“Good night, John Boy!” – What is Family?

Do you remember the television show “The Waltons”? I know it’s a rather old show, which launched in 1972. It was one of the few TV shows I was allowed to watch as a child. I loved the family support the characters extended to each other and it really touched my heart how each episode ended. You saw their house in the dark, the Walton family with their seven kids and two grandparents went to bed, one light after the next was turned off, and they all said “Good night” to each other. “Good night, Mama,” “Good night, Daddy,” Good night, children!” “Good night, John Boy!”

Over the last six weeks, I have been contemplating the question of what “family” really means. What constitutes family and how do families cope with things?

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There is, of course, the ideal of the “picture book perfect family,” like the Waltons. We probably all carry that family archetype around in our mind. But let’s get real. It is 2017, not the 1930’s, and the reality is that there are more and more blended families. We are faced with more complicated family dynamics, other challenges, and different conflicts than the Waltons would have ever dreamed of. In today’s world, family set-ups change constantly. Separations and divorces occur and new unions, for example second or third marriages, are formed. Custody arrangements change, or children get older and move out. With each stage in life, energetic dynamics are transformed. Families even change temporarily, as we have experienced this summer.

For the last six weeks, my 16-year-old daughter has been living and working in Quebec. Meanwhile, we had a 17-year-old exchange student from Quebec staying with us. Just like our daughter in Quebec, he had to adapt to a completely new environment, a different language, his summer job in English, and many new impressions and events each day. They both impressed us tremendously with their openness and courage.

We also had to adapt as a family and understand cultural differences and differences in communication styles. Within the first weekend, our “exchange son” had captured both our hearts with his awareness and sensitivity. A bass guitar major for the last six years, he brought music into our house and many interesting conversations. He wanted to get to know both of us and made the effort to connect right from the start. Very observant and mature in his communication skills—despite the language challenges—we felt from the first moment on that we “lucked out” with this amazing summer guest.

Sounds like the “honeymoon”? It was. Ten days into his stay, the first challenges naturally arose which we had to work through together. Just as in a blended family, there were different values, other rituals and new ways of doing things. From home, he was used to coming and going spontaneously, unaware that over here in his host family, everybody else had adjusted their schedule to his to spend some quality time together. He was not used to communicating when plans that he had made were changing, or accustomed to keeping each other informed by text. The curfew put in place by the exchange program was initially looked upon by him and other French students as a suggestion, and the concept that parents might worry until the young people are back home safely did not occur to the students.

Having grown up in an all-girls household and having only parented girls, I was expecting that familiar communication of sharing your experiences and feelings, and expressing appreciation for each other on a daily basis. I read one syllable answers to questions and his lack of planning as a lack of consideration and lack of appreciation. He read our questions, responses to his behaviour and different rules as overprotection and judgement. The more he felt “not good enough” and “wrong,” the less he wanted to communicate. When we feel blamed, we sometimes just want to run and avoid an unpleasant talk. That is a human response. It took a change in approach—a “tough love” tone—for him to wake up.

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We are so extremely proud of this young man for taking responsibility for his side of the misunderstandings and for being open to hear our explanations and apologies where we had made him feel judged as “wrong”. After this talk, we gained a tremendous understanding for each other. Our communication improved greatly, and we were able to see each other’s dissimilarity as just different instead of wrong or rude. We were able to focus on the similarities and the efforts made by everybody and express more appreciation towards each other.

Now, almost at the end of his stay, we are truly sad to see him go. There is no question in our minds and hearts that we will stay in touch with him, just as my daughter will continue the connection with her loving and truly amazing host family.

This exchange experience had me contemplating the question, “What is family”? What is it that the Waltons have that can be still found—or be missing—today in our modern families?

For me, it boils down to the wisdom that as a family you are stronger. What is good for one member of the family is good for all. You don’t give up on each other, but you talk through challenges and you grow from sharing your feelings and thoughts. You learn about the feelings, experiences and triggers the other family members have. From that place of greater understanding, you take responsibility for your part in a regretful interaction and create compromises together. Or, as a friend of mine said a few weeks ago when we spoke about issues with her step-son, “Shit happens in families, but as a family you work through this shit together!”

