Category Archives: Open and Closed Families

Controlling Relationships

When people have to use intimidation, manipulation or domination, the relationship is already spoiled or poisoned. It has become a power play of control. Redeeming such a relationship is possible with the implementation of a wise plan, strongly redefined boundaries, enduring commitment and the possibility of a time of separation in order that perspective might be gained.

Willingness and desire to be together, equality between people and complete mutuality are the hallmarks of healthy relationships. Where any form of strong-arm tactics are used, the relationship has already taken a turn to become something harmful to both the parties.

Each of these relationship-poisons (manipulation, domination and intimidation) can be very subtle, coming in different shapes, sizes and intensities.

Here are some of the evidences of manipulation, intimidation and domination in a relationship:

1. The relationship has been kept on an unequal footing in order that one person might keep power over another. In a severely controlling relationship, both persons might have forgotten there are choices at all.
2. One person tries to get what he or she wants without declaring what is wanted. In attempting to get what the one person wants, both persons are in some way diminished.
3. One person does not see the other as totally free.
4. One person tries to get what he or she wants through threats or withdrawal.
5. It is expected that every move, thought, and feeling will be reported at least from the less-dominant person to the other. If one person is unwilling to tell all, it is assumed there is something to hide.
6. One person is not free to make plans without consulting or getting permission from the other.
7. One person in the relationship continually evaluates and examines the commitment and love of the other.
8. The dominant person tells the other how they should feel and usually re-scripts any division or disagreement into the appearance of unity.
9. One person feels at liberty to speak for both people and then, is offended when the partner wants to express his or her own views.
10. Desire for self-expression or a distinct voice is considered betrayal or a lack of trust.
11. One person expects unilateral support for his or her opinions, choices and desires, declaring somewhat of an attitude which says: If you say you love me then you have to love everything about me, under all conditions, and all of the time.
12. Difference in opinion or having different interests is considered a lack of love, or a lack of respect and commitment.



Filed under Autonomy, Boundaries, Communication, Control and Relationships, Day Two: Chatel, Intimacy, Open and Closed Families, Understanding the Power of the Self

Useful Relationship Habits

Some of the following suggestions might seem overwhelming. Many people have found them useful in getting relationships into a healthier state:

1. Try to stop “engineering” relationships. Allow a natural flow to develop. Avoid restricting or restraining what has natural development. Try not to push what has no natural development. In other words, allow and trust natural process.
2. If a relationship has life it will grow without pushing. There is a difference between attending to a relationship (all relationships need attention) and forcing a relationship.
3. Allow others the space to move towards, and away from you. Forced closeness is not closeness. Forced space is not space.
4. Cutting off from a person or a relationship is seldom helpful. A cut-off is still reactive behavior and the person from whom you have cut-off is still in a powerful and influential position in your life.
5. Offer forgiveness quickly and freely, before it is asked of you and even if it is not.
6. Tell people about the good feelings you have for them.
7. Thank people who positively impacted you.
8. Try to see the world through the eyes of others. Try to see the world through the eyes of your children.
9. Try to listen more than talk. Define yourself and not others.
10. Try not to do things for people they can do for themselves.
11. Try to develop an early detection mechanism and speak out clearly when you see things going awry in relationships. Remember that “big problems” play hide and seek with us before they arrive.
12. Try not to live from a platform of guilt. Recognize how guilt has found expression in your life and deal with it in more appropriate ways.
13. Try to remove from your vocabulary “you need” and “you should.” Assuming any person knows what someone else needs or should do is usually a fundamental disrespect of their personhood. A hallmark of health is allowing others to be free of the unsolicited advice we want to give. In other words, relinquish your agenda for others, especially those closest to you.

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Filed under Autonomy, Boundaries, Communication, Day Two: Chatel, Intimacy, Open and Closed Families, Understanding the Power of the Self

Healthy Communication

There is no such thing as no communication. It is always happening. Even those who never speak to each other are communicating. Not talking says much.

Here are some signs of helpful communication in a family context:

1. The presence of conflict is not considered negative. It is regarded as inevitable among sound-minded people.
2. Conflicts get resolved (sometimes).
3. People can love and enjoy each other and disagree at the same time.
4. Everyone’s ideas are important and considered.
5. Hurt and fear and loneliness can be talked about without recrimination.
6. Being together is mostly enjoyable and, when it is not, the family can talk about why it is not.
7. There are no subjects regarded as off limits but not everything has to be talked about immediately.
8. Winning and losing are not nearly as important as honoring and loving and respecting people.
9. Tension felt by anyone can be addressed when it is appropriate.
10. People do not corner each other in order to feel loved.
11. People affirm each other because they see the other person as worthy of affirmation, and not because they desire a particular result or effect.
12. People who love each other expand each other’s options rather than limit each other’s options.
13. Encouragement happens more than correction; correction is appreciated and considered.
14. Differences are encouraged.

