How we interact with those we love is based upon a lifetime of experiences and understandings. Painful experiences have taught us what not to do or say.  Pleasant and rewarding interactions have led us to establish ways to communicate our affections to and for others.

Family relationships are the crucible in which both painful and positive experiences mix together to make us who we are.  They influence how we act and react to others.  They inform us about the type of people we enjoy being around as well as those we stay away from.   How our parents and siblings treat each other affects how we fit into each other’s worlds.  They also impact the relationships we seek out and those we avoid.

Family relationships can be complex, multi-dimensional and personally challenging. The influence of our peers, our friends at school, work and church just adds to the list of experiences that make us who we are. Each person is intensely unique.  Though we may find similarities and commonalities with others there are inevitable differences and contrasts that will exist.

When we consider the complex nature of relating to one another it is no small wonder that we are able to form enduring marriages, long-term work agreements or sustainable friendships.  Just the ups and downs of living with all of its opportunities and challenges and the many rewarding and painful experiences contribute to the complexity that make up each and every individual person.


Long-lasting, sustainable relationships in the midst of these uniquely individual and diverse complexities is hard work.   Sometimes we are attracted to our opposites because of the way the other person completes us.  At other times we are drawn together because we share similar endeavors or values within which we find a commonality.

Whatever the attraction, in time we will move into areas that require a set of specific skills to help our relationships endure. Conflict and disagreements are inevitable.  The skills we use at those times draw upon our uniqueness as we place each ‘tool’ in our relational tool bag.

Carrying the metaphor a little further, every tradesman has his unique tool bag for his or her specialty.  The plumber has his tools handy for plumbing tasks, the carpenter has a tool bag with both similar and different tools for his trade.  Ask the plumber to use the tools in his bag, for example, to do the work of an electrical engineer and there are going to be problems.


In relationships we all carry our own unique tools in our relational tool bag.  Some of our bags are swelling with more tools than will ever be necessary.  Others of us have just enough to get the job done.  Some of our bags only have one or two tools that we use for everything.

Having the right tools in our bags is very important.  For example,  a hammer is not a very efficient tool for changing a spark plug.  Nor were a set of pliers designed to change a car tire.

Similarly, when we are in relationships our communication tools are adequate most of the time.  Then there are the times when they are not adequate.

The complexity that we bring must match the complexity of the other person if we are going to be effective.  Problems arise when we are pushed to extremes through tragedy, bad choices and other traumatic events in life.  To push through those times is often hard work that require a set of skills that we have not sensed the need to acquire before.


Stephen Pylkas – Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist

Licensed Marriage and Family TherapistOne of the advantages of Marriage and Family Therapists is that we are familiar with the needed tools of relationships and we are constantly in the process of picking up new tools along the way.  The complexity of people we encounter requires a constant retooling and re-thinking how old tools can be used in new ways.

Most families get along most of the time.  Then again, every once in a while, something comes up that just changes everything.  The old tools suddenly start failing us and we get stuck because we don’t know what else to do.

Sometimes it is helpful to talk with someone who helps people explore new options and possibilities.  Many times we know the answers to our problems; we just lack the motivation to do what needs to be done.  It is only with creative tenacity and sometimes someone else’s insight or observations that can push through to the other side.