Monday, April 18, 2011

Putting an End to the Game Without End

In my post of November 18, Changing the Rules of a Game That Will Not End, I described what I find to be a fascinating phenomenon that seems to take place whenever a family member attempts to change the existing rules by which the family operates.  Because everyone had compulsively followed the rules before that point, no one really believes anyone else really wants the rules to change.  That happens even when everyone in the family would be happier with the rule changes than with the previous set of rules.

What happens next is that people start doing the new, requested behavior, but they do it in a half-baked or obnoxious way.  When the person who requested the change then complains about the new behavior, everyone else thinks to themselves, "See, I just knew they really did not want the change in the first place."

In the earlier post, I gave an example concerning attempts to change traditional gender roles that a lot of folks may be familiar with.  When both a husband and wife have to work, the wife often still ends up doing the bulk of the housework and childcare. Why? Is it because men are all male chauvinist pigs?  Well, no. 

In this situation, the husband will generally start to do, say, the after-dinner clean up, but purposely does a poor job, puts things away where the wife can't find them when she needs them, or does things in some other way that he knows the wife will find objectionable. 

She then almost invariably complains to him that he's not doing it right, and he concludes that she really does not want to cede control of the kitchen despite her protestations to the contrary.  So he stops doing things unless she specifically asks him to do it.  She gets tired of always having to ask and then ends up doing everything herself.

In a way, she is often not completely comfortable ceding control of the kitchen- but only because she may have been taught in her own family of origin that the housework was a woman's job. 

Conversely, if she is asked to take over a traditionally male job such as taking the family car in to get fixed, she will do a very similar thing to him.  She will draw criticism about the way she goes about it (often with the help of an unscrupulous auto mechanic, who believes that he can cheat her because he knows that she probably does not know very much about cars). 

Hubby then gets mad that she spent too much or got cheated, and she concludes that he really wants to remain in charge of things like that.  Which he sort of does, since he had been taught in his family of origin that getting cars fixed was the man's job.

People in a family system will almost invariably "test" any new, requested rule change in this manner.  They do it this way in order to give the person who is requesting the rule an "out" - just in case he or she really is uncomfortable with the change. Through their actions, they also take the blame themselves for any failure to change the rules.  Family members are so generous that way.

At the end of the previous post, I mentioned that there is relatively simple way for game players to end the game without end, but that I would save that for a later post. This is now that post.

In order for this solution to work, it is important for individuals requesting the change to freely admit that they are not completely comfortable with the changes, but only because they were raised to follow the old set of rules.  They now see the error of the former ways, but it will take some time before they get comfortable with the changes.

When another family member then does the requested behavior in a half-baked or obnoxious way, the person requesting the change should first praise the person for trying to do what was asked for.  Then and only then should the requester quibble with the way that the task was performed. 

For example, "Thanks for doing the dishes, honey, I really appreciate it.  But if you are going to move things around, please tell me so I know where everything is."

Another example from the previous post: a wife had been encouraging her husband to be more honest about his true feelings and not so closed off. Consequently, he began to express himself, but in an abrasive fashion in front of her boss.  The wife here should wait until she is no longer furious with the husband for doing that, and then say, "I'm really glad that you're being more open about your feelings, but I really wish you wouldn't do that in front of my boss."

Point, game, match.


  1. Unrelated to this post, but have you seen:

    Anna :o]