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Book Analysis:“Breathing Lessons” by Anne Tyler

Updated on June 28, 2017

My Response to the Novel "Breathing Lessons"

The story by Tyler (1988) presents a realistic nature of many marriages and relationships around the world. She presents the picture of a typical amateur marriage with one of the characters, Maggie being described as cunning and troublesome. Maggie fumbles and meddles, though she also works hard not to spoil the marriage. Tyler has presented the inside of a typical marriage where partners have conflicting characters, behavior and attitudes and how they work together in resolving and working through the differences and hence, maintaining the marriage. The writer has displayed the marriage and characters through illusions, arresting charm, lost hopes and real value that could be realized in a marriage setting that is depicted with immense challenges and frustrations.

The story was particularly moving for me and the writer has presented a realistic picture of what goes on around many marriages. Further, the author’s style has been comical, jovial and charming while ensuring that the reality is not illumined. I truly find the story and plot of this novel as containing all the values of an “amateur” while addressing most realistic marriage aspects. Despite Maggie being presented as annoying, nagging and troublesome, while the husband is considered as calm and introvert, the characters can generally be considered as interesting, likable and comical. What is more, Ira and Maggie, the husband and wife characters presented in this story are depicted as ordinary people in an ordinary marriage setting, with a child and by extension grandchildren. The ordinariness of the characters and setting has effectively brought life in this novel. While going through the story, I was able to gain a perspective of the past memories and life experience for Maggie and Ira in light of what they are going through in this particular day.These memory and past experiences have at least highlighted how life aspects and circumstances influenced each other’s character into what they are at present. Generally, I was able to gain great insights from Tyler’s narration concerning how one can leverage the weaknesses and challenges of his or her partner in order to make a relationship work. In addition, the writer has emphasized the fact that in any relationship, personal differences are bound to occur and the best thing is to work on streamlining them.

Description of the “Breathing Lessons”

The “Breathing Lessons” is a story by Tyler that focuses on marriage intricacies and the day to day life of middle class individuals. The novel presents two main characters, Ira and her wife Maggie Moran, who appear ordinary, and in some perspective drab, struggles through their marriage but endeavors to achieve peace and happiness. The reality of the events presented in this novel makes the narration moving and effective.

In one summer day, Ira and Maggie are traveling to Pennsylvania from Baltmore for a funeral function. While on this journey they pass through an accidental detour which involves a side trip to check on their daughter-in-law and their grandchild and an old black man they encounter on their way to Pennsylvania. The author has revealed how the couple struggles with their personal differences throughout their almost three decade’s marriage. Interestingly, the couple appears to be bound together by these inherent differences and love and because of this, they work together to restore peace and harmony within that relationship. The characters are presented as being directly opposite to one another. For instance, Maggie is depicted as being garrulous, a person with bad omen, scatterbrained, impetuous and klutzy. On the other hand, Ira is depicted as a person with dignity, self contained, emotional, and precise. Both of the characters have a sense of feeling that the generation in which they are in is “sliding downwards” and that they consider their children as being strangers. Moreover, both of these characters have a perception that something is particularly wrong in the current society and that there is a general decay of values and morality beyond their expectations.

In this single episode, Anne Tyler has presented a reflection on a typical marriage life. The insights would be helpful to those encountering similar problems and those intending to marry and how to deal with such issues. Other aspects shown in this story include the disappointments, the place of children in a family setting, how love can be re-established in a marriage that was full of storm, and the way in which no significant changes is realized. The characters are generally unpredictable, funny and endearing

Family Psychotherapy

As a counselor, I find Bowen’s Family Systems Theory as being appropriate in engaging members of the Moran family in the counseling session. According to this theory, it is critical to differentiate each member of the family one is dealing with (Kerr, & Bowen, 1988). In this regard, I will consider the personality of Iran, Maggie, their child and granddaughter, as well as their family and social backgrounds to find out how these could have influenced their status. I will be able to find out how the upbringing of Maggie and Ira for instance contributed to shaping of their respective personalities and what need to done to change that.

Owing to her character, it clear that Maggie has a personality disorder considering that she is abusive, manipulative, controlling and is poised to ruin her relationship. Further, she is also poised to ruin the reputation, and self esteem of her partner, Iran. As a wife, parent and grandparent she is in a position to make her family dysfunctional due to her negligence, abusive nature and ignorance. Maggie is also depicted as being controlling, dishonest, unreliable and a troublemaker in the relationship. On the other hand, Iran is considered as an introvert, composed, logical though judgmental. These characters can be perceived as being directly opposite to each other. Bowen’s theory of family systems therefore, helps in understanding the differences in personalities.

As pointed out by Kerr and Bowen (1988), it is important for a marriage counselor to consider this differentiation and inform the participants so that they can go beyond their family boundaries in search of their distinctiveness, the root cause of this distinctiveness, and the need to understand themselves, their partners and create a belonging that is reciprocative and mature. One of the advantages of this theory is that can be applied in contexts that have divergent cultures and values. In other words, it can be used for individuals with different backgrounds (Kerr & Bowen, 1988). According to Young (1991), Bowen Systems Theory is quite effective in dealing with issues related to the nuclear family. During the entire journey, the interaction and communication between Ira and his wife, Maggie reveals the disappointments, incompatibilities, and unmet expectations of both parties. Consequently, I will apply the theory in reducing symptoms in order to establish a basis for family members to relate without unnecessary friction and anxiety caused by individual differences.

