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Social Psychologist & Personal Advisor

Below is Dr Matt's Answer
to a Burning Question


Ending A Vicious Cycle

Dear Dr Matt:

I am a female, 60 years old, married. I need advice!

Our two sons, 30 and 29, haven’t seen each other in over a year and have spoken to each other only briefly during the past year. The problem is that our married son’s wife (Lynn) and our other son (Dan) don’t get along. We were all together last Christmas ’06 and several things happened at that time that created a rift.

She ultimately wanted to confront Dan and demand an apology. Instead, my husband and I discouraged this and encouraged our married son (Bob) to contact Dan to discuss the issues. Bob did contact Dan, but said things that hurt him. Now Dan says he’ll never apologize because it will only give Lynn control. He says that he wants to communicate with Lynn but wants to do it in such as way as not to say, “I’m sorry.” The whole situation is tearing my husband and me up. We want to help and wonder what to do to make things better. Do you have any advice for us?.

Thank you,
Marci from Minnesota

Dear Marci:

For apologies to be sincere and heartfelt, they need to be offered freely, according to one's own choice.

There is nothing more insincere and empty than an apology that is given at "gun point." This is essentially what Lynn is doing as she "demands" an apology—pointing a metaphorical gun at Dan

Dan and Lynn are caught in a vicious cycle: The MORE she demands, the MORE he resists. The MORE she pushes, the MORE he drags.

Do you remember a toy called "Chinese handcuffs"? It's a flexible tube in which you insert one finger from each hand. Intuitively, you think that escape from this tube is to simply pull out, by moving your hands away from each other; but the more you pull apart, the more the "Chinese handcuffs" clamp down on your fingers, making escape impossible.

Escape from this tricky tube happens in precisely the opposite manner than one might suppose: Instead of forcefully pulling apart, you must gently push your fingers toward each other, and then the handcuffs relax and release!

Lynn and Dan will remain in their vicious cycle as long as they both stubbornly pull in their self-serving directions, and refuse to do the right thing--the very thing that they feel within them to do, but are not doing it.

For Lynn to live true, she must cease demanding an apology, and then move in precisely the opposite direction: gently and kindly toward Don.

For Dan to live true, he must listen to the impressions of his heart, and to kindly and gently move toward Linda and say whatever his heart is whispering.

Now, Lynn's husband (Bob) thinks he is doing the right thing by "defending" his wife: But the way he chose to do it was evidently harsh—he verbally lashed out at Dan.

An important principle that applies especially to Bob (but also to Dan and Lynn) is addressed in my book—The Division of Response-Ability.

This principle maintains that rudeness that happens SECOND, in response to rudeness that happened FIRST, is not excused or justified, but remains an act of rudeness within its own realm of responsibility. In other words, each individual gets to own "Response-Ability" for the actions that he/she chooses—and NOBODY gets to excuse their rudeness, because of the rudeness of another.

Marci, this is what you and your husband can do:

DON'T DEMAND that Lynn, her husband, and Dan do any particular thing. Don't force anything, else the "Chinese handcuffs" will clamp down, and prevent escape, and this situation will continue to "tear" you up.

Instead, gently move toward each person individually, and with kindness and sincerity, encourage each feuding participant to do the right thing! And you don't have to tell them specifically what that is either, because each person already knows what must be done.

Knowing the thing that is loving and kind is an in-born gift from our Creator. You see, the Creator didn't simply create and then leave His creations clueless as to purpose and meaning! Instead, each and every human being has a gift of guidance.

Over three thousand years ago, King Solomon spoke of this gift of guidance with these words:

"Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4: 23).

Whoever will listen to the promptings of the heart (You, your husband, Don, Lynn, and Bob) will enjoy the connected consequence of inner peace--regardless of what the others choose.

By kindly and gently following heartfelt impressions, the vicious cycle will come to an end.

And it only takes one to initiate the peacemaking inertia; you see, when ONE person ceases doing the "dance" . . . the others will have a hard time continuing the "dance" without a partner.

Relax and Release is the key to escaping the "Chinese handcuffs," just as Relax, Release, and Being True will end vicious cycles within relationships.


Matt Moody, Ph.D.
Social Psychologist

* * * * * * *

The Greatest Prize
for Life's labors isn't
in material possessions
or impressive accomplishments,
but in the progress of personal character.
You labor for your own becoming, this is your richest reward.
Who You Become is your greatest possession,
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(Changing Your Stripes, 2nd Edition, page 274)

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Social Psychologist & Personal Advisor

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