Resources for Creating a Safer, Saner, More Loving World

Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide 2010

Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide

Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide

by Seth Eisenberg

Introduction

Millions of American families will soon celebrate Thanksgiving. Much has changed since 1621 when Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Plantation. Even more so since 1565 when Spanish explorers observed Thanksgiving in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida. More than three centuries passed before President Franklin Roosevelt made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1941.

For the Pilgrims arriving in the New World, survival was not taken for granted. They struggled to find food and build shelter after their perilous two-month voyage. Most died within the first few months.

Fortunately, the Pilgrims discovered “eastern peoples” already living in the New World. Their newfound neighbors shared knowledge of local crops and navigation, enabling many of the newcomers to survive, create their lives here, and labor to build the foundation for a nation that is today home to over 300 million people.

It’s unlikely those original Pilgrims could have imagined what life would be like for American families continuing their tradition 389 years later. While grieving tragic, personal losses, daily challenges to their very survival, and a far from certain future, they paused to celebrate the gift of life and each other with faith and determination.

More than ever, today’s American families represent a diverse tapestry of cultures, beliefs and aspirations. The definition of family itself continues to evolve, with a recent survey revealing that most Americans consider a family to be those who declare themselves to be one.

“Nurturing families come in many forms, and children may be raised by two parents, a single mother, two mothers, a step-mom, a grandmother, or a guardian,” President Obama said in this year’s Mother’s Day Proclamation. On Father’s Day, the President added “single fathers, two fathers, step fathers, and grandfathers.”

Whatever form they take, as they gather for this year’s Thanksgiving holiday, many families face economic and physical challenges that for them may be perceived as great a threat to their survival as the perils met by America’s first families. Too often, that stress and anxiety also engulfs the lives of children with nearly one million annually experiencing the divorce of their parents.

This Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide is written for the parents and other adults whose decisions profoundly impact the lives of those children. Our hope is that the exercises and insights woven throughout this Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide will contribute to more joyous celebrations, deeper experiences of love, and stronger families to help children enjoy the greatest opportunity for happiness, safety, and fulfillment that is America’s promise to each of them.

About this Guide

Eisenberg Family 1964

Author's family 1964: From left, Seth Eisenberg (white jacket), Milton Eisenberg, Lori Eisenberg (Gordon), David Eisenberg, Beth Eisenberg (Redwood), Jon Eisenberg.

I grew up with the story that there was a moment in my parents’ lives that they were both open to trying to save their marriage at the same time. The support that could have made a difference wasn’t available. As my mother often shared, it was August in Washington, DC. There were very few counselors working with couples at the time. Anyone who could’ve helped was away on vacation. After 17 years, 1964 would be the last for my parents’ marriage. At three, I was the youngest of our family’s four children. My siblings are seven, nine and eleven years my senior.

I often think about that story in my work to make the knowledge and skills taught in marriage education widely available through blog posts, websites, webinars, professional trainings, and classes that regularly touch the lives of thousands. As I sat down to begin our Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide earlier this month, I thought about couples I would never meet and, more than that, their children. Knowing that the holidays can be a breaking point for marriages that are already on the edge, the guide includes practical exercises that have made a significant difference in the lives of many families.

As I wrote the posts, I also kept in mind that reading about an experiential process is much like watching or reading about swimming. While there may be interest, excitement, and lessons to be learned, without getting in the water, it’s not the same.

I’ve seen thousands of couples achieve lasting breakthroughs in their lives and relationships as a result of their experiences in PAIRS classes that are taught throughout the country. I’d be surprised if even a single one of those breakthroughs came from the helpful, guiding words of our network of professional instructors no matter how wise or meaningful. Education is empowerment. The instructor’s role is to explain the process and create safety for each participant’s own journey. Repeatedly, I’ve seen it’s the work couples do directly with each other that produces the insights, connection, and opportunities for greater love, happiness, and fulfillment in their lives.

Together.

That’s the foundation of PAIRS’ unique approach to relationships. While brief programs such as PAIRS Essentials represent an evidence-based approach that has been carefully designed, studied and refined, it’s not the program that produces breakthroughs. It’s the willingness and decision of the participants themselves to become open to learning, engaging, growing, and intentionally creating a future for their most cherished wishes, hopes and dreams.

