Through an ongoing series of conversations with Jake, Judith realized that until she stopped blaming her father for her unhappiness and started taking some responsibility for what she was contributing to the situation, that things would never change. In Judith’s words, “In holding my father responsible for my misery, I was accumulating resentment towards him that he felt whenever I was around him. Despite my efforts to conceal my feelings, there was no way that he or anyone around me could fail to notice the negative words and tone of voice that always came out of me when we were together. I realized that if things were to ever be different between us that I would have to change my rotten attitude to one of acceptance and love.”
As she continued to observe her interactions with her dad, it became crystal clear to her that it was her unexpressed resentment that contributed to the disconnection. She realized that it wasn’t just him. It was her anger, sense of entitlement, and bitterness that was a huge part of the problem. When they were alone, Jake commented about what he observed on family visits. She too began to see that her father would sense her feelings and leave the room within a few minutes. Jake was right there to assist her in this process in any way that he could because he knew that there was a considerable reward for him if this old feud between his wife and his father-in-law could finally be laid to rest.
Judith set out on a mission to do everything she needed to do to make that happen. Judith reminded herself that she wasn’t doing this to change her dad. She needed to do this for herself, regardless of how he responded. She was aware that she wanted him to reciprocate but held her preference lightly. Judith committed herself to watch every word that came out of her mouth. She even watched her feelings that she held towards her father because she knew that he was picking up on those subtleties as well. She could see that it was her choice to choose conflict or peace. She worked diligently at intentionally replacing angry thoughts with appreciation and understanding. When she finally did stop coming to her dad with anger, everything changed.
Judith and her father had a breakthrough when they went on a hike as a chance to connect and talk. She asked from a place of tenderness, wonder, and curiosity, “Why were you always so mean? Why did you say that I wouldn’t amount to anything?” Her father answered, “That’s how my father was with me. My father became successful and taught me to be successful like him. I thought that’s what it took, to be strong and tough. I didn’t know any other way.” Judith’s father took her into his arms and apologized. With tears in his eyes said, “I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you.” And at that moment, she realized that he never knew how hurt she had been. She had never told him; she had turned all the pain into anger.
Judith told me that was the first really honest conversation that she had ever had with her father in her entire life, and she was over 40 years old at the time! That conversation was an absolute turning point. She said that the therapy and workshops she had done helped a lot, but that it was the consistent support from Jake that helped her to hang in there when she had doubts.
Judith gained an understanding of what it requires for all of her relationships to work well, especially her marriage: her willingness to stop blaming others, take responsibility for looking at her part in the way things have been, risk being vulnerable, and to exercise the power to cause positive change. As a result of the huge shift in her orientation, her marriage and all of her relationships have benefited as a result of finally having gotten complete with her father.