neil d brown podcast parenting relationships

Use This Skill and Everyone Will Love You

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 254 · Duration: 00:22:08

In this podcast, Neil and Robin respond to a husband and father struggling with why he isn’t being listened to or appreciated in his own family. Neil offers a powerful yet simple way to think of and build empathy skills, a missing ingredient for this husband and father.

Episode #254 Use This Skill And Everyone Will Love You

What do you do when you find there’s no room for your opinions in your own family? We’ll talk about this and a whole lot more including unlocking the keystone to relationship success on this week’s podcast.  

Today we’re hearing from Allen who writes to us from San Diego, California. Allen writes:

Dear Neil,

My wife listens to your podcast and has encouraged me to write and ask for your assistance. She is very frustrated with the way I talk with her. Often she’ll tell me about something going on at work, and I’ll give my opinion about the situation. If I don’t agree with her, this ends up in an argument and we don’t talk for a day or so until things smooth over. Usually, this isn’t the case, and we get along pretty well. But when I think she’s off base, I can keep my mouth shut, or I can give my opinion, but I don’t want to agree with her if I think she’s wrong or is missing something. Sometimes when I don’t understand why she would be upset about something, I’ll ask her why, and even that upsets her. Same thing with the kids. I get upset with them when they’re being irresponsible or don’t listen and then she’s upset with me for being upset with them. I feel like I’m not supposed to have my own opinions in my own family.  Have you seen anything like this before?  Is there a way to solve this?

Thanks, Allen

  • Allen feels a bit stumped.  Feels like he can’t win and is being put in a position where he can’t have his own thoughts or respect for his authority with his kids. Why is that? Well, the answer is not that there isn’t room for him or his thoughts.
  • The answer isn’t that he doesn’t have authority, he is the dad after all. 
  • The answer is that he’s not making room for others’ thoughts, for others’ realities. We are social creatures and it’s important that we get certain kinds of social emotional needs met from others.  Without that, we suffer from various forms of emotional distress such as loneliness, depression, and burnout.
  • What are those social, emotional needs?
  • Without going into an academic lecture, essentially it’s emotional support.
  • We need that in our work environment, and we need that in our home and personal environment.  We need to feel understood and supported and we need that from someone who knows about us and the situation we’re facing to be able to empathize. Yes, we need advice too, but we will only accept that from someone who also offers us emotional support. And we need support 7 times more than advice so get support right, and things will go well. 
  • No one person can meet all of our needs. For instance, if you’re a mom dealing with your teen daughter and her social media addiction, you would want to talk about it with other moms facing similar issues, not your friend who has toddlers. 
  • But in order to feel close to someone, we need to feel safe, supported, and empathized with. 
  • So, what about Allen’s question about room for his opinion with his wife and his authority with his kids?
  • In order for his wife to be open to his giving his opinion, which is essentially, giving advice or advising her that there is another way to think about things, first he has to offer emotional support.  “I get what you’re saying and why you might be upset. You don’t deserve that!”  
  • Now suppose he doesn’t understand and, and like he says, even if he asks, she’ll get upset with him. I’m sure that depends entirely on how he asks the question.  A lot of us ask questions that either are or sound like challenges. For instance, “What’s so upsetting about that?”  Now his wife will be on the defensive when what she was looking for was support. Instead he would need to ask the question in a way that shows sincere interest in what she experienced, what it meant to her, and why it troubled her. That kind of inquiry is true intimacy. “I don’t think I fully understand the upsetting part of that. Can you help me understand?”
  • Allen here is an excellent way to think about your disconnect and get yourself connected without giving up your own reality.
  • When you watch a movie, usually there’s a main character who is going through various challenges and you see the world through their eyes. You see and to some extent, feel for what they’re going through. That feeling is empathy for them. Okay, are you with me here?
  • Now when your wife shares a story, think of her as the protagonist in a movie about her. It doesn’t call for your opinion, just your empathy for her. Just imagine you’re in the audience drinking your Sprite and eating your popcorn. 
  • Now what happens for you Allen, is you jump to your thoughts, your reality about the situation. We can’t deny it, your thoughts and feelings are there for you. So let’s think of it this way:
    • There are always two movies playing, yours and hers. We can think of it as a multiplex theater, and her movie is playing in cinema 6 and yours in cinema 7. And they may be very different movies. 
    • In our minds, we can actually see both movies at the same time, but one is in the foreground and one is in the background. Allen, always start your response with empathy for the protagonist in your wife’s cinema. Then, if called for, ask clarifying questions or if she is open to it, offer an alternative perspective. And, I’ll use the always word again, when you offer advice or a different way of thinking about things, always offer it in a way that is clearly an offering, something she can consider, not as anything definitive, like you have the right idea and she doesn’t.
  • When your kids are not being responsible or listening, and you want to change the pattern of fighting to get them to listen and be more responsible, start with acknowledging what’s playing in their cinema.  
    • For instance, “I know it’s hard to break away from your phone. Those things are really compelling aren't they. And yet I need you to get started on your homework now.”
    • If you go right to “put your phone down and do your homework”, it misses the support piece, the empathy for the protagonist and they are the protagonists in their own movies. By offering some validation of their reality, offering a touch of empathy for them as the protagonist in their own movie, then your authority goes from heartless demanding authority to benevolent authority, and benevolent authority receives a lot more cooperation than autocratic authority.

So there you are, a powerful tool for understanding, growing, and teaching our empathy skills. When you let people be the protagonists in their own movies, you will be the vital emotional resource they rely on

Thanks for tuning in today and special thanks to you Allen for reaching out and giving us a chance to discuss this critical communication tool. 

I’d like you to know that if you have a question, you’d like me to address on this podcast, don’t be shy, we’ll all benefit from your question so send me a message, there are no bad questions and I’d love to hear from you.  And while you’re here, visit the FREE STUFF section.  There are several helpful downloadable items I’ve created for you. So come help yourself.  Do you have your copy of my book Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle? That can help you solve or avoid a lot of problems, so don’t miss out. 

And just a reminder, Mental Health needs to be role modeled. Your children won’t be mentally healthier than you. Self-care is essential. You need it, you deserve it, you are worth it. Bye for now.

Please remember, this podcast is for educational purposes only, it is not a substitute for psychotherapy when you need it. 




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