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Unfortunately, in her case, the mother of my friend’s teenage step-son is sheltering him from having to take responsibility for a big screw-up. She is depriving the father and his family from having the opportunity to work through things together as a family unit. Instead of trusting her son that he is old enough at 17 to work through a conflict to which he contributed, she is doing him a disservice by letting him hide behind her apron. Wanting to be the more beloved parent can leave us very short-sighted in terms of what beliefs and coping strategies we teach our children.

A family unit can only function if our feelings and needs are not swept under the carpet but rather are processed. Without the willingness to be vulnerable and discover what is going on underneath the feelings of irritation or anger we might be experiencing, we can’t move out of a stuck state. By not working through things as a family, we are making a choice to carry anger, resentment and blame with us. Sometimes it is the parent generation who is not willing to communicate openly and honestly, at other times it’s the young generation feeling unable to express themselves. Often the unsuccessful communication goes both ways. However, only when we take responsibility for our feelings, words and actions, can we grow as individuals as well as families.

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Angelika, Belief Change & Relationship Coach



One way of working on your relationships is the Relationship Energetics Workshop coming up this fall.  For more course information please click here.

How To Get Most out of Couples Coaching

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It takes courage to make changes in our life and in our relationships. Taking the step to work on your relationship means you believe your relationship is more important than any resistance or fear you are experiencing. Coming for a session to see a coach is the first step in initiating changes. Let’s make sure your experience is as beneficial and efficient as possible.

Before you come in for a couples session, I would like you to reflect on a few goal-oriented questions so that you and your partner are able to get the most out of the coaching session.

The first thing to acknowledge and to remember is that you cannot change your partner; you can only change yourself. Coaching gives you the best results if you take responsibility, and if you commit to learning to understand your partner at a deeper level. Focus on changing yourself and your responses to each other to create together what you both desire.

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In a couple’s session, we will assess the situation your relationship is in, look ahead to the future and to the relationship you want to have, and begin the work of interacting differently with your partner. A relationship is a team effort. Being a TEAM means “Together Each Accomplishes More”. Or in other words, what is good for your partner, is also good for you and your relationship.

To begin the work together as a team, we need a target, the motivation to work on the relationship, and the willingness to change. Ask yourself the following questions before you come in for a session.

  1. What kind of marriage or relationship do I want to be in?

Answering that question provides you and your partner with a target.

  1. Why is that kind of relationship important to me?

This is the motivation you have to do this work.

  1. What is going to be required of ME to create this?

This will help you shift from the natural tendency of wanting to change your partner to taking responsibility for your part of the relationship.


I look forward to hearing your answers to those questions during your first coaching session with me.

Angelika, Relationship Coaching



If you are enjoying my articles, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.


Constructive Disagreements in Relationships – PART TWO Perpetual Problems

Whether we just had a new baby as I described in part one of this article, whether we have no children or older ones, an important aspect of constructive disagreements is processing our fights, acknowledging perpetual problems, and understanding the stories underneath our differences.

  1. Processing and Understanding Fights

We have to get outside of a fight in order to process it. Once you have calmed down, begin by describing the feelings you had during the fight. Just name them, don’t explain or elaborate. Let your partner do the same. For example, “I felt defensive / excluded / angry / misunderstood / criticized / treated unfairly / unappreciated / overwhelmed / afraid” and so on.

Then summarize your viewpoint. Then listen to your partner’s viewpoint. Don’t interrupt each other. Avoid blaming, disagreeing or getting back into the fight. Instead step into your partners shoes and try to see his or her perspective. Communicate your understanding of his or her view out loud to your partner.


Take responsibility for your part in the fight. For example, “I am sorry, I have been taking you for granted lately”, or “I have not been a very good listener lately”, or “I have not asked for what I need; I expected you to just know.”

Decide how you can make this better in the future by gently asking your partner to do one thing differently next time and vice versa.

  1. Deepening Your Understanding of Each Other

Every fight contains hidden conversations that lie dormant underground. Instead of the fight, what conversation do we actually need to have? The answer lies in our childhood experiences and current circumstances. We call out to each other from within our own vulnerabilities. Analyze what the triggers of your last fight were. For example, did you feel excluded / ignored / unimportant / rejected / unloved / powerless / helpless? Then, see if you can understand these feelings in connection with your past. Where and when in your past did you feel this way? Share with your partner.


  1. Hear the Longing Behind a Complaint

Often our partner complains because he or she is longing for something that is hidden behind the complaint. Here are some examples put together by John and Julie Gottman in “10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage”:

Complaint: Why do you always let the garbage pile up like this?