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Filed under Autonomy, Boundaries, Communication, Day Two: Chatel, Intimacy, Open and Closed Families, Understanding the Power of the Self


Indications of Confused Boundaries / Cloud and Townsends book called Boundaries is a MUST read for all who would seek to enhance their understanding of personal boundaries.

A boundary is a line (usually invisible – prison would be an example of a visible boundary) that separates a person from all other people. Each person is responsible for the maintenance and condition of his own boundaries.

Here are some indications that a person’s boundaries have been violated or are poorly defined:

1. Sharing intimately on a first meeting.
2. Falling in love with someone you just met or someone who reaches out.
3. Being preoccupied with someone.
4. Acting on first sexual impulse.
5. Going against what you know is right to please someone.
6. Hoping someone you meet will have poor boundaries.
7. Trusting blindly.
8. Accepting food, gifts, touch or sex you do not want.
9. Taking as much as you can get for the sake of getting.
10. Giving as much as you can give for the sake of giving.
11. Letting someone be in charge of your life and define you.
12. Allowing someone else to say what you feel and see.
13. Believing someone can and should anticipate your needs.
14. Being moody and withdrawn because you are not getting enough attention.
15. Expecting people to read your mind and know what you want or need without your having to say what you want or need.
16. Expecting people to meet your undeclared needs.
17. Habitually stealing the agenda, taking center stage, occupying the spotlight.
18. Falling apart to get care. Wanting someone to fall apart so you can offer care.
19. Eating for destructive reasons or eating with destructive results.
20. Sex for pain or to express aggression.

Synthesized from many lists over many years. I am sure many writers could claim to be the first to write any points on this list and I would most certainly acknowledge the original writers if I could. Once again, please read ANYTHING by Cloud and/or Townsend for more on this crucial topic.

Rod Smith


Filed under Boundaries, Day Two: Chatel, Intimacy, Open and Closed Families, Understanding the Power of the Self

Open and Closed Handed Families…

Openhanded Families are generally close and healthy. People feel free, unique and have a sense of community. There is enduring approval among people. Disapproval does not last. The love does not feel overwhelming, like a trap, a trade or a deal. Pressures from outside the family, the opinions of others and societal trends do not modify the family’s direction. These families are internally driven. Relationships are self-sustaining because each person, to differing degrees, dependent upon level of maturity, understands that every person in the family desires, at one and the same time, both community (togetherness) and separateness (autonomy).

It is within the movement, the wrestling, the imbalance, the struggle that comes from within healthy families, that each person is empowered to be his or her own person. The freedom enjoyed by healthy people embraces the family member who, for whatever reason, chooses to be less involved with the family. Ironically such families can appear to be unhealthy because they welcome diversity. In other words, in an openhanded family a person can look, believe, feel and speak very differently than everyone else in the family without having to face negative consequences like alienation from others.

Closedhanded Families are “close” in a different way. They believe uniformity and control keeps people together. Togetherness is all-important. There is often a sense of disapproval between members of the family, often discernable when someone in the family will not “toe the line,” live in the family “box” or enjoy the closeness. In such families, people are “overly” close. “Closeness” (uniformity, togetherness) is insisted upon, even demanded. People feel cornered through an intricate play of rejection, judgment and “love.”

Here, rather than relationships being self-sustaining, they are kept alive by a multitude of musts and shoulds and hidden rules played from an obscure idea of what constitutes a relationship and a family. In such families there are frequent tensions, often from an unidentifiable source. A person can easily get the feeling that they are walking a tight rope of being “in” or “out.” These families are reactive or legalistic and bonds are not chosen and togetherness is covertly coerced or overtly forced. In these families, fusion is mistaken for love and expressing the natural and God-given desire for autonomy is regarded as betrayal.

Ironically, these families can appear healthy to outsiders because of the appearance of togetherness, while some of the people within the family might be figuratively dying from the pressures of conformity. In other words, in a Closedhanded family a person can only look, feel, believe and speak differently than everyone else in the family according to the guidelines, hidden or obvious, in the family. Anything else might result in overt expulsion, a subtle shunning, or covert distancing like emotional withdrawal.


Filed under Day One: Chatel, Open and Closed Families