Why Families Fall Out of Sync and How to Prevent It

Joey outside playing in the snow

I always loved Christmas when I was little. What kid doesn’t, right? But for me, the extended time off of school was just as exciting as the holiday itself. Our kids recently enjoyed their first real Christmas break — eleven consecutive days of ruling the roost. Relaxed bedtimes. Wide open wake times. The inclusion of sugar as a major food group. The list goes on.

As a teacher, Dani gets those days off as well, which does make me a little jealous. That is until I am reminded of the price she pays for staying home: three irrationally energetic kids cooped up in the house having crayon fights and diving off the couches onto one another.

Sounds like a real hoot.

It was dark when I came home from work one evening during the break. I was tired. I’d been at it for a solid ten hours and was looking forward to going inside and unwinding for a bit.

But Dani and the kids had been inside the entire day. They were stir crazy. Joey wanted to play in the snow. Gianna liked the idea. Gabby came up and handed me her boots. So we bundled them up and went out, spending about 45 minutes wiping runny noses and shoveling snow that probably didn’t need it.

This isn’t me complaining. In fact, I had a great time watching them play. But being out there under those circumstances did make me think about some things. I began to consider the different states we were all in.

The kids needed to burn some energy. Dani needed a break. And I wanted to put my feet up in front of the TV.

Over the course of only 10 hours we all managed to be in such different states of mind. If it was that easy for us to get out of sync in that time, how far out of sync could we potentially get over a few months? What about over a few years?

Being on the Lookout for Real Problems

The fact that I wanted to relax and the kids needed to expel some energy is not really the point. That kind of thing happens all the time. In fact, that exact scenario is on a repeating loop in our house. It’s not a reflection of a problem, necessarily. But it does act as a good metaphor for how those real problems can potentially sneak up on us.

In my experience, falling out of sync in a relationship or within a family is usually not a sudden thing. It may feel sudden, but usually it builds up over time before finally coming to a head. If you don’t catch it before that happens, it can really put some distance between those involved.

Seeing these problems before they boil over means knowing what to look for. There are the standard areas of contention like finances and execution of household and parental responsibilities. Those are always high risk for falling out of sync with your spouse or significant other.

But there are also more subtle, though possibly more damaging, gaps that surface in the form of morals and values, goals and vision, and dreams and desires. Over time, people change. Their outlook changes. Their beliefs change. Their motives and priorities change.

This means if you and your family aren’t paying attention to one another, and noticing the subtle changes, you may be at risk for drifting apart. And the longer this goes unnoticed, the larger the gap becomes. It doesn’t mean the family or relationships are doomed, only that the storm is brewing.

The Only Surefire Way to Remain In Sync

If staying in sync and connected to your family is important to you (I’m guessing it is), there is a way to make sure that you remain on the same page over time. Whether it’s ten hours or ten years, the only way to really be sure you are in tune with one another is by communicating.

I’m talking about conversation. Although body language can often tell the story, it’s a lot of work to read and interpret. And there’s too much room for error. This is one of those times when the only way to really know what the other person is thinking or feeling is to hear it straight from their mouth.

This is really important. It’s challenging to find the time. It’s difficult to start a tough conversation. It’s easy to say that everything is okay. But unless you’re checking in, unless you’re discussing the details, there is always the possibility that someone is adrift.

There are many ways to stay connected with those who are important to you:

  • It can be a formal time (think weekly family hour) where you get together as a group and talk about what’s going on in your lives.
  • It can be a one-on-one session (think date night with your spouse) where you talk directly with an individual member of your family about a specific problem or concern.
  • Or maybe it’s a spontaneous gathering where everyone in the family is together and you can get a finger on the pulse of the collective mood.

It could be any of those examples. Or, it could be taking advantage of an opportunity to go out into the dark tundra after a long day’s work and have a family snowball fight.

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