How To Improve Your Relationship With Your Parents
I thought of myself as a kind and thoughtful person, but then I moved back in with my parents.
And I found, after I moved back home, that I could be a real grouch. I could resist chores and in conversation I could be rude and unpleasant.
I asked myself, why? Why am I acting this way? What about home brings this out in me? I don’t act this way around my friends or my coworkers.
A few months ago, I stumbled across the answer.
I read in a book that people act out when their “love tanks” are empty:
Inside every child is an ‘emotional tank’ waiting to be filled with love. When a child really feels loved, he will develop normally, but when the love tank is empty, the child will misbehave. Much of the misbehavior of children is motivated by the cravings of an empty ‘love tank.’
The more I thought about it, the more it made sense.
My parents and I haven’t done a good job at effectively loving one another.
We weren’t good at:
(1) identifying our needs or
(2) communicating our needs nonviolently.
But in the past few months, we’ve gotten a bit better at both. And here are the two mental models that helped us out.
On Identifying Needs
Gary Chapman, who I quoted earlier, has a popular framework around our needs for love: the five love languages.
Chapman has a simple message. He says people give and receive love in different ways. Five different ways. And oftentimes, our loved ones need a different kind of love than what we’re giving them.
For instance, I have different love languages than my parents.
My mom might want me to buy her snacks or treats—gift giving!
My dad might want me to vacuum—acts of service.
I might want them to tag along with me to the grocery store—quality time.
Now, it’s hard to *truly* internalize that each love language is valid and equal—despite all the articles on love languages that have entered the mainstream.
This was my roadblock. When I first read about love languages many moons ago, I subconsciously felt that gift giving was a little materialistic. Words of affirmation felt a little vain. And acts of service felt a bit cold.
Reading the source material on love languages (Chapman’s book) helped me get over this.
I learned how gifts as love do make sense. Because gifts are so… tangible. The Taj Mahal, for one thing, is far more durable than a hug or the best compliment. The emperor who made the Taj Mahal, for one, understood that symbols have emotional value.
And when you remember snacks and treats are gifts, gift giving as a love language becomes so accessible.
Chapman drove home how acts of service is a valid love language with this scene:
Listen to me carefully,” I said. “The love you feel when your wife expresses love by physical touch is the same love your wife feels when you do the laundry.” “Bring on the laundry!” he shouted. “I’ll wash the clothes every night if it makes her feel that good.
To find your parents’ love languages, you can ask them. But you also might already know. People tend to make their love languages known:
My spouse’s criticisms about my behavior provide me with the clearest clue to her primary love language. People tend to criticize their spouse most loudly in the area where they themselves have the deepest emotional need.
After reading the book, I always get my mom food when she asks, and I make the most of opportunities to give gifts, like Mother’s Day and her birthday.
For my dad, I try to vacuum and do the dishes and do the chores. Sometimes I don't, but I do know what the desired behavior is 😛
On Communicating Needs
It's surprisingly hard to communicate your needs in a way that makes the other person want to fulfill them. Especially when the other person has communicated violently to you first.
Nonviolent communication (NVC):
“You talked over me twice in this meeting (observation). I couldn't share my ideas and I felt disappointed (feeling). As a quiet person, I have a need to be able to express myself (need). Could I share my update first next time? How would that be for you? (request).
Nonviolent communication is made of four parts: observation, feeling, need, and request.
There are some gotchas:
- Be sure to separate the observation and the evaluation (the feeling), otherwise it will be received as a criticism. The Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti once remarked that observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence.
- Avoid observations like, you’re always late, you never care about me. Sometimes, these observations are true 😂 I remember a long-time friend said she’d never seen me dance well. It was true. But still 🖕
- Be sure the feeling you present is not a pseudo-feeling. e.g. "I feel that you should have let me share my ideas" is a thought, not a feeling. You could swap out “I feel” for “I think” in that sentence.
- Be sure the feeling you present doesn’t subtly blame the other person. e.g. Feeling irritated suggests the other person did the irritating. Other examples: misunderstood, ignored, etc.
- Be sure to identify your needs! It surprised me how hard and unnatural this felt. Huh. I'm not used to identifying my needs.
- Be sure to make a clear and specific request. In this way, NVC is quite direct.
Read more details with this PDF summary of NVC or with this Youtube channel on NVC.
I know this kind of communication can be verbose and stilted, but it's just so much more effective.
Sometimes people use violent communication, and in that case, defuse it. Use a line of questioning to reveal the observation, the feeling, the need and the request. It works wonders~
Try that next time you're called bossy or annoying or a jerk.
These are two frameworks I’ve found handy. I’m not perfect at using them, but I am convinced of their effectiveness and want to get better.
I feel like I'm making some real emotional growth here. Join me :)