With each other.

Part One: Uninvited Guests

Uninvited Guests

Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide

As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, families are planning menus, finalizing invitation lists, and arranging travel to loved ones near and far. For our family, this year’s Thanksgiving is a double celebration as our youngest son, Zachary, celebrates his first birthday on Thanksgiving Day. His brothers will come home from college, aunts will arrive from Spain and California, to join grandparents, close friends, and others who have closely witnessed the joy and miracle of his life and eagerly embrace this special moment of celebration. It’s difficult to imagine a day more full with reasons for gratitude, appreciation, and acknowledgment of the gift of each other and life’s abundant blessings.

For many, Thanksgiving can also be a time of unusual stress and anxiety. For families estranged, distant or divided, the Thanksgiving meal may be one of very few occasions that relatives gather together during the year.

In marriage education classes and trainings I’ve taught nationwide, I often talk about Thanksgiving in introducing stress styles of communication, a concept developed by the late Virginia Satir to explain that the way we communicate with each other often creates distance instead of closeness.

Satir’s styles quite often find themselves as uninvited guests to Thanksgiving meals, such as the Placater who acts one way on the outside and feels very different inside, eager to make their getaway from the Thanksgiving table to reveal their true feelings and thoughts that may be the opposite of what they portrayed moments earlier; the Blamer, who is quick to find fault with anything and everything, regularly scanning interactions and experiences for an opportunity to assert themselves while subtly or actively seeking to demolish, insult, or hurt others; the Computer, who shuts down feelings altogether, not wanting anyone to see his or her emotions and carefully avoiding seeing emotions in others, careful to always choose the right words, perhaps with a sneaking sense of contempt towards others, interacting more like a robot than a human; and the Distracter, who is out of touch with everything – themselves, others, and the situation as well, who may bring fun entertainment to Thanksgiving guests while making every effort to avoid any real connection to his or her feelings, the feelings of others, or the situation itself.

In relationship and marriage education classes, we encourage participants to embrace the positive aspects of each of these styles to avoid communicating in ways that push others away. The positive aspect of the Placater is empathy and concern for others; for the Blamer, it’s their ability to speak on their own behalf, albeit with the Placater’s empathy and concern for others; the Computer may be wise and have access to knowledge and resources that can benefit others, so long as it doesn’t include shutting off feelings in themselves or others; and for the Distracter, it’s the ability to bring joy and laughter, as long as it incorporates empathy, concern, and authenticity.

Combining those positive qualities creates a fifth style that Satir called the Leveler. Levelers can speak on their own behalf, with empathy and concern for others, access their knowledge and resources to navigate the challenges of life, and regularly embrace opportunities to enjoy life.

In the next installment of our Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide, we introduce the five steps of the Daily Temperature Reading (DTR) along with tips for bringing the magic of the DTR to your Thanksgiving family celebration.

Part Two: Encouraging Connection

Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide

Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide

What will guests remember about your Thanksgiving celebration? Much like our own recollections of earlier years, before long, the taste of the delicious turkey, stuffing and accompaniments will soon fade. What will remain are memories of the emotions your guests felt and meaningful conversations shared. Whether your Thanksgiving meal involves just two of you or a large group, after setting the table with fine dishes and a spread of your favorite family recipes, or even take-out, adding the Daily Temperature Reading (DTR) is sure to make your special family gathering an event everyone will long cherish and remember.

The DTR is a guided conversation that nurtures relationships much like water and sunlight brings life to a garden. The five steps were originally created by the late Virginia Satir, a pioneer in the field of marriage and family and the first honorary chair of PAIRS Foundation. It is one of the most important tools couples learn in relationship and marriage education classes.

