Carrying the anxiety ball and the relationship seesaw

An interesting thing about relationships is that there often seems to be a finite amount of anxiety or other emotion around a certain topic within the relationship.

For example, if one partner is carrying all the anxiety about finances, the other partner often seems much less concerned about finances.  The more the worried partner can let go of the anxiety the more the other partner begins to worry and the more the partners meet in the middle.  And conversely, the more the relaxed partner can worry; the more relaxed the worried partner can become.

This can be true of many different emotions about many different topics.

The same concept is true with our relationships with our kids too.

If the child is unconcerned about completing homework, studying for tests, keeping their schoolwork caught up and organized—guess who picks up the ball?

As the child becomes a teenager, this usually leads to resentment from the child who feels the parent is meddling and/or being a helicopter parent.  The best way to deal with this, is to have the child pick up the anxiety-about-homework-ball him or herself.

Often relationships become sort of artificially polarized this way.

In other words, for example, let’s say Suzie and Tom (if you ask them individually) very much agree on how to parent their children.

They both agree that children need limits but should be able to exercise some age appropriate choice and control.

But somehow they have ended up playing different roles with Suzie playing “bad cop” and Tom playing “good cop.”

Suzie and Tom both think they are responding to the other parent.

Suzie thinks she has to be extra tough because Tom is so lenient.

Tom thinks he has to be especially lenient to counterbalance Suzie’s toughness.

The longer this goes on, the more polarized they become (picture them each moving further and further towards the opposite ends of a seesaw).

In my work, I sometimes suggest that the parents switch roles (this really throws the kids for a loop, who by now have learned which parent to go to, for the answer they want).

However by just working together as opposed to trying to counterbalance each other, both parents can move to a more comfortable position in the middle.

Do you notice any issues that have become polarized this way in your relationships?

Do you feel yourself being bad cop or good cop, even though you know that isn’t necessarily where you want to be?


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