If not, although we feel sorry for her we might also secretly harbor concern for ourselves.
We are all human with our own wants and needs. We love to feel safe and comfortable. A calm life with predictable routines provides the illusion that stability will continue forever.
The problem is that change is inevitable. Sooner or later an unexpected event will stop us in our tracks and challenge us in various ways at many levels. It can be a sudden illness or death, loss of a job, or the car conks out. The possibilities for life-changing and life-challenging events are endless.
When the unexpected happens we first and foremost question our competence, abilities and strength. Can we cope, can we handle whatever the situation calls for? Do we even want to?
Any time change occurs stress and self-doubt emerge, although we may not be fully aware of it at the time. Change makes us question our values, views, and beliefs.
Because we are all different we will react in individual ways.
In the previous column a grown daughter divorced and remarried. She was fully aware that the whole family did not share her enthusiasm. In her position some would have been very guilty and apologetically tried to explain and defend themselves. Others would have simply cut themselves off from everyone. Someone extremely anxious to please might have reluctantly cancelled all her plans to maintain family approval. Still another individual might have patiently acknowledged the difficulties of change and initiated healthy dialogue, demonstrating a willingness to understand the effects of her decisions on the family.
What is the responsibility of an individual who precipitates major transition in a family? That person must acknowledge the effects on him/her before they can comprehend how it will affect others.
Even the person who triggers change has to cope with ramifications that were not obvious at the start. A multitude of changes occurs from something as common as divorce. Living arrangements are different, financial status can deteriorate, school and/or job changes may occur. Suddenly a loved one who lived five minutes away now is two hours distant. Relationships that seemed forever are drastically different; some are permanently shattered.
Change almost always has a snowball effect no matter what it is and who initiated it. Everyone involved will feel it in some way whether it is positive or negative.
Graduating high school and moving on to college is wonderful but brings its own set of issues. The important thing is for all parties to keep talking. Ideally everyone affected can express their feelings and be not only heard but understood. Transitions are very stressful and if everyone is open to hearing each other a strong support system is built in.
Important relationships slip and slide during transitions but can be sustained with skillful, thoughtful interactions. It depends on how carefully we listen to and understand one another. Solid relationships grow stronger under the stress of change.
Elinor Stanton is a psychiatric nurse practitioner on Marco Island. She has 30 years of experience as a therapist in private practice and with a large health maintenance organization in Boston. Send comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 394-2861. Visit her Web site at http://www.etseven.net.