I often discuss how relationships with our aging relatives can be transformed by honouring them as individuals separate from us. Today I’d like to share another method for transforming these relationships: seeing your aging loved one through new eyes.
This is the technique I suggest you try for at least 24 hours: Listen to your aging relative (this works just as well with other family members) as though you have just met her, as though you have no previous knowledge about her before this conversation. Just pretend that you are a stranger who doesn’t have any history with this person.
A simple technique
In a workshop I lead, we ask participants to go home and try this technique with their families. The next morning people return to the workshop and share their experiences; which are truly amazing. In every workshop the response is the same: participants tell us they can’t believe such a simple thing can make such a profound difference.
“Re-create” your relationship
This technique is extraordinarily successful when people want to “recreate” a relationship with someone whom they’ve known for a long time. In long-term relationships we develop a set of expectations for how the other person will react or respond. Often before they even speak we are certain we know what they are going to say. Or, if they start to tell us a story we have heard before we “tune out” or only half-listen. We often listen least to the people we love the most!
Listen as if your relative were a stranger
A few years ago I tried this technique with my elderly father who frequently told me stories I had heard repeatedly through my life. Then, I decided to listen to these stories as if they were being told to me by a stranger – someone I had just met. I was pleasantly surprised by the results. I heard many things about my father’s experiences during World War II in Panama that I had never heard before. I found myself genuinely interested in his stories rather than just waiting for him to finish.
Change your perspective
Because I was behaving as though I hadn’t heard these stories countless times, I asked many questions that it had never occurred to me to ask in the past. He was delighted and shared more stories with me. That day I learned things about my father I had never known, and he felt valued and appreciated – two of the things we all want the most from the people we love. Had I not changed my perspective, I would have missed out on a wonderful opportunity to know my father in a new way.
Practice makes perfect
This technique takes practice. You don’t have to do it perfectly to get benefits…just remind yourself to try again when you slip back into your old perspective – the one that already knows everything about your aging relative, how they think and what they will say. As you see your loved one through new eyes, watch how your relationship transforms to one of greater appreciation for each other.