Are you struggling to have a relationship with your father? Relationship expert Dr. Linda Nielsen says the key to bettering your relationship with your dad is to focus on the improvements you can make, even if he never changes. Read an excerpt from her book Between Fathers & Daughters: Enriching and Rebuilding Your Adult Relationships.
"Why is my dad always criticizing me or telling me how to run my life?"
"Why does my dad seem so distant when I try to talk to him?"
"Why can't we talk comfortably or honestly about personal things?"
"Is it too late to improve our communication at this point in our lives?"
"Why can't dad talk to me like a grownup instead of like a little girl?"
"Why is it so hard for us to communicate?"
Let's face it, most of us think we communicate better than other people do. And even though all of us sometimes behave like the south end of a northbound mule, we waste a lot of energy focusing on the other person's flaws rather than our own. So as you read this, take a different approach: focus only on the improvements that you can make in communicating. Changing the way you communicate is a gift you give yourself because you're going to feel more relaxed and more satisfied with yourself even if the other person doesn't change.
Let's start by using the following quiz to figure out how you and your father typically communicate with each other. Take the quiz now!
The behaviors in the quiz are called emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence means being able to talk comfortably about personal, emotional things, to sense what others are feeling, to be aware of your own feelings, to listen attentively, to initiate conversations and keep them going, and to express your emotions in ways that don't damage your relationships.
So how emotionally intelligent are you? And where do you need to improve? If you scored above 40, you're a very emotionally intelligent person. You have great communication skills. But if you scored below 20, you've got a lot of new skills to learn. The lower your score, the more likely you are to hear: "You're not listening to me." "You don't understand how I feel." "You're so distant and hard to get to know." "Why can't you tell me how you feel without getting angry or without clamming up?"
Many adult daughters are more emotionally or more socially intelligent than their fathers. Is this because men aren't interested in communicating? No. Is it because women are by nature better communicators than men? No. Is it because men are less sensitive or less understanding than women—or that men don't have as many feelings are women do? No.
Then what's going on? Just this: little girls are generally taught more emotional or social communication skills than little boys. These skills are learned, not inborn. For example, when little boys feel afraid or someone hurts their feelings, they are usually taught not to express those feelings. Not wanting to be called "sissies", little boys learn to hide feelings of fear, loneliness, insecurity, or pain. Don't cry. Don't talk about your feelings. And don't talk about personal things. Talk sports or school or television or movies. But don't talk personal stuff the way girls do. Given how differently most males and females have been taught to communicate, it's no surprise that many fathers score lower than their daughters on the emotional intelligence test.
So as father and daughter, first recognize that you communicate differently largely because this is what you have each been taught to do. Second, recognize that no matter how old you are, you can raise your emotional intelligence by learning new skills. For example, as a dad, you can learn to turn off the TV or put down the paper when your daughter is trying to talk to you so that she won't accuse you of not listening to her. And you can spend less time asking her for the facts ("What's new lately?") and more time asking her about her feelings: "Tell me about what made you happiest or saddest lately." That's emotional intelligence. And as a daughter you can learn not to start important conversations with your father when he his preoccupied or physically exhausted. For instance, don't start a serious conversation as soon as he gets home from work or when he's at his wits end trying to fix a leaky faucet. And you can stop pouting or walking away when you're frustrated with him. That's emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence also means being able to correctly interpret what the other person is feeling. For example, when dad keeps watching TV while his daughter is trying to talk to him, she gets angry because she interprets this to mean: "He isn't interested in what's going on in my life." Meanwhile, dad feels disappointed and misunderstood because he interprets his daughter's anger to mean: "If she had any consideration for how hard I work, she'd know by now that watching TV when I first get home is the only way I can get relaxed." So who's at fault—father or daughter? The answer is: neither. Both are lacking certain emotional intelligence skills. And both are making assumptions that are hurting their relationship.
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Printed from Oprah.com on Friday, March 7, 2014
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