Communication is something that touches many many parts of blended family life.
I could just say that it touches a lot of parts of life.
In this article I’m going to give an example of one type of fairly common miscommunications in blended families. I also share a strategy to resolve it.
What is fascinating to me is that most of us get almost zero education or training in how to successfully communicate with people in our families.
How to communicate in families was not taught to me in school – in fact a whole other style of communication is taught there.
How to communicate with my family was not taught to me in work situations. In fact, if I tried to apply work-style communication with my family … well … that did NOT go well.
Most of us are expected to pick it through personal experience in our own families.
This is called modeling and it is the way we learn most things as a child.
However, if your family maybe didn’t have great communication skills then you may have just picked up how it was done in your house. This doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you or your family. But if you want to do things differently – it just might mean that you don’t have an example for how to communicate the way you hope to in your family.
The good news here is that we can all practice and learn interpersonal communication strategies to improve how we communicate with the people in our families.
In my coaching practice I have a workshop that I specifically created to help people make progress with this. I did this for the first time when I was just getting started in a free facebook group and I still get comments from people how helpful that training is.
With my 1:1 coaching it’s a little different. I work communication into each session where it’s helpful because in my opinion communication often touches pretty much everything.
The lesson I think I’ve learned with family communication is to be humble and open in our communication. There is a hidden bonus lesson in here which is to treat others as if they are being open and humble with you when you can as well.
A miscommunication story
Here’s a fun story from a blended family dinner to illustrate how communication can improve or complicate family matters.
I’m sharing this story as an example of a miscommunication. Before I shared this story I verified the parts of it I remembered with my husband. He remembers it happening and that it was hilarious afterwards. That’s all. It’s entirely possible some of the details are a little off but the general sense of the story is pretty clear.
A family dinner
My stepson was home on vacation from college. Or maybe he was still in high school?
The reason I remember that is that this is the age where my stepson was pretty sure that he was the final authority on most information. He knew everything … in his opinion. This is a normal phase that some kids go through.
We were having a family meal complete with my inlaws.
My mother-in-law is a former literature teacher and an avid reader. When she finds books that she loves she is passionate about encouraging everybody to read these books.
If I tried I could probably break my relationship to her son into seasons marked by her enthusiasm for different books. There was the season where we read the Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. There was a different season where we all read Angela’s Ashes.
I mentioned that my mother-in-law was a middle school English teacher and she loves to have family discussions around the books she loves. My husband who is her son will sometimes torture her by resisting reading the books she suggests. I love to read and I’m normally very happy to have book suggestions and talk about these books with her.
Not always though. Once she read 50 Shades of Gray on a cruise with her girlfriends. When she came back she asked me if I had read it. I had. I confirmed that. Then she wanted to chat with me about the book. I backed off because I thought it might be a little weird since I’m married to her son. So, it’s not a hard and fast rule. But generally I’m open to book discussions.
One of my mother-in-law’s all time favorite books is a book called the Bookthief. She gave it out as gifts to several of us because she just loved it so much.
We were at the family dinner table. Me my husband, my in laws, the 2 small kids and at least one of my stepkids. It’s a fairly big group and dinner time can be a little bit hectic. Especially with 2 young kids who have a pretty short timeframe where they are willing to sit and eat.
Engaging dinnertime conversation
There were a few conversations going around the table. One was about the Book Thief. This was probably my mother in law trying to persuade my husband to read the book.
Another conversation going around the table was about the movie 12 Years a Slave.
This story might be a tad confusing but important point is that there were two different conversations throughout this meal.
My mother in law asked my stepson if he had read the Book Thief. He said yes.
A few minutes earlier or later somebody asked him if he had seen the Movie 12 years a slave.
Then somehow in a way that nobody precisely remembers my MIL began to engage my stepson about his thoughts on the book, The Book Thief.
He gave answers – he maybe asked his own questions. At some point the conversation began to get a little animated.
The topics in each book/movie are a bit sensitive and possibly inflammatory and so as the conversation got animated that wasn’t instantly a flag that we were off track.
It was stop and go and interrupted by the normal things that happen at the dinner table.
Because I know I had little kids I can guess that I was maybe not paying super close attention when I was trying to either get the kids to eat or stay at the table or all the things that small kids do during meals.
I have read the Book Thief but I have never seen the movie. I was listening to the conversation.
Feelings were beginning to get hurt as the conflict level rose between these two people who love each other very much.
My husband and his dad made a few gentle inserts to the conversation to try and get them to be gentle with each other.
But still the conflict level rose. This is a pretty low-key group. Conflict at dinner is not super common.
Until my stepson said something that one of us didn’t remember from the book. Somebody said something like , I don’t remember that in the Book Thief.
He said, “I’m talking about the movie 12 Years a Slave.”
My mother in law said, “What? I’m talking about the Book Thief.”
Not a conversation – two separate monologues
They went back and forth on this a few times and then we all laughed.
Well maybe the smallest kids didn’t laugh because they may not have understood what happened.
But the conflict level – the stress level dropped immediately because they realized had each been talking about two totally different things. They had been having two totally different conversations but neither realized.
There is apparently a British idiom for this called talking past a person.
This is just one example of a time when being humble and open about communication … did help in the end but it would have helped more in the beginning.
If you ask most of us whether we are humble and open with communication I think we all think we are.
This is what sometimes makes this challenging. It’s hard to see ourselves because we are ourselves.
In the conversation between my stepson and his grandmother they both love each other very much and they both thought they were being clear about what they were talking about.
At the same time they were each having a totally separate conversation. Nobody else at the table realized it either.
This miscommunication resolved itself all on its own. The solution to this particular type of miscommunication is normally the awareness that you aren’t actually talking about the same thing.
A thing that can make that tough is that for that to happen at least one of the people involved has to be humble enough to admit that they aren’t sure what the other person is talking about. Being humble and open in communication is one of the 10 lessons I think is a key to my happiness in a blended family.
You probably have examples in your family of times when miscommunications didn’t resolve easily.
This is something that there are strategies to help with and this is something that I work to help clients with in their families.