Longing: I wish that we could feel more like teammates taking care of our house.

Complaint: You never call me during the day.

Longing: I wish we could feel close to each other, even when we’re apart.

Complaint: I’m tired of making dinner every night.

Longing: I’d like to go out for dinner with you, as we did when we were dating.


  1. Perpetual Problems and the Story Underneath

In each partnership, there are perpetual problems. In fact, according to John Gottman, 69% of problems couples have are repeats because they are based on fundamental differences in personality, lifestyle, or needs. “Choosing a partner is choosing a set of problems” (Dan Wile). If you were with another partner, you would also have unsolvable problems, just different ones.

Some examples are:

– Differences in neatness and organization

– Differences in emotionality

– Differences in wanting time together versus time apart

– Differences in independence

– Differences in optimal sexual frequency

– Differences in preferred lovemaking style

– Differences in approaching finances

– Differences with respect to how much closeness to family partners want

– Differences in how to approach household chores

– Differences in how to raise and discipline children

– Differences in punctuality

– Differences in preferred activity level

– Differences in being people-oriented

– Differences in decision making

– Differences in ambition and opinions about the importance of work

– Differences with respect to religion or spirituality

– Differences with respect to drug and alcohol consumption

– Differences in excitement levels

– Differences in preferred lifestyle

– Differences in values

– Differences in marital fidelity

It is normal for a couple to trip up over those substantial differences. When we are stressed, overworked or exhausted, we gravitate towards our perpetual issues even more. The key to a happy relationship is not expecting to change the partner, but to learn to dialogue about those problems so we can make the best of it. If we can’t dialogue, we end up in gridlock conflict. This conflict takes over and robs us of all our happiness in the relationship.

We need to realize that with many of these perpetual problems, shadows come up for us. Our partner is mirroring to us what we have learned to disown. For example, I might be the planner and my partner is better at living in the moment. Or I am more concerned about neatness than my partner. Or my partner wants to save up most of our money and I like to have the freedom of spending it.

Underneath our conflicts is a hidden story tucked away safely: a dream, a fear, values or personal philosophies. For example, the wife doesn’t just want to save money in her second marriage, but she wants to avoid ever having to experience being poor again and having to go to the food bank with her children like in her first marriage. And the husband doesn’t just want to spend foolishly. He wants to travel and have a new car now rather than dropping dead at 50 like his own father, who never allowed himself any fun.

We don’t find out the dream or the fear underneath our difference if we never ask the questions, “What makes this so important to you?” and “Is there a story behind this for you, maybe in your childhood history?” Being curious about the story is beyond understanding just the thoughts and feelings. “It’s about also grasping what our partner holds sacred—our partner’s values, beliefs, experiences, symbols, and legacies.” (Gottman, And Baby Makes Three)


Dr John & Dr Julie Gottman

We have to feel safe enough with our partner to pull our dreams out of the closet. The essential ingredients for a successful dialogue about a gridlock conflict are mutual acceptance of the differences and acknowledging the problem that results from those differences. With patient listening, laughter, and affection, the dialogue unfolds much better.

For example:

Dan: It upsets me that you spend money when you have so much debt. We should be lowering your debt and saving up for our own house. At this rate, it will take forever.

Abby: Why is it so important to you that we reach our goal soon?

Dan: Having a house together with you means for me that we are really committed to each other. It also makes me very nervous that you have debt.

Abby: Does this have to do with your family history?

Dan: Yes, in my family, financial safety has always been a high value. Being able to plan allows me to feel more in control. There is so much unpredictability in everyday life already. – But what about you? What does it mean to you to be able to spend money the way you do?

Abby: Money to me means the freedom to do what I want. You are looking for more predictability; I am looking for the opposite, for adventures and I suppose, unpredictability, when I can just take off on a trip and discover a new place. I also like to spend my money on workshops and trainings because this means stimulation for my mind and an interesting break from the everyday routine.


Now Dan and Abby can either honour their partner’s position and the dream behind it, or not. It doesn’t mean surrendering their own. It means accepting the difference between them and establishing an initial compromise. They might decide to put a plan or budget in place that allows them to bring down the debt while still enjoying life. They also need to talk about what fears each of them might have about honouring their partner’s dream. What disaster scenarios are popping up in their minds?