Appreciations: Take turns going around the table and invite each guest to share one or more appreciations about other family members or friends who are present. The only rule is that they’re sincere and specific. We can find something good in anyone, but too often, we keep those thoughts and observations to ourselves. Beginning with sincere, specific appreciations encourages connection, good will, boosts self-worth and self-esteem. Starting with yourself as host, generously express something specific that’s special for you about each of your Thanksgiving guests, being very aware to look into the eyes of the person you’re talking about, and then invite each guest, “At this time of Thanksgiving, what are some specific appreciations you have for any of the people at our table?” If you have young children, you can also give them the option to share, “What are some things you’d most like others to appreciate about you?”

New Information: Next, invite each guest to share something that’s new in their life. For those who get together only infrequently, this is a chance to catch up on the events that have been most meaningful in the lives of your family members and friends. For others who see or talk together daily, it’s also an important opportunity to learn more about the recent events, thoughts, or experiences that have been especially significant. Go around the table and invite each guest, “Tell us about what’s new in your life that’s meaningful for you.”

Puzzles: Assumptions can be deadly to close relationships. Puzzles is an invitation for your guests to ask anything they may be wondering about, and possibly get answers as well. Your Thanksgiving guests may not each have a puzzle, but if they do, this is an invitation to check it out with the person who might be able to offer missing information or insight. Go around the table and check-in with each person, “What are you wondering about that someone at our table might be able to answer?” This is not a time to bring up nuclear issues that could embarrass another guest. Children are often especially appreciative of the chance to check out their puzzles. Knowing we’re listened to and respected is a gift in and of itself.

Concerns with Recommendations: From the greatest teams, athletes, organizations, communities and systems of all shapes and size, becoming the best we can be in collaboration with others requires being open to hearing and sincerely considering the concerns of others along with their specific suggestions for how to make things better. Maybe it’s about more family time, a new recipe, suggested venue for the next holiday gathering, request for a family service project, or anything in between. It can be about a behavior or endeavor, so long as it’s not a judgment, attack or criticism of another person. As you go around the table, check-in with each person, asking, “What concerns with recommendations can you share with us?” Having concerns or complaints without specific requests for what someone wants instead is not a gift to any relationship. Although sharing concerns after expressing appreciations, new information, and checking out puzzles, together with a suggested resolution, is a sign that relationships matter.

Wishes, Hopes, Dreams: The idea that when we really want something we should carefully imagine it in the quiet of our mind without ever sharing it aloud is a recipe for unfulfilled dreams and ambitions. The people around your Thanksgiving table, perhaps more than any group in your family’s life, have enormous ability to help each other’s dreams come true. And sharing our dreams also helps us breath life into our own hopes for the future. Take time to allow each guest to answer, “What are your wishes, hopes or dreams?”

Families, organizations and communities that work well together regularly incorporate the five steps of the DTR into their interactions. Organizations as well may incorporate it into daily or weekly team meetings. Before long, it becomes a habit to actively express appreciations and acknowledgments to the people we’re closest to, keep each other up-to-date with new information, check out assumptions by asking questions directly instead of assuming, express concerns to help relationships grow in a positive way along with specific recommendations, and regularly share our wishes, hopes and dreams. Bringing the DTR to your Thanksgiving dinner will make the gathering one each of your guests will long cherish and remember. The conversation and lesson will be one that continues to create reasons for celebration all year long.

Part Three: Filling the Love Bank

Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide

Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide

As families prepare for Thanksgiving, much of the focus is on food as menu choices, recipes, timing, and cooking responsibilities take center stage. Making sure your loved ones enjoy a Thanksgiving they’ll long remember goes beyond serving up a new rendition of grandma’s mouth watering au-gratin potatoes and Terry’s savory turkey giblet stuffing.

Before your guests gather around the Thanksgiving table, investing time to learn more about how to make deposits into each others’ “Love Banks” will go a long way to making this year’s holiday extra special. As you make menu and activity preparations, it’s easy to assume that what’s important to you is also what others value. The idea of the Love Bank is to make a habit of finding out what makes the people who are most important in your life feel cared about, to share what’s meaningful to you as well, and to create an environment in which caring behaviors are a natural part of your regular family interactions.

In his book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, Dr. Gary Chapman reveals five basic areas of caring behaviors, noting that each of us have our own preferences that he calls “love language.” It’s helpful to also recognize that our preferences are often different in different relationships. For example, what says, “I love you,” to a spouse may be very different than how we make deposits into the Love Bank of a teenager or parent.

