QUESTION: Am I obligated to take care of my parents even though they hurt me in many ways when I was growing up? Our family was really dysfunctional. Now my parents are old, feeble and increasingly unable to look after themselves, and I’m not sure how I feel about caring for them given our past.
JIM: Your question hits home with me because I, too, grew up in a dysfunctional home. Sadly, situations like yours and mine are not unique. Many adults carry the scars of a painful childhood. We may look back, even at the recent past, and remember only abuse and neglect from the people closest to us.
As hard as it may seem, we believe it’s important for you to reach out to your parents during this difficult time, and to forgive them. Even when they’re not seeking that forgiveness, we can choose to give respect and care to our elders. True honor is placing the highest value on our loved ones whether they deserve it or not.
You can’t change the painful events of your childhood or alter your parents’ choices. But you can refuse to give their problems power over you. You can make up your mind to find the good in your parents, no matter how meager or unrefined, and to honor them in spite of their flaws. Caring for your parents doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with everything they say, or giving in to their every demand. It simply means doing what you can within a realistic framework to live at peace with your aging parents. It means making wise choices that will keep your conscience clear. When they’re gone, you don’t want to look back on this time and regret not reaching out to them.
QUESTION: What can I do when my spouse avoids conflict and seems to want “peace at any price”? Unresolved issues are boiling beneath the surface, and we’re growing apart. How can I turn things around before it’s too late?
DR. GREG SMALLEY, Vice President of Family Ministries: If handled correctly, conflict can be a pathway to deeper intimacy in your marriage. Disagreements about money, career, child rearing, sex and in-laws can typically be traced to one underlying issue: fear. At some point, all of us are gripped by the fear of inadequacy, rejection, powerlessness and so on. The cure for these fears can be found in intimacy, validation, love, and connection — qualities that are essential to any marriage.
With that in mind, we suggest that you ask your spouse to try an experiment with you. It will take just 20 minutes once or twice a week. During the first 10 minutes, one of you will talk about issues that are bothering you. The other will agree to listen without argument or debate. The only response allowed is to ask for clarification. During the second 10 minutes, the other spouse will talk. Again, a request for clarification is the only response permitted.
At the end of the 20 minutes, take a time-out from each other. Reflect on what your spouse has said. Does it help you understand some of the reasons for his or her feelings? Chances are, this experiment will help you both better understand the underlying issues that are causing strain in your marriage.
If your spouse remains intent on avoiding conflict, seek assistance from a qualified counselor who can help you gain perspective on what’s happening. Contact Focus on the Family for a free consultation and referral. Also, you may want to seek out a copy of my book “Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage” (Howard, 2012), which is custom-made for your situation.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus