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Pulling Weeds and Planting Flowers

April 2, 2015

As spring tempts us with ever warming sun coaxing those first flowers, how can we renew ourselves? I’ve been following the work of Dr. Ira Byock, Palliative Care Physician at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and leading authority and advocate for improving care throughout the lifespan. In his book, The Four Things That Matter Most, a key concept he prescribes is our use of four simple phrases: “Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.”

I work with all ages who want to improve their relationships. What advice do I have? I think that Dr. Byock’s wisdom can be a fruitful starting place. In thinking about parents struggling with difficult teens or emerging adults, or individuals who are watching their aging parents decline, what can each of us do in those precious moments of relationship that will really make a difference in our lives and theirs?

I would suggest we take the time to use Dr. Byock’s four phrases. Can we say to our teens “I forgive you” when they rage at us with angry words for thwarting their freedom. Can we say “I love you” even when we want to say how ungrateful, rude or disrespectful you are? Can we say to parents near the end of their long life “thank you” for all that you did for me? And, can we be so bold and courageous as to ask others to “please forgive me” for how I have harmed you?

Starting in this way we can pull “the weeds” out of our problematic relationships and “plant flowers” for new more beautiful ones. Neuroscientific research tells us that neuroplasticity, or the ability to change ‘hard wired’ habits, occurs throughout the lifespan. Well into old age we have the ability to rewire our brains to adopt new more healthful relationships. Therefore, it truly is never too late to have a positive impact on your important relationships. So thank you for listening and please forgive me if I have created more work for you to do in your life. Tell others you love them and be willing to both forgive them and receive forgiveness.

Heidi Roeder, MS, NCC, LPC, LMFT is a former staff therapist at Council for Relationships’ Exton office. Ms. Roeder’s passion is working with individuals, couples and families to help them improve and strengthen their relationships.