Relationship and marriage education classes teach couples to actively build the balance of their marriage and family Love Banks. Preparing for Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about your favorite friends and family members by asking, “What makes you feel cared about?” while also letting them know what’s important to you. In Helping Couples Change, Richard Stuart advises couples to create a list of at least 18 small, positive behaviors the partner can do that demonstrate caring and to intentionally do at least five caring behaviors each day.

Dr. Chapman’s five categories are a good place to start. Consider which of these areas is most and least important to you and what are specific actions others can do to make deposits in your own Love Bank. Once you know what builds your own positive balance, ask others how you can make deposits in their Love Banks.

  • Words of Affirmation: Sincere appreciations and acknowledgments.
  • Quality Time: A walk, movie, meal or chance to watch a show together.
  • Receiving Gifts: A card, present or anything else tangible that says you matter.
  • Acts of Service: Tidying up, setting the table, shopping, helping with a chore.
  • Physical Touch: Warm embrace, a kiss, snuggling together.

The false belief that if someone loves you, they should know what you want and automatically do it is a recipe for disappointment and missed opportunities. It’s important to let others know and ask them to share with you as well. Also, the idea that what’s important to you is the same for others can lead once close relationships to a place of distance and division. Many couples, families and friends lose the joy of their connection with each other by assuming that what made someone feel cared about in the past is the same in the present. As you grow and circumstances change, the actions that make you feel cared about by others likely changes too.

Part Four: Letting Go of Grudges

Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide

Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide

“Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.”

Thanksgiving is a time that families and dear friends come together in gratitude and celebration for the blessings in our lives. No matter how much you’re thankful for, focusing on gratitude while sitting across the table from a relative you’re mad at can leave even the most perfectly prepared recipes no match for your commitment to a speedy getaway.

Couples are not the only ones who find themselves caught up in seemingly irreconcilable differences. Siblings, parents and children, and others who once shared close relationships may also find themselves estranged, distant and divided. While sometimes those wounds never heal, for many others Thanksgiving is a chance to set aside differences on behalf of collective gratitude for the gift of life and, even in the face of anger, sadness or disappointment, each other.

Like many others, family estrangement has played a central role in my own life. Much of what drew me to the field of relationship and marriage education nearly 15 years ago was the hope that the skills and experience would help me create healthier relationships than those that have seemed so tragic and disappointing in the life of my family. Each day, waking up with the most amazing wife in the world and the three greatest sons a father could ever ask for, I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned.

Teaching classes has also shown me countless examples of the values – good and bad – we typically pass down from generation to generation. I’ve seen many families bonded together by a commitment to actively stand by each other no matter what. Others have clearly shown that family ties are fragile at best. Whether your parents became estranged from your earliest years, your step-brother ran off to a cult for 25 years, your brother borrowed the college trust funds, your uncle swiped the retirement account, your sister wants nothing to do with the family, or your mother seems eager to sabotage your every good deed, I’ve realized it’s up to each of us to choose for ourselves how to handle the relationships we most cherish. Tools such as John Gray’s “feeling letter” described in his book, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, are a good place to begin when it comes to letting go of grudges.

Grudges weigh us down, taking away energy and creativity that’s much better directed to connecting with others to create success, joy and fulfillment in our lives.

Marriage and relationship education classes teach a modified version of John Gray’s feeling letter to help participants let go of grudges. Letting go of a grudge doesn’t mean you forget the wrongs others have done or that you’ve chosen to be close to each other again. Although I’ve seen that happen many times. Regardless, it is a valuable opportunity to release the energy of negative emotions to make room for positive feelings and experiences.

Whether you’re hosting Thanksgiving or an invited guest, if you’re expecting to see someone at the table that you’re holding a grudge against, try writing a letter following these sentence stems, completing as many that fit for you in each section as possible. Remember, you won’t be sending this letter. This is for you only.

Dear ….

I am writing this letter to let go of a grudge I’ve been holding.

