In the previous blog I mentioned that I have two friends (“Jack” and “Cheryl”) who are married to each other and have radically different opinions on COVID-19; on immigration; on climate change; on the election; on the future of this country. They’ve been married for over 15 years.
Cheryl explained “Our different views have never been a problem because we adopted a kind of ‘live and let live’ attitude. But ever since the pandemic and the election, the silence has become bitter. If something doesn’t change, we’re headed for divorce. Would S.H.A.R.E. work in this situation?” she asked.
I thought about how many couples and families who undoubtedly were experiencing the same frustration and contentiousness gripping our society.
The S.H.A.R.E. Process
The S.H.A.R.E. process is simply a guided step-by-step conversation that helps people take responsibility for how their thinking and behavior is negatively impacting not only each other, but others who are in relationship with them; like children. With Cheryl and Jack, S.H.A.R.E. helped them realize and discuss how their opposing beliefs were leading them to harshly judge, resent, and essentially condemn each other because of their different viewpoints about politics and the pandemic.
The first step of ‘Speak your truth’ enabled them to speak openly and frankly about what was actually happening. Every evening after dinner, each would retreat to separate rooms and consume social media and news on their iPhone or laptop. Cheryl described this behavior as a type of addiction. Jack stated “it’s like we treat each other with the same animosity people have toward each other on the news. The only difference is that our animosity is silent.”
The second step “Hear from or about those impacted” enabled them to realize just how many people were being impacted, or influenced, by the way they were treating each other. It wasn’t only their children, but extended family and friends. Cheryl said “people know we’re struggling and kind of avoid us at soccer games. My friends pretty much ignore Jack, and his friends either ignore me or turn a cold shoulder.”
“Let’s Acknowledge exactly what the impact is” I said. This is always the most difficult part of the S.H.A.R.E. conversation because it’s often painful. When people realize and acknowledge the physical, emotional and psychological impact of their thinking, choices and behavior on those they care about, this realization instigates a willingness to change. In this regard, the discomfort and pain of acknowledgment is constructive and transformative because it shifts people out of their intellect and ego defenses and into their heart.
It shifts the focus from “me vs. you” and self-interests, to “us” and our shared need for wellbeing.
“How do you think the way you’re treating each other is impacting your children?” I asked. “Let’s acknowledge the impact on each child.” Our discussion about impact lasted about 30 minutes. Several times during our discussion we needed to pause to allow for tears from both Jack and Cheryl.
Their eldest son “Jason” was “almost never home anymore.” When he was, he was angry, sarcastic, and defiant. “When I asked him where he was the night before, he snapped at me ‘none of your business’” said Cheryl. “At least he talks to you” said Jack.
Their eldest daughter “Tamara” (15) “almost never leaves her room. She spends almost all of her time on social media. Her grades are dipping and she constantly fights with “Summer” (13). When I asked her about her grades, she told me ‘what do you care?” said Cheryl.
“Summer cries just about every day. She’s usually positive and upbeat. Now she’s sullen and withdrawn.” Cheryl added “she asked me if we were going to get a divorce. She doesn’t want to play soccer anymore.”
“Katrina (9) asked me why I hate mom” said Jack.
I asked both of them “what has become clear for you now that you’ve acknowledged the impact on your kids?”
Jack – “how destructive we’ve been and how selfish and petty our differences are.”
Cheryl – “how we’ve allowed the hatred in the world to infect our family.”
I asked them “is there something you want to say to each other?” This is when the real shift happened for Jack and Cheryl. They stood, embraced, cried, and apologized to each other for the harm they had each caused.
“What can we do to fix this?” asked Jack.
“Recognize Needs” I said. “Then you can Enroll each other in a Plan of Action to meet those needs” I added.
Both recognized that their kids needed an emotionally safe space, and to feel that Jack and Cheryl not only loved them, but each other. They also recognized that their family needed to be protected from the political tension and animosity occurring in the country. As Cheryl said “our home should be a sanctuary.”
The plan of action they created stipulated that they would stop retreating into social media every evening and instead, spend time together as a family. They agreed to demonstrate their love for each other with displays of affection.
They also committed to having a family meeting where they would acknowledge the harm they had caused with their coldness toward each other; and ask each child what they needed from them. They agreed to explain that though they have different perspectives on various issues – their love for each other and “our family” will always be more important than those opinions.
If you would like to know more about addressing conflict situations using S.H.A.R.E. – Restorative Way’s structured conversation process, download the FREE excerpt of Restorative Way Playbook which details the S.H.A.R.E process.
Finally, I have a question for you. If you could drop in for a coffee with me, what two questions would you like to ask me?
Dr Will Bledsoe
PS. Im really serious - go ahead and tell me your question in the comments below. What do you need help with?