“That’s just how it is,” says my friend about his family.
Is that what you believe about your family also?
Or is it with work where you say, “Well, that’s life.”
I get it.
We don’t know it can be any different.
For me, it was my husband who helped me see things differently.
We were college age, and he was a new boyfriend, over at my house for a Friday night dinner for the first time. He noticed something about the “discussion” at the table. Mostly, that I didn’t feel too good about it afterwards.
“That’s how it is,” is what I said. I explained how I brought up topics that I wanted to share and my dad always had a way of shooting down my opinion and making his own sound like the winner.
“Hmm. But, you don’t have to argue with him if it doesn’t feel good,” my husband pointed out.
That’s when the insight hit.
Oh, it DIDN’T have to be this way. I could change how I engaged in the conversation.
That began a process of change for me.
Now here is the surprising thing that happened when I stopped engaging in those conversations the same way: I kinda I missed something from those conversations with my dad. I know he did too.
It turns out I was wrong about “That’s how it is.”
What I thought was “what is” was “That’s how we connect.”
The discussion in its unevenness WAS the relationship.
Even though I didn’t feel great afterwards, I did feel connected.
That was what I missed.
That’s the hard thing about family.
We have patterns of communicating that are how we have the relationship.
We don’t really think about it.
And, most of the time this patterns of communication, what i call our scripts, have been inherited.
My dad’s way of having a discussion with me was very similar to how my dad had relationships with the people in his family or origin.
It was, and still is, very common in my extended family to discuss a topic and to share disagreements.
Some family members have certain moves that they do to get their idea heard more or to show that they are right. Some are more forceful than others.
It is a way of connecting, and isn’t intended to make anyone feel bad.
Part of what had made me feel bad was that I wanted to share ideas with my dad and hear his approval. I wanted to hear something like, “I see what your’e saying, Leah. I hadn’t thought about it that way. Good for you!”
But, I wasn’t going to get that.
Because my dad didn’t know I needed it! He engaged with me from his point of view and needs, unaware of mine.
My dad is a very sweet, tender man who loves his family very much, but can also be stern and forceful when it feels necessary to him.
As a young adult, I was more aware of wanting approval from the stern and forceful authority side of my dad than of my dad’s tender side wanting to connect with me.
So, how did I change the dynamic?
I stopped engaging in arguments that didn’t feel good.
And, I found new ways to connect with my dad.
It turned out that something I thought, “That’s just how it is” was changeable.
Where in your life are you accepting a relationship as “That’s just how it is” where maybe it could be different? I’d love to hear from you in the comments or you can get in touch here.
Leah Zimmerman is an Intergenerational Resolving Conflict Expert and Family Business Advisor who makes hard conversations easy. She blends her background in education, theater, personal development and spirituality to create transformational conversations for individuals, teams and families. Find Leah on Linkedin at to learn more.