Dan’s worst case scenario is to end up like his uncle, who lost all his money and his house when he and his wife split up. Abby’s worst case scenario is not to have the freedom anymore to make her own financial choices.

Compromising won’t eliminate the problem. It’s in the nature of a perpetual problem to come up again. However, it does not need to mean the death sentence for a relationship to have unsolvable problems when we can move from judgment into understanding, accepting and dialogue.

If you are enjoying my articles, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.


Relationship Coaching and Belief Changes

905-286-9466, greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

Having Our Needs Met in Relationships

She looks at her watch and says in annoyed tone: “You are home late, again! You always come home late! Do you have to go to the Gym after work every day?”

His reply is defensive: “Yes, I do! That’s the only time I have to myself. You don’t ask me for permission to have your hair done or your nails! You like to go into work early at least three or four times a week and I always have to take the kids to school instead of going to the Gym.”

She retorts angrily: “You make it sound as if I only think of myself but I am working full time like you and I am sitting home alone with the kids, every night after I have run them around to their classes. You never help me! Once in a while, you could come home earlier and make dinner for everybody!”

This was the role play my partner and I acted out for one of my talks on non-violent communication just a couple of weeks ago. When I introduce my clients to the four steps of NVC, based on Marshall Rosenberg’s work, they seem so easy and straightforward. Yet, it is so ingrained in most of us to have conversations in which one or both people get defensive and feel attacked due to us using generalized critical statements and blaming each other. When we do not feel safe in a conversation, our fight or flight response sets in. We either attack, or we withdraw and shut down. Despite the anger on the surface, deep down both partners long for nothing more than a safe space to connect and express how they feel underneath the anger.

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Let’s look at how we can change these patterns of defending, withdrawing and attacking, using our example. What are the needs of both parents? She has the need for support; he has the need for alone time. They both have the need for recognition of what they do.

Based on those needs what do they feel? She feels alone and unsupported, he feels controlled. They both feel unappreciated.

Before you read on, put yourself in her shoes and using the four steps of non-violent communication find a more successful way of expressing her feelings, explaining her needs, and finishing with a concrete request made to her husband. Remember to make neutral observations free of judgments in regards to him going to the Gym. Then use “I” statements which reflect that she is taking responsibility for her own feelings. Nobody makes us feel a certain way. Our feelings are a result of the meaning we give our perceptions. Next help her express her needs, values or desires which are at the root of her feelings. End with a request that can be negotiated between the partners.

NVC 4 Steps

Here is one possible way for her to communicate using the four steps of NVC and a calm neutral tone: “I have NOTICED (step 1) that you tend to go to the gym after work and by the time you come home, the kids need to go to bed. I FEEL (step 2) a bit left alone when you come home late almost every night. I WOULD LIKE to (step 3) spend more family time with you and the kids. WOULD YOU BE WILLING (step 4) to come home earlier once or twice a week, so we can spend more time together?

Now, let’s not forget that he also has feelings and needs. How can we help him express his side of the situation?

He could for example say: “I FEEL (step 2) that I only have time after work to exercise. I NEED (step 3) to have some alone time. I also FEEL (step 2) unappreciated and taken for granted when I give my gym time in the morning up to take the kids to school. I really appreciate that you work full-time and run the kids to their after-school activities.” (He has recognized they both feel unappreciated and is giving her the appreciation they both need.) Step 4 is negotiating her request: “I am willing to come home early on Tuesdays and Thursdays if you can commit to taking them to school the next morning? I WOULD also sometimes LIKE to hear that you appreciate what I do.”

Now it is up to her to respond, to acknowledge what he does for the family and to perhaps make a concrete request to cook dinner once a week. If one of the partners is struggling to connect with their feelings and the needs underneath, the other one can help by asking, “I am wondering if you feel…?” or saying “Do you perhaps have a need for…?” and offering, “Let me know how I can help you get what you need.” Implementing a process like NVC takes patience and practice because most of us have never learned that our needs matter, how to connect with our more vulnerable feelings underneath our anger and to express our needs without blame or judgement.

To learn more about expressing our needs you can contact

Angelika for individual sessions or Shadow Energetics Workshops

905-286-9466 or


For 2016 workshop dates and locations go to Upcoming Workshops.

If you enjoy my posts, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.