I will utilize Bowen’s Family Systems Theory in giving an encouragement to the couple, as, well as encouraging them to reflect upon their life and the need to identify and protect their individuality as well as that of their partners (Schacter et al., 2010). In particular, I will make my clients, who in this case are Ira and Maggie to undergo a reflection on the need to uphold values to safeguard their family promote their individuality and determine the direction for their contexts. Additionally, I will need to understand the background of each partner to determine how such a background influenced their character, as well as other factors that could be contributing to their differences and hence come up with appropriate strategies to address the issue.

In essence, Bowen’s Family System Theory will of great help in developing a practical and conceptual framework in making an assessment of the presenting problems as well as in organizing diagnostic information. Through this theory, I will be able to view the family and in this perspective, Moran’s family as a system which is self regulating. Further, the system is closely held together by rules that are not spoken and that the main objective is to maintain itself. This situation is made apparent in the character of Maggie, who despite her seemingly negative and cunny behavior eventually realizes herself, and endeavors to make a difference on her life, that of her husband and those surrounding her. Upon this realization of self, Maggie strives to strike a compromise and forgiveness for her demeaning behavior and actions. She practically begins the process of changing things around in order to achieve these objectives.

Bowen’s theory stipulates psychological symptoms as a manifestation of a family that is dysfunction. When I look at Moran’s family, various psychological symptoms are apparent. For instance, Maggie’s character is that of a depressed person, with a dysfunctional family background. On the other hand, Iran has also a problem in the fact that he is not being communicative, and he appears too logical.

Equipped with this knowledge, I will then focus my treatment plan on the family system and not as a problem of an individual family member. The evidence for the dysfunctionality of Moran’s family is apparent and has reinforced the use of Bowen’s family system therapy in proving the necessary counseling. According to Schafer et al (1984), a relation should be established between client’s problems with a family dysfunction. Families those are not able to attend counseling sessions regularly or those that do not have appropriate coping skills, as well as single parents with children who are very young do not qualify for this type of therapy.

As a family therapist for Moran’s family, I will employ a direct and active manner in affirming family strengths, reframing reality and monitoring interpersonal distance of the couple. Further, I will endeavor to respect the hierarchies of the values, understanding and speaking the language of this particular family, while trying to blend with the family style and organization. I will as a therapist, respect the authority of the family system, and work in showing Iran and Maggie how to leverage their differences and live together harmoniously. My treatment plan will mainly concentrate in altering the pattern of interaction between Iran and Maggie in order to promote growth, encourage the parties to develop new adaptive responses to communication that is dysfunctional and emphasize on conflict management (Satir, 1964).

During the counseling process, I will ensure that both parties are present. I will encourage the parties to think in terms of family systems so that they can evade being emotional and becomes objective towards change and treatment. The actual therapy will commence by presenting and showcasing each party their problems with anticipation that the family system will showcase themselves around these observations. The major intent is to introduce Iran and Maggie on a wider way of experiencing and conceptualizing their problems. This is meant to achieve the following key objectives: delineating the main obstacles to proper family functioning, neutralizing scapegoating, and increasing emphatic for their differences. Additionally, the approach is focused at decreasing blame and guilty a typified by Iran when he says that the problem are caused by Maggie’s weaknesses. What is more, I will also focus on challenging non-functional rules and family rules and establish new agreements for the families to live harmoniously. I will as well encourage Iran to stop his non-communicative tendencies and discuss issues he may feel uncomfortable with open. Both parties will be required to expose their family secrets as this according to Soharabi et al (2013) will work best in reducing the inherent tension while bringing relief to aggrieved parties.

The typical questions I will deploy in this counseling session is what the actual problem is and how does it affect the family. I will then go on to assess the family generally while observing how Iran, Maggie relate between themselves, their son, granddaughter and daughter in law. The process will therefore entail discovery of the problems, instead of presenting them and performing an evaluation of the stage cycle in family development (Klimek & Anderson, 1988). Generally, I will focus on addressing the what, where and who aspect, rather than concentrating on why.

Concerning Moran’s son and daughter in law, I will need to engage Fiona and Jesse in a counseling session and address the marital conflict that is not only affecting them but also their child. I will instill in Jesse the need to oblige to his parental responsibility despite the disagreement and separation with Fiona. The parents need to understand that despite their differences, the child need not to suffer, but to receive appropriate care from the parents. In addition, I will also work out on how to make the couple resolve their conflicts and leave together as a family. In this approach, I will deploy the same approach I used for their parents, Iran and Maggie. Titelman, (1998) points out that though couples may get divorced, emotional separation takes quiet some time. I will constantly make visits to the child, their parents and grandparents so as to bind the child to her roots. This will also create a sense of oneness, belonging for Ira and Maggie upon seeing their daughter who instills hope to their life. What is more, this will enhance the relationship between the son, Jesse and their daughter in law, thus bonding the nuclear family hence rebuilding the broken walls.

Conclusion

In resolving the family conflicts inherent in Ira’s family, it is apparent that the use of Bowen’s family systems therapy is among the best approach. This owes to the fact that it works at engaging the family members not only among themselves but with the therapist. This theory is also critical since its interventions are aimed at restructuring the family system so as to alter the dysfunctional pattern involving members. This is particularly relevant to the case family under focus.

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