There comes a time in everyone’s life when a change produces a reaction that calls for a psychological readjustment. Change is a fact. Transitions are important in all phases of our lives. When we face a transition we have an emotional reaction. Then we must make an adjustment to the change that has occurred. How can we manage that adjustment in our closest personal relationships?
Example Transition and How it Was (Mis-)Managed
Jake just got a promotion. In addition to getting more money, the new position presented a challenge to Jake’s level of skill on the job. He learned very quickly that there was a deficit in his skill-set that was going to require Jake to spend more time learning new programs and how to interpret data that he had never before seen in his work. Not only was he going to earn more money, he was also going to have to spend more time away from his wife and their young family. His wife, Nora, was going to have to make some adjustments too. After a short time with Jake in his new position, Nora was experiencing resentment about Jake’s absence. He was often away from home and provided less child care. Nora couldn’t help but display her angst toward Jake which created more reaction from him.
One day, two year old Katie let out a curdling scream in the playroom. Nora had collected the children after her work and was in the kitchen finally cleaning up from last night’s dinner. Nora jumped at the sound, immediately envisioning a worst case scenario. Did four year old Jackie hurt his little sister? “If he did I’m going to kill him! I’ve warned him about playing too rough with his sister!” As she ran into the play room, Katie was in the middle of the room whimpering. “I broke my dolly,” Katie sobbed. Nora sighed a sigh of relief. But where was Jackie? “Honey, where is your brother?” “I don’t know,” Katie replied. “I think he’s in the back yard.”
As Nora returned to the kitchen, she swore under her breath. Fortunately she had been able to have the presence of mind to say to Katie, “Katie your dolly has an owie right now and we’ll fix her up right after dinner.” Nora realized they might not have dinner tonight if she didn’t get back to the kitchen. But first, she had to locate Jackie and make sure he was ok. As she looked for Jackie she said to herself, “Damn, I wish Jake would hurry up and get home. I need some help around here!”
Jake got home a little after 6:00, rushed into the kitchen, grabbed Nora around the waist to give her a hug and kiss, but she pulled away from him in an angry gesture. “Would you go take care of the kids – get them washed up and ready to eat?” “What’s with you, Nora, I’ve busted my ass all day and all I want is a little welcoming affection from my wife! But No, all I get is a cold shoulder and an order to do more stuff. This is bullshit!”
This was not a successful transition conversation.
Lessons for a Transition Conversation or Negotiation
To put it in clinical terms, Jake and Nora needed to have an extended transition management conversation. That conversation should to have several parts:
- It needs to be a real conversation with a lot of careful listening.
- The person talking must be clear about their experience.
- The listener should acknowledge the other’s experience.
- Both should avoid blaming, shaming or making “you” statements.
An example transition conversation might go something like this:
“Jake, I’m really having a hard time adjusting to this change in your position. Because of the extended hours, I am feeling overwhelmed with the lack of help with the kids. Our division of labor around child care has changed significantly.”
“Nora I recognize that you are overwhelmed by the load I’ve left you with. Being gone so much of the time is a big change. I feel bad that you’ve been left with all the work with the kids. Am I getting that right or is there something else?”
“Yeah you are right, and I feel a little guilty for griping about you being gone. You need to know that I am proud of you for getting the promotion.”
“What you have said it true. I feel guilty too because I have abandoned our agreement about division of labor. I know I’ve been putting in way more time. To tell you the truth, I’m feeling overwhelmed with my new job. I sometimes feel like technology has left me behind and catching up has been a challenge. I wonder if I can cut it at work. I’m trying to learn all this new stuff so that I can get back to a more normal schedule. I’m sorry I’ve put such a burden on you.”
“Thanks for telling me, Jake. I know you need to be putting in the time to learn all this new stuff. I’m wondering if there is a way we can both get what we need. Me with some help with the kids and you feeling good about spending the time you need to learn your new job.”
“That’s a good idea, Nora. Maybe we can use the extra income to lighten your load. Could we hire someone to help you with the kids? With some extra child care, you’d be freed up to do some of the things you need to do.”
“I would feel guilty about not being present for the kids and about spending the money!”
“Lets explore the options. I’ll ask at work and maybe you could make some contacts with people you know? In the meantime I will commit to attending to the kids as soon as I get home. Would that help?”
“That would help and I’ll talk to my friend, Judy, because she might have ideas. But let’s also set aside time after we have the kids in bed to talk about our work day. I feel confident that you will be able to master all the new work stuff And it will help us both if we take time to share.”
Good information for the natural resource negotiator!