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Is Total Freedom the Goal?

Is Total Freedom the Goal?   © 2024 by Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. Setting Boundaries in Relationships at Home, at Work and Online As we celebrate Independence Day and the freedoms that we enjoy, the question of “how free can we be and still get along” keeps coming up. This applies to relationships in families, at work, the online world, and politics. While there is a lot of talk of freedoms and rights, there also has to be talk of boundaries and responsibilities. One thing is clear: Where there are no rules, only bullies will rule. Unfortunately, boundaries in today’s world can be very fuzzy and often need open discussion. In years past, roles were clear and everyone knew what the basic boundaries were. Today, boundaries are more subject to negotiation, so people need skills to assert themselves enough to feel safe while also feeling free as much as possible to grow and be themselves. This article addresses setting boundaries in various settings and how we can do that with confidence and mutual respect. Romantic Relationships It used to be obvious that romantic relationships only work when people mutually agree that they won’t date other people once they have committed to a partner. Yet this isn’t always clear-cut today. Some people have “open marriages,” in which they date other people. Nowadays, some people are “polyamorous,” which means they each may have two or three people who are ongoing “part-time lovers.” There is also the “Big Love” of a polygamous family with one man and several wives and all of their children. Then there are some people with narcissistic personalities who believe that they need to go out and get more love from several people, while their partners should stay home and only need them. Overall, this means that people need to be clear about what their needs and expectations are and need to say them out loud at some point when developing a romantic relationship. It also means that people need to know themselves and their own needs before taking big relationship risks. Multiple partners often turn out to be fantasies that can’t be sustained and sometimes people get hurt deeply. On the other hand, research shows that young adults today are avoiding sex, marriage, and children more than prior generations, which isn’t good either. Assertive skills can help make the world and relationships less scary, as explained below. Young Adults (and High School) Sex Young people have to navigate a far different world today from their parents and grandparents. While no sex before marriage was the standard decades ago, the issue of sex comes up early in dating or “hooking up” without even a dating relationship. Unlike in the past, young people have to learn to protect themselves because the culture, religious communities, peers, and even families are less involved in these very individualized decisions today. Two key boundaries seem important here: Know what you want and don’t want. These are boundaries for yourself. If someone doesn’t want what you want or doesn’t respect what you don’t want, then they aren’t for you. High school and college students should never feel so desperate for love that they sacrifice their sense of self, what they want, and what they don’t want. They still have lots of time to find what they are looking for in today’s wide-open world. Finding like-minded groups of people who share beliefs and interests is one of the best ways to meet people who will respect you. Say what you want and don’t want. Only “Yes means Yes!” It used to be that you could do whatever you wanted with a partner unless they said No! (the old “No means No!”) But that turned out to be insufficient because people (often girls) felt pressured to do things they didn’t want to and they didn’t feel comfortable saying No. Instead, “Yes means Yes” means that you have to get permission first before you engage in each form of physical contact. Without a Yes, there is an automatic boundary. The problem is that not everyone knows this or follows it, so you have to be ready to be very assertive about saying “Only Yes means Yes!” Abusive Relationships Unfortunately, some relationships include physical (and sometimes sexual) violence. This catches many people (primarily women) off-guard and they come to believe that this is a part of most relationships—but it’s not. All partners should respect each other’s health and safety, and domestic violence is a violation of one person’s body for another person’s freedom to abuse. In today’s society, there is a generally accepted boundary against domestic violence (it’s illegal), but it still occurs in approximately 20% of couple relationships, with perhaps half of them including what is called “coercive control,” in which one partner lives in fear of the other partner. Early in a relationship look for warning signs and even discuss agreed boundaries against all of these behaviors and more: no slapping, hitting, pushing, shoving, knocking down, blocking from leaving, taking a phone away, choking, cutting off from friends and relatives, controlling finances, etc. If you can’t discuss this and agree to such boundaries, then the relationship may already be unsafe. Divorce and Parenting This is an area where all the rules are changing in terms of roles, parenting time, and responsibilities when a relationship ends, but the parents continue on as business partners in the business of raising their children. For a detailed description of relevant boundaries, see the article “Top 12 Tips for Co-Parent Boundaries” in the May 2024 High Conflict Institute newsletter.  Workplace Rules Boundaries in the workplace can be particularly confusing nowadays, especially with dramatic changes within companies, with employees and managers coming and going regularly, and with both genders working closely side-by-side. Much of today’s work world needs to be negotiated, so assertiveness skills are critical. From the start of employment, companies and employees should feel free to itemize what the expectations, behaviors, and responsibilities are for everyone. It helps if there

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Can Children Make Independent Decisions in Dysfunctional Families?

