Want to strengthen your relationships? Ditch the “cold shoulder”

Jan Kwiatkowski, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and mental health consultant for Aurora Family Service in Milwaukee, WI.

I’m not sure what’s happening, but lately I’ve been hearing quite a bit about people who’ve been hurt, not by maliciously intended words or actions, but by inattentive words and actions towards relationships.

My hunch is that we’ve all experienced or maybe have been the perpetrator of such actions by “giving the cold shoulder or silent treatment, dissing others, or being put in the deep freeze”.

Sometimes, we don’t even know what we did or didn’t do to “deserve” the cold shoulder.

Being on the giving or receiving end of the cold shoulder is uncomfortable, at best. At worst, it can permeate and destroy family relationships for generations.

Answers.com defines the cold shoulder as following: Deliberate coldness or disregard, a slight or snub. This term, which first appeared in writings by Sir Walter Scott and others, supposedly alludes to the custom of welcoming a desired guest with a meal of roasted meat, but serving only a cold shoulder of beef or lamb–a far inferior dish–to those who outstayed their welcome. [Early 1800s]

When I talk about it with families, a cold shoulder often comes down to unspoken, changing or generational values and expectations. These include values and expectations about family roles, how things are done or have always been done, how new adult family members are integrated, how courtesy’s are extended, how and who communicates family information, or how children should behave. You get the idea and I’m sure you can come up with more examples.

With people living longer, we have an increased opportunity to interact with members of the family or community at the opposite ends of the life cycle than ever before. With that opportunity also comes an increased chance for conflict or coldness.

The reality is that each person grows up in a specific time and place in history that forms their view of how the world works or should work.

We live in a time in history when more people with conflicting formative events and values live side by side and maybe in the same household. An interesting Generational Values Chart can be found at: http://www.wmfc.org/GenerationalDifferencesChart.pdf

I offer this as a way to understand and perhaps frame conversations that will warm and soften the hearts of family members. That can be really hard when we are on the receiving end of a cold shoulder.

Asking a person to tell a story about a particular time in their life and really listening to their story validates the experience of the story-teller. It also provides a way for the story-teller and listener to see each other’s perspective.

Suddenly, grandma and grandpa are not “cheap, tightwads, who never let us have any fun” and the teenagers are not the “lazy, kids with no values who throw everything away and think money grows on trees”.

In all of this we come to understand expectations….and perhaps even talk about expectations….and perhaps adjust expectations… and perhaps ask forgiveness…and perhaps heal relationships.

With the holiday season fast approaching, I’d encourage you to consider which cold shoulders may be warmed through story telling.

Aurora Family Service helps families overcome challenges, changes and crisis to live well again. We achieve stability and strength for families through counseling, parenting, elder care, financial, career, health and community services.  For more information, visit our website, follow us onFacebook, or call 1-414-342-4560.

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