ANGER & BLAME

I resent…

I’m outraged by…

I’m fed up with…

I can’t stand…

I can’t forgive you for…

I needed…

HURT & SADNESS

I feel hurt by…

I feel sad because…

I am disappointed that…

I feel awful because…

I want…

FEAR & INSECURITY

I’m confused because…

I am afraid that…

I feel embarrassed / ashamed that…

What scares me is…

I’m worried about…

I want…

GUILT & RESPONSIBILITY

I regret…

I may be to blame for…

I feel sympathy for…

I didn’t mean to…

Please forgive me for…

I wish…

FORGIVENESS, UNDERSTANDING, KINDNESS

I appreciate…

I realize…

I value…

I love…

I like…

I hope…

After you’ve written and signed your letter, you can read it again to yourself before ceremonially (and very carefully) burning it or tearing it into small pieces as you bid farewell to the negative feelings you were holding inside.

Part Five: Head of the Charles

Head of the Charles

Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide

Whether you’re setting out for the Head of the Charles or preparing your home and family to welcome Thanksgiving guests, you’ll need a team of people actively involved in getting ready for the special day. Just as the competitors in the rowing competition’s 46th edition wouldn’t travel far without working together, your Thanksgiving feast will require plenty of collaboration and good sportsmanship.

The best-planned celebration can be easily sabotaged by power struggles or mistaken assumptions about who is responsible for what. Before finalizing your invitation list, menu selections, seating arrangements, and plans for putting it all together, having a discussion about who’s responsible for what will make the process more enjoyable for all.

Relationships suffer when one person tries to make every decision for others. Dividing authority between family members can help families break out of “decision traps” by clarifying who’s in charge of what. Richard Stuart, D.S.W., developed an exercise called the ”Powergram” that creates five spaces representing areas of independence and interdependence to help couples think about decision-making. Couples, families and teams learn to create their own Powergrams in leading relationship skills and marriage education classes.

Powergram

Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide

The first space to the far left represents the areas where one person has complete independence and autonomy to make decisions. The next space represents areas of independent decision-making that require input from others. The middle of the Powergram represents decisions that must be made together. The final two areas are decisions others can make with input and, last, decisions others can make independently.

What are the decision-making areas important to preparing for your successful Thanksgiving celebration? Consider which of those listed below fit for your event and add others. After you’ve completed your list complete, get your Thanksgiving team together to talk about each area and where it fits in your family’s Thanksgiving Powergram. The exercise will help your family learn about sharing responsibility and working together for something meaningful to all of you.

  1. Budget
  2. Guest list
  3. Invitations
  4. Travel
  5. Food Choices
  6. Drinks
  7. Shopping
  8. Food preparation
  9. Location
  10. Tidying and Repairs
  11. Music
  12. Activities
  13. Childcare
  14. Seating
  15. Dishes
  16. Serving
  17. Clean-Up
  18. Thank you’s

After your Thanksgiving celebration, get together to talk about how everything went and how the Powergram can help you create more peace, teamwork, and joy the whole year through.

Part Six: Psyched to Celebrate

Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide

Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide

As you prepare to welcome family and friends to your home for Thanksgiving, you want to be in the best frame of mind to celebrate. It can be difficult to be aware of the good things in your life when you’re holding onto anger, sadness, fear or frustration. No matter how much you may want to follow the rules that tell you to count your blessings, if you don’t have anything good to say don’t say anything at all, and not rock the boat with your own problems, negative emotions held in can smother feelings of love and happiness. After a while, those negative feelings may leak out through sarcasm, ridiculing, blaming, assuming, distancing, and a range of other behaviors that push loved ones away.

Eventually, negative feelings held in tend to either implode or explode. When they implode, you may feel sad or even depressed. Many people make destructive decisions about how to cover up or mask those feelings that end up making things even worse. At the extreme, holding strong negative emotions inside can lead people to hurt themselves. For others, negative feelings held in explode outwardly, most often towards the people they care about most. That can look like anger, a short fuse searching for any excuse to go off, and at another extreme, violence.