Can Children Make Independent Decisions in Dysfunctional Families?   © 2024 by Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. At least one state is considering the idea of allowing their family courts to give children as young as 14 the right to make decisions about whether to have a relationship with one of their parents, if the child can demonstrate sufficient maturity and independence to make such a decision. This would be a huge mistake and based on a complete misunderstanding of family dynamics. For a child to resist or refuse a relationship with a parent is not normal and only occurs in dysfunctional families. The question is why? Is it because of child abuse, domestic violence, alienation, or something else? This is not a problem to ignore or sweep under the rug by punting to the child. This is not a problem to solve by eliminating one parent and all of that side of the family, which is often the healthier side of the family. Most separating or divorcing families (about 80 percent) do not go to court to resolve their parenting decisions. Of child custody disputes in family courts, only about 25% or less involve a child resisting or refusing contact with a parent. This is not a normal divorce problem. Children in such families cannot be independent. That is why knowledgeable adults need to figure out what is going on and what would help. This article explains why this is so important. Dysfunctional Families in Family Courts Families operate as a system, with each member influencing each other in a healthy or unhealthy way. Generally healthy family systems find ways of separating that maintain contact with all family members, just in a less-intimate form of the familiar dynamics. Parents communicate, children see them both, and conflicts are managed through minimal contact or active problem-solving. Those who are left in the family courts today are primarily dysfunctional family systems—one or both parents have serious problems. Most court decisions are about bad behavior, how to evaluate it and how to manage it. Discovering lies, hidden assets and income, and enforcing court orders have become the main issues in today’s family courts. Restraining orders have become a huge part of the court’s work, as dysfunctional behavior and lack of self-restraint continues to grow in society. In dysfunctional family systems, people develop dual personas in order to hide the family dysfunction. In private they may be very abusive, emotionally, physically, sexually, or neglectful. But in public they may appear and sound very reasonable, positive, and even charming. This goes for parents and also for children. Because of these dual personas in dysfunctional families, courts have very little idea who and what they are really dealing with. The “search for the truth” is much more complicated with people who are actively trying to hide the truth in family systems that have years of experience in keeping family secrets. One of the myths of family court is that victims of abuse will simply stand up and tell the truth, so that courts can protect them. Most victims know that they cannot have any confidence that they will be protected from the most dangerous family members. On the other hand, perpetrators of abuse are usually comfortable with the court process, because they have aggressive personalities and have had years of experience in dominating their family systems through manipulations and lies and spreading rumors inside and outside the family. Speaking in public is easy for them and their “public personas.” And children – who have been trained since birth to cope with the secrets, rigid roles, and danger – will do anything and say anything to survive, even to a judge.   The result is that judges have to make their best guess about what is really happening with each party’s “private persona,” based on each party’s “public persona.” If the judge favors the weaker party, then the stronger and possibly abusive party will escalate his or her dysfunctional behavior in an effort to maintain the power structure and stability of the family system. This can lead to violence outside of the courtroom, kidnapping children, financial manipulation, spreading rumors or other methods of asserting control. If the judge favors the dominant party, then the court is simply reinforcing the dysfunctional family system and making life worse for a weaker or victim party or child. In both cases, the family system is knocked out of balance and the children are drafted to help regain its stability by reinforcing the power structure unhealthy as it is. Family systems heavily influence the behavior of each member of the family. Dysfunctional families are under the influence of these factors, just as much as actively using addicts are under the influence of their drugs. They are unreliable sources of information and should not be expected to present reliable information to the court as a parent, a child, or other relative in the dysfunctional family system. Children Go Where the Power Is Overall, children are unreliable reporters who “carry the dysfunction” of the dysfunctional family, as they have no other choice. Children go where the power is. They have been trained in the family dysfunction, often from birth – especially when they have a personality-disordered parent (sometimes one, sometimes two). As family courts look to children as a source of information, they tend to be unaware of the influence of family systems. The question shouldn’t be “Is the child mature enough to provide independent and reliable information?” which is the question asked today. The question should be: “Why do we believe that anyone within a dysfunctional family system can be an accurate reporter, child or adult?” Well-trained investigators outside the family system will be much more accurate in gathering and presenting information. Sometimes one individual trying to evaluate a family system will get sucked into the dysfunction, which is why a team of professionals with multiple sources of information is the best at correcting each other’s biases and misinformation. Family systems are at

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Top 12 Tips for Co-Parent Boundaries

When parents separate, their lives need more clearly defined boundaries for their sake and for the children. Two of the most important parenting skills are managing one’s own stress and modeling healthy adult relationship communication. Setting boundaries individually and jointly can protect children from situations when they might be exposed to too much of their parent’s distress and also show them that their separated parents can successfully manage their new lives.

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