Two More Relational Styles: Grabbing and Folding

By Timothy L. Sanford, MA, LPC
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Focus on the Family
How control and responsibility affect the relationship between you and your teen.

There are two more styles of relating interpersonally.

Style Three: Grab

GRAB is the style that takes the “What I Can’t Control” category and says, “I take responsibility for it.”

hold toss and grab grid

For a GRABer, the following descriptions often would be accurate:

  • over-responsible; trying to bear burdens that aren’t really yours
  • fixer, rescuer, enabler, codependent
  • martyr; an “Oh, poor me” person
  • accepting consequences for wrongs you didn’t even commit
  • over-controlling or intimidating
  • taking ownership of yourself and others
  • thinking problems are your fault: “If only I would …”
  • manipulator; trying to force the outcome of a situation you have no legitimate control over

The GRABer says, “What’s yours is mine.” Maybe your teenager TOSSes and you GRAB what he or she just TOSSed. Sometimes you may start GRABing even before he or she starts TOSSing. “I’ll just handle it all from the beginning,” you think.

This is a style of interacting parents often find themselves in. They think, If it’s my fault as a parent, I can “fix” it because I’m a responsible person. If I can fix it, it will turn out the way I want it to.

But that’s not reality. You don’t control the way other people turn out. You’re not God, so please don’t try to play Him.

What happens to confidence when you use this style? You can’t win the game of controlling the uncontrollable, and losing tends to destroy confidence. If it appears that you did win, you may gain a false sense of confidence. Either way, it’s not a healthy relating style — no matter how spiritual we might try to make it sound. It’s not healthy to take responsibility for things you can’t control — nor is it based on truth.

Style Four: Fold

The FOLDer takes the “What I Can’t Control” category and says, “I don’t take responsibility for it.” Think of FOLDing your hands in front of you — refusing to GRAB what isn’t your problem.

hold toss grab and fold grid

When you’re FOLDing, the following terms probably would describe you:

  • minding your own business
  • honest; letting others know what’s yours and what’s theirs
  • trustworthy; can be counted on to keep your hands off what doesn’t belong to you
  • letting consequences fall where they belong (on the other person), even if it’s hard to stand by and watch
  • not taking ownership of the other person’s stuff

FOLDers say, “What’s yours is yours.” We need to practice this style more often and teach our teenagers to do the same. It’s the other healthy style of interaction.

Using this style of relating may give the appearance that you don’t care, but that’s not true. I do care about your car; it’s just not my vehicle to wash.

Daily we’re affected by things we have no control over. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, Well, since it affects me, I should have some control over it! In doing so, you slide up the diagram and end up interacting as a GRABer.

If it’s not yours to own, keep your hands FOLDed. Don’t take responsibility for it, even if it has a huge impact on you. That’s life.

Remember Mark and Mandy and the fender bender? FOLD is the interactive style I encouraged Mark to use, even though he had to pay for repairing the other vehicle. He wasn’t in control and wasn’t responsible, though he was liable for the financial damages.

This style is harder to use than it may first appear. It’s painful to be affected by something you don’t have control over. It makes us feel “out of control” — because it is out of our control.

It’s also hard to see someone you love — your teenager — “shoot himself in the foot” while keeping your hands FOLDed. When your son or daughter hurts, it hurts you, too. It’s hard to be the one to press assault charges against your son. It’s embarrassing to walk through the church lobby after spending Saturday night at the police station, bailing your daughter out of jail. It’s hard to let our own flesh and blood make stupid mistakes that we know will shape them for the rest of their lives — sometimes in huge ways.

But the truth is still, “What’s yours is yours, and what’s theirs is theirs.”

Remember to HOLD and FOLD. Those are the healthy styles of interacting. Avoid the TOSS and GRAB styles. Those are unhealthy ways of interacting with another person — especially your teenager.

hold and fold grid

Keep Drawing Those Lines

Mark FOLDed his hands when it came to Mandy’s auto accident — because it was hers, not his. What Mark did next, he did as a HOLDer. He took the copied key from Mandy (after determining that Mandy had only one made) and meted out a consequence.

If memory serves me correctly, this was the penalty: Mark took the door off Mandy’s room for two weeks. More precisely, he took the door he owned off the room he owned, which Mandy was living in. The door was legitimately under his control.

But did he do this in order to control Mandy?

No. He was trying to influence Mandy with the consequence. It was a life rule in action: “There’s always somebody or something whose job is to make your life miserable when you choose stupid.”

Your goal is to influence, not control, your teenager.

Taken from Losing Control & Liking It, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2009, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

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About the Author

Timothy L. Sanford, MA, LPC

Tim Sanford is a licensed professional counselor who works in Focus on the Family’s counseling department and in his own private practice. He is also a pastor, a public speaker and the author of two books, Losing Control and Liking It and I Have to Be Perfect. Tim and his wife, Becky, have two grown daughters and reside in Colorado.

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