Being angry, sad or scared as a result of the events you experience is perfectly normal. Being fully alive and aware of events taking place near and far may bring many reasons to feel angry, sad or frightened. As couples discover in leading marriage education and relationship skills training programs, having those feelings doesn’t have to be destructive to you or the people you love. The challenge is to have a constructive way to release the energy of those feelings to make room for a sense of relief and joy. Being able to do that with a close friend or family member is one of the greatest gifts you can share with each other, both as the one talking and the one listening.

If you notice you’re feeling distant from yourself or others, invite a trusted friend or family member to listen to you as you Empty your Emotional Jug. Done correctly, this exercise will help you make room to take in lots of good feelings while providing relief from any negative emotions you were holding onto.

What often keeps people from sharing feelings with others is concern about how others will react. With the best of intentions, confiding often leads others to judge, criticize, deny, disqualify, or try to fix things. For this exercise, the listener’s role is to listen with empathy, meaning imagining what it’s like to be in your shoes, and to show appreciation as you confide your feelings. Confiding is the lifeblood of intimacy. Being willing to trust another person with your feelings is a sign that they’re important to you.

Once you’re sitting together privately and free of distractions with 20 – 30 minutes for this exercise, you can take hands. The Listener will ask the questions. As the Speaker, your job is to look into your gut where you keep your feelings, as if going there with a search light, and answering the questions the Listener asks. Don’t think too much about what you’re going to say. It doesn’t have to make sense or convince someone. It’s simply an opportunity to become aware of what’s inside and express it to make room for good feelings.

Especially the first few times you do this exercise, if you have feelings of anger, sadness or fear that are about the Listener, do not include them. The Listener is learning to listen with empathy while you’re becoming comfortable expressing the range of feelings you have inside. At the beginning, it can be difficult to listen with empathy when the issues confided are about the Listener personally. It’s important that the Listener knows before you begin that no matter what you share during the exercise, the Listener is not going to ask questions, comment on the issues, tell you the same thing happened to a neighbor down the street, or offer solutions. For this exercise, the Listener’s role is to listen with empathy, show appreciation for your willingness to confide, and continue to ask the questions until the exercise is complete.

When you’re ready, the Listener begins by asking, “What are you mad about?” After you’ve shared whatever you find in your gut that you’re mad about and expressed it in words, the Listener shows a sign of appreciation (by saying “thank you,” gently squeezing your hand, or maybe a hug) and then asks, “What else are you mad about?” Again, you share, the Listener listens with empathy, and shows appreciation, and then continues with, “What else are you mad about?” You may continue as long as it takes to express everything you’re mad about. As you do, the listener keeps listening and appreciating you for sharing. When you’ve said everything that’s there, the Listener asks, “If you were mad about anything else, what would it be?”

Once you’re done with feelings connected to anger, you move on to what may be causing sadness with the Listener asking, “What are you sad about?” Search your gut for anything and everything connected to sadness. Remember, emotions have no sense of time. What may have caused sadness months or years ago can be just as present now. The Listener listens with empathy, shows appreciation, and continues with, “What else are you sad about?” Always listening with empathy, showing appreciation, and continuing until you’ve expressed everything in your gut connected to sadness. When you’re all done, the Listener asks, “If you were sad about anything else, what would it be?”

Next is to move onto feelings of fear with the Listener asking, “What are you scared about?” Share whatever is there as the Listener listens with empathy, shows appreciation, and continues asking, “What else are you scared about?” When you’ve expressed everything you can find connected to sadness, the Listener asks, “If you were scared about anything else, what would it be?”

The last step is to share what you’re glad about. You’ll quickly discover that having released pent-up feelings connected to anger, sadness and fear, you’re much more in touch with positive feelings. The Listener asks, “What are you glad about?” As with the previous steps, the Listener continues to listen, show appreciation, and ask, “What else are you glad about?” After you’ve shared as much as you want connected to feelings of joy, happiness or gratitude, the Listener asks, “Is there anything else you’re glad about that you’d like to share?”

End the exercise with a meaningful sign of appreciation towards each other for the experience you’ve shared. A long hug, warm hand shake, or generous words of acknowledgment.

The experience will leave you ready to fill your emotional jug with lots of good feelings and psyched up to embrace Thanksgiving’s opportunities for celebration and love.

Part Seven: Seek and Find

Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide

Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide

You can find whatever you’re looking for. What are you looking for?

As you imagine your fast approaching Thanksgiving celebration, ask yourself: “What are you looking for?” In life? In your relationships? In yourself?

The question is important because I’ve learned, almost without exception, that people always find what they’re looking for in love and intimacy. It’s not difficult. We live in a world of breathtaking beauty, meaning, and opportunity, and also one that includes enormous tragedy, grief and challenge.

It’s the same world. Every part of it, in all its dimensions, is always available. It depends, of course, on what we’re looking for.

The same is true with people. It’s difficult to imagine anyone in the world in whom we can’t find good, although I recognize in some situations, it may take an extra hard look. And no matter how much good we find, there’s always an opportunity to find what’s wrong. Both are always present. As humans, of course we’re works in progress.

Evidence.

The energy it takes to uncover evidence to confirm we’ve found what we’re looking for is so often an enormous waste of time. The even greater energy that goes into enrolling and convincing others to see the same thing can be devastating to marriages, families, communities, teams, and ourselves as well.

I think that’s part of why I find some lawyers particularly unpleasant. With few exceptions, so many seem to become like vultures seeking opportunities to maliciously insert themselves into disputes for their own personal gain with little (and that’s generous) concern for the impact on others, including, I suspect, the clients who feed them.

While it’s not always possible, adversarial processes are best avoided.

Few children reach adulthood without enjoying at least a few games of Hide and Seek. Even with our precious soon to be one year old, Hide and Seek is already a favorite.

While youngsters at your Thanksgiving celebration may still delight in the chance to sneak away to your home’s most clever concealments, adults are more likely to play their own game of Seek and Find.

You can find whatever you’re looking for. So decide, what are you looking for?

When your brother and his wife arrive 45 minutes late with their adorably dressed toddlers in tow and a bouquet of fresh flowers for the host, what will you be looking for? If you want to find a reason to be angry or disappointed, you’ve got one. They’re late to the festive meal you’ve been planning and preparing for weeks. If you want to find how attentive and well behaved their children are, you can likely find that too. And, of course, if you’re searching for acknowledgment of all your hard work, you’ll have to look no further than the outstretched hands holding out the gorgeous arrangement of flowers brought as a sign of appreciation.

One of my favorite activities during years of teaching art appreciation to my older sons’ elementary school classmates was a game we played with famous works of art. One by one, I’d call a small group of youngsters up front to examine a masterpiece concealed from their peers. Then I’d invite the young boys and girls to describe to the class what they saw as classmates imagined an illustration of what was being presented in words. When we’d finally turn the canvas for all to see, very rarely did it look anything like the children imagined. That wasn’t because the descriptions offered by their classmates were wrong; it was that each person focused only on what they saw, which was never more than one small part of what there was to be seen.

The fact that one little boy noticed four horsemen riding off in the distance while another focused on a luxury sedan cruising across Miami Beach didn’t make either wrong.

My hope was that the lessons we learned through our exploration of art would carry into their lives long beyond their school years, recognizing that seeing things differently rarely meant anyone was wrong. Most often, it means just that we have different perspectives. It’s also regularly another sign that we find what we’re looking for in spite of what might seem clear as day to another person.

As you prepare to welcome friends and family to your home for Thanksgiving, decide for yourself, what will you be looking for? Whatever it is, you can be nearly certain you’ll find it.

Seth Eisenberg is President of the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation, an industry leader in relationship and marriage education.

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Categorised in: Books, Education, Fatherhood, Lifestyle/Leisure, News, Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide

4 Responses

  1. Dear Seth,

    This webpage graces the internet as a much needed family survival resource. To realize that individuals may recognize themselves and realize others struggle with similar problems brings hope that they are not alone.

    During the generation of your parents, counselors, therapists, group settings and psychologist were not all that available, nor speaking about these issues.

    You’ve presented this information in a very sensitive manner and I’m looking forward to learning and reading more.

    Sincerely,
    Debby
    http://www.twitter.com/DebbyBruck

  2